Monday, July 23, 2012

Early Lesson Learned

I was a relatively good student in the Ada, Oklahoma school system. My older siblings were really smart so our common teachers expected the same of me: “Oh, you’re Tisha and Jim’s brother.”

For the most part I performed up to expectations. I remember at home we had a 20 volume set of encyclopedias on the bottom shelf and I would stand with my back to it and reach between my legs to randomly pull out one of volumes and read it from start to finish. In the third grade I won an award for reading the most books. (I also remember that I beat out the competition by selecting only thin books with large type and lots of pictures.) That same year my class was carrying chairs out of the auditorium and our teacher asked us to be careful, so I walked up the stairs taking a half step at a time. I liked it when she called out to the rest of the class to pay attention to my careful method.

But one day my academic voyage hit some heavy weather. There was a kid who lived around the corner, Billy Keith Gray, who was not a great student. His home was smaller than mine and my parents discouraged me from playing with him. I remember one year he learned I had invited others to a birthday party and he offered me a dime if I would include him. I declined. In fourth grade, in Mrs. England’s class, he sat in front of me. He occasionally tied my shoelaces together.

We were studying U.S. history, which I loved, and one assignment was to create maps showing what sort of products came from different parts of the country. I actually took it step further and used real objects to represent what was produced. My South was full of wads of cotton which I took from the medicine cabinet. I procured coal from somewhere. I thought it was pretty cool.

Our teacher gave us a Monday deadline and my map was ready to go. But some students were slow. On Monday, Mrs. England announced that we could have an extra day.

Why did that make me so mad? We weren’t being graded on the curve after all.

“Liar” I heard myself whisper.

Mrs. England asked me if I had said something. I said no.

Billy Keith corrected me. “He called you a liar.”

Mrs. England said nothing for a long moment and moved on to the lesson.

Later she asked me to stay after class. This made me anxious but I hoped it was because she wanted to congratulate me on my map. Instead she told me that I had to tell my mother what I’d called her.

When I got home I burst into tears. My mother was supportive. She didn’t think it was that big of a deal. But the episode shook me up.

I don’t remember much about the aftermath. I must have been extremely relieved to have avoided deeper trouble. I later realized something like suspension was a possibility. At least a B in Citizenship. But it passed. This shot of humility was undoubtedly a good thing for me then, and it stayed with me in my later student days. I hope.

Thank you Mrs. England, and thank you Mom. I appreciate your patience.

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