My light almost went out in first grade. For some reason, I never went to kindergarten. If you read Robert Fulghum’s poem “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” you’ll understand that I was way behind. I started school in first grade. My teacher was a stern, unmarried lady. Her long gray hair hung from her head like seaweed on a clam. She made me nervous every day.
Miss S. was teaching us to print our letters, and they had to be perfect. She gave us whisper-thin manuscript paper and big fat pencils to use. I’m left-handed, and it was a right-handed world. I tried making good letters, but I knew they weren’t good. I tried erasing them and rewriting them. All of a sudden Miss S. announced, “Times up.” I turned in a paper that looked like it was used for target practice. It was full of holes and black smudges. The next day we got our papers back. Across the top of mine in big red letters for all the world to see was Miss S.’s judgment of me. S-L-O-P-P-Y! It was the first word I learned how to read.
I knew I was sloppy. What I didn’t know was how not to be, and she never showed me. I have a message for all the Miss S.’s of the world: “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend (or a first grader) forsakes the fear of the Almighty” (Job 6:14).