I was in an elementary school on Thursday. They'd hired me to talk with the students about my books. During my presentation of "A Taste of Colored Water" I saw lots of kids eyes bulge and mouths drop open when I assured them that people were treated terribly simply because they're skin was darker than mine. What I didn't see was little Lily's reaction to me showing my report card from 6th grade.
In 6th grade I got a C+ in Language (Language-that's reading, writing and grammar in early 1970's education speak). During my presentation I point out that C+ to the kids and also the fact that I only got a Satisfactory in Art that year. I also received some very unkind remarks about my weisenheimer behavior in class which I won't talk about here. Anyway, Lily's teacher came up to me after my presentation while I was signing books and told me that Lily became very excited to see that I had done poorly in school.
After my presentation Lily ran over to her teacher and very excitedly said "Did you see?! That guy wasn't so smart when he was a kid and now he's making books! Maybe I'll be ok too!". Lily is in the 4th grade. Her teacher let me know that she has learning disabilities. In short- she's ten years old and she can't read. And, according to her teacher, she's very prideful and stubborn. Has difficulty working with teacher's and other kids. Life is pretty difficult for her.
I offered to have a talk with Lily. Her teacher liked the idea. We headed to the cafeteria where the 4th graders were chowing down. Her teacher told me not to be bothered if Lily acts rudely when we meet. She's shy and puts up barriers. I said "No worries, I do the same thing." We approached a table with one little girl sitting by herself. Her back was to us. She was small for a 10 year old. She turned as her teacher called her name. Big, big brown eyes. Long hair. Frightened face. "No!" I heard her say.
Lily's teacher sat with her for a moment. Lily kept her back to me. Her teacher rose and told me that Lily didn't want to talk. I said "Cool. But could you tell her something for me?" Lily was still close enough to hear me. Her teacher said "You bet." "Please tell Lily that I was the last kid in first grade to memorize the alphabet. Kids made fun of me. I had lot's of trouble with spelling and making sentences. But my 3rd grade teacher helped me a lot. Teachers can be a lot of help. I wish her well and I hope she keeps on trying." Lily grabbed her lunch and ran away. Her teacher patted my arm and said "Don't worry. She does that now and then. The message got through."
God bless all the Lily's and thank you, thank you, thank you for all the great teachers.