Lessons

I knew it was hopeless before the meeting even began. 

Ms. Larrimore briskly explained to my perplexed mother that there was no amount of extra credit I could complete in the last few weeks of school to help me achieve a passing grade.

I had failed ninth grade English so badly, she told us, that I didn’t even need to attend the 7:10 A.M. class for the remainder of the year.  

To her, I was hopeless. 

I remember feeling a mixture of anger and relief. 

Relief that I wouldn’t have to bother attending her class anymore and anger for the entire disaster that was my freshman year of high school. 

Where had I gone so wrong?

Aside from second grade, I had attended private school.  Ninth grade public exposed me to a world I was wholly unprepared for.  I figured it out by fitting in with whoever would accept me- smoking cigarettes, smoking weed, drinking alcohol before and after school and failing the honors classes I had been assigned.  

Ms. Larrimore, one of the first African- American students to graduate Maury High School in 1964, saw right through my privilege and wasn’t going to give an inch.  This was a woman that assigned a few hundred word paper, in which we weren’t allowed to use the verb “to be”- is, was, am, going, will- all forms.  She was all business and I was taking my education for granted.

I took a summer school class the following summer to make up that failed English class.

And ultimately, I became an English Major with a Masters in Education and later, a writer.  

But the lessons Ms. Larrimore taught me that year will last a lifetime:

Action verbs illustrate.  

Effort, not privilege, counts.  

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