The Third-Grade Boy

The third-grade boy walked nearly a mile to school each day. He barely lived outside the school bus boundary. Each day he walked across the railroad tracks almost adjacent to the tenement building where he lived in a four-room flat with his brother and parents. He wore the only pair of pants and shoes he had. His mother washed his pants each night and hung them by the stove to dry.

He had no idea what he’d become. His mom and dad worked in nearby shoe factories. His favorite uncle was a career soldier in the army. Another uncle a mechanic. And, another a truck driver. His thoughts didn’t travel far beyond the limitations of his immediate experience. Until …

It all changed for him when he went to third grade. The school he attended had two third grade teachers. All second graders knew the best teacher was Miss Pope. She was young and pretty. The other teacher was Miss Thompson. She old, really old, maybe as old as the school as one boy put it. Worse, she was mean. Mean to the core. She didn’t know how to smile another of the third-grade boy’s buddies added.

During his final week in second-grade, he prayed he’d get Miss Pope. He prayed as hard as he prayed for anything. When he was handed his second-grade report card, his heart sunk. His final second-grade report card gave him the good news and bad news. The good news, he was promoted to third grade. The bad news, his third-grade teacher was Miss Thompson. The mean, unsmiling, old, really old Miss Thompson.

Miss Thompson stood by the doorway each morning and in her no-nonsense way, welcomed each child by name. The boy tried hard in her class, after all, she was the meanest teacher in school. No sense making an enemy right away. It was near October when Miss Thompson stopped the boy on his way into class. She grabbed hold of him by his shoulders. He looked at her wide-eyed. His mind racing to a small fight on the playground after school. He hoped no one ratted him out.  Miss Thompson bent over and looked into his eyes and said, “From today on, I’m going to say to you, ‘Good morning governor, because I believe one day, you’ll become governor of our state. Now, work hard and you’ll do it.”

The boy went to his desk and he worked hard for Miss Thompson. He was determined to become governor. Well, Miss Thompson retired ten years later and died a few years after she retired. But, the third-grade boy remembered her lesson. He didn’t become governor, but he worked hard, and he believed. He discovered hard work, determination, and a belief he was capable of doing something special made it all come true.

You never know when you touch a person. Encouraging a young person to dream the impossible, often turns the impossible into the possible. I know. I was the third-grade boy.

crossing the tracks


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