Thumbing My Nose at Third Grade

There have been many times I’ve thumbed my nose at third grade. First, I thumbed my nose at it when I was told I read at a tenth grade level. In fifth grade. Then, when I published my first poem, in tenth grade. Again when I became president of my high school writers’ club. Placing in multiple essay contests in college. Getting my degree in English. Going to graduate school. Getting my master’s. And the first time I stood in front of a class of my own. 

To the teacher that told my parents that I would “never learn to write” and I would “never be a good writer”, I mostly thumb my nose…at you. 

I have thought of my third grade teacher often. I think of how I should feel sorry for her. She was ill often and she died too young. But I am reminded of the assumptions she made about me as an eight year old little girl, and my heart breaks for her. The eight year old I once was. 

I remember my mom and dad telling me that we were going to work on my cursive. Sounded good to me. 

In those days, my  dad got home before my mom and  for weeks we worked on my handwriting. He bought me a pad of that huge writing  paper for kids. The kind that looks like a painter’s easel. Every day, for at least 26 days, we worked on cursive. He chose a letter for me and I would practice at my childhood desk in the living room. 

Week after week I improved. I should have learned cursive in second grade, but that debacle is a story for another day. Needless to say, I didn’t. I had a real winning K-4 education to say the least. My parents were my real teachers. I wonder if that could get some sort of back payment from the district? I went to school and made friends. I don’t recall learning until grade five. 

I don’t remember when I found out that my third grade teacher cast my ability in such doubt. My mom might have told me, but I doubt it. She wouldn’t have ever deliberately repeated the cruel, doubtful words to me. 

By the time I reached middle school, I could only write in cursive. This remains true today. My printing is passable but I take pride in my handwriting. 

I took my first creative writing class in seventh grade. Again in eighth. And by the time I was in high school, I was writing terrible short stories that my featured my friends and our famous boyfriends. I married a Hanson brother more than once. Terrible short stories but for a budding writer, but we will just call them “the early work” and move on. 

In high school, I started to become known as a writer. My classmates knew it. My teachers wanted more of it. I came to writing easily. It was something I craved and I excelled. I was allowed and encouraged by everyone around me to shine. And I did. 

It sounds like boasting but it isn’t.  I was encouraged to be good. My family, friends, and teachers saw something in me that was unique. Eminem said that no matter how many times he got his ass handed to him as a kid, he could write what no one else could. That one thing he always had. While I wasn’t getting beaten up in school, and I did well, I too thought the same thing. I could write what no one else could. 

I was once the kid that “would never be a good writer.” Tell a kid with a keen curiosity and a natural storytelling ability that he or she “will never” and that person will do one of two things. One: that person, like me, will do everything humanly possible to prove you wrong. Two: the kid will absorb your words and think they are the truest thing since sunshine. Only that kid won’t photosynthesize. That kid will wilt. 

I’m pretty sure that my third grade teacher was only taking about my handwriting, but now, I think how dare you. How dare you tell my family an unequivocal “she will never.” How in the actual hell does one know what an eight year old “will never” do? 

I would love to tell her how wrong she was. I can’t but I think she knows. Somehow I think she can see. 

Now,  I turn my thumb around and flip my it up at my dad for teaching me cursive. At both of my parents for teaching me what my school so expertly failed at for many years. At my seventh and eighth grade creative writing teacher. At my tenth grade English teacher. I am a teacher because of her. I flip my thumb up at my college professors. And I flip two thumbs up at the first people to hire me to teach. 

There are plenty of things I’ll never do. I’ll never become an astronaut. I’ll never be the pop singer I wanted to be at age eight. I’ll never paint like Kandinsky. And the odds of my winning an Oscar are not in my favor. 

But I will also never make “never” statements about a child. 

And I’ll give one more. To my third grade teacher, thumbs up. I did write. And I do it every day. 


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