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.  

Cinderella Shoes

My first year of teaching, he entered my fourth grade classroom on a first grade reading level and yet, by far, the biggest and oldest child in the class. 

His physical presence dominated but his smile and warmth melted anyone’s heart. 

Through services, he received free breakfast and lunch and it bothered him. 

I took to him like kindle to a fire and he, to me. 

There was a trust and bond that endured. 

So when this child who had nothing presented me with clear slippers three sizes too small for Christmas, I accepted them with gratitude. 

A child who saw me as his real-life Cinderella. 

A reminder that we are much more to others than we may ever realize.

If only we can continue to give with our hearts.

A gift I will always treasure. And never forget.