Here’s a blast from the past. My mother recently unearthed my report card from the second grade. Yes, I was called Ricky back then. And, yes, I was constantly called Ricky Ricardo. What do I notice about my report card? First, the name Mrs. Bostick brings back all kinds of memories: copying math problems from the blackboard (I hated that!), listening to her read Mrs. Pigglewiggle and the Boxcar Children books aloud to us (I loved that!) and recess on the playground trying to get those swings to go all the way over the bar, my friends and I daring each other to jump off (I was stupid crazy!)
I notice that my dad’s signature is eerily similar to mine. I see my assigned teacher for third grade: Mrs. Ziegler, looming in the future like an evil omen, and imagine the sound of thunder and rearing horses. (Frau Blucher!)
But mostly I notice my grades. Lowest marks? PE — no surprise. I never could climb that stupid rope. Conduct — no comment. And writing. B student. Nothing remarkable. My handwriting was lousy. My motivation was nonexistent. My work ethic? I’d rather be outside playing Godzilla and the Smog Monster with my buddies. Would anyone back then have pegged me as a future novelist? I imagine my teachers would’ve chuckled at the idea. ‘Not likely,’ they’d say. ‘His penmanship is atrocious and he can’t spell.’ The moral, I suppose, is that grades never tell the whole story. We can’t know what will happen to kids when they grow up. It may be that the average B student (or worse) will turn out to be the novelist. The kid who shirks his homework, spends his class time doodling pictures of dragons and daydreaming about jumping off swings and never coming down — he may be the kid who makes the bestseller list.
The good news: It only takes a few caring teachers to nurture a child’s future and shape his life. Mrs. Bostick was a wonderful reader. She got me interested in Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swans, even though I professed to hate reading back then. Later on, my eighth grade English teacher encouraged me to submit a short story to a magazine, and that started me on my path to becoming a writer. A few kind words, a show of interest, a vote of confidence to the right kid at the right time — that makes all the difference. The only trick is to treat every kid as the ‘right’ kid, even if they make B’s in conduct and writing!