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.