Volume 46, Number 4
Now he passes it forward
By Ron Norton Reel
It was my fourth day at McFarland Junior High School. As I entered into my sixth- period English class, my teacher, Ms. Smith, called me to her desk. She asked me why I had been placed in the second level English class instead of the top level class. I informed her that when I arrived as a new student on Tuesday the principal asked me to read for him. When I finished he said, “Well, I am impressed that someone like you can read as well as you can. If your parents were not itinerant farm labors, I would place you in our top level classes. However, since you probably won’t be here for the entire year, I am going to put you in our second level classes. The top level courses really demand family support and assistance at home and I am sure your parents can’t read much if any.”
My teacher’s face turned red and tears began to run down her cheeks. She looked directly into my eyes and said, “I am going to give you the same assignment I gave the first period top English level class for homework to be completed by Monday.” She continued, “If you can recite all of the 48 most common prepositions on Monday morning, I will personally go to the principal and have you placed where you belong.”
After class was over, I went home and continued memorizing those exciting prepositions. My mother cautioned me from getting my hopes up too high. Momma said, “Remember whether or not the school places you in the top class on Monday or not, I will still love you. You are capable of doing the work and being able to climb out of working in the fields if you stay focused and listen to the teachers who will always help you when-ever they can.”
I had slightly over 50 percent of them memorized by the time I went to bed Friday night. My plan was to spend all day Saturday memorizing the rest. At 5:30 a.m. Saturday, my father turned on the light in my bedroom and reminded my twin and myself that we needed to get up and go with our parents to work in the fields beside them. Our family could earn extra money today if we all worked to help pay the rent or utility bill that was due.
We worked from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. with 30 minutes for lunch. By the time we arrived back home, it was after 6 p.m. As soon as dinner was over, and my brother and I did the dishes, I began memorizing again. I snuck outside and went into my father’s car and borrowed his battery run flashlight. My father had imposed a 9 p.m. curfew on lights in our home. He always joked that if any of us could pay the utility bill, we could stay up later. All lights had to be off by that time.
I pulled my covers up over my head and turned Dad’s flashlight on so I could see my preposition list. It was almost 10 p.m. when suddenly the covers to my bed were thrown off me and my father stood there pointing to me and asked, “What do you think you are doing?” I explained to him that I was studying for an assignment for school. He said, “If those teachers give you more homework than you can do before the sun goes down, then they need to change the amount of homework.”
We all got up Sunday and were in the fields by 6 a.m. As I worked the day, I called out my 48 most common prepositions time after time. None of the other family members or other workers could hear me, but I whispered them just the same. Anytime I would miss one, I would start over again making sure they were said in perfect order. By the end of the day, I had all 48 memorized.
Monday morning I went to Ms. Smith’s classroom before school started. She asked, “Do you have them memorized?” I replied, “I sure do!” “Well,” she said, “Let’s hear them.” I began reciting, “About, above, across, against, around, …etc.” When I completed them she handed me a new class schedule that placed me in all of the top classes. I said, “Weren’t we going to go visit the principal if I knew them?” She smiled, “Yes that was our deal.” “But you didn’t know I would have them memorized before I got to school today, did you?” Again she smiled, “I knew when you took the list, you would have them memorized. When you left my room on Friday, I went and had your schedule changed to the correct one. I believe in you.”
Ms. Smith taught me to believe in myself. She also taught me to believe in my students. I do! I have never had a student that I did not say to them, “I believe in you!”