The Third Grade Set This Whole Thing Up

Third grade is weird. It just… is. Kids aren’t quite “little” but they are far from “big”. It is the introduction to those ​tween ​ years that make those of us with children wonder what we might be in for down the line.

At eight years old, I had a bowl haircut. No, I am not kidding. I had a bowl haircut and it was my own fault. I had refused to keep my hair out of my mouth (which is gross), so my mom cut my hair to a length I couldn’t reach. 

I had a bowl haircut.

I had (and still do have) glasses.

I talked in class nonstop (that didn’t change much).

I often dressed from head to toe in one color. 

I was in the third grade. 

I had a teacher that looking back, I think should have hung it up long before she did. Ms. Ryder was not particularly nice to me and it was obvious that she had favorite students, which I was not.

I ​excelled ​ at reading. I was in a third/fourth grade advanced level when I was in the first grade. And, I was already showing classic signs of a budding writer. The stories I could wing off of the top of my head were fantastic.

My third grade teacher put me in a special education supplement for math. Once I was there for a couple weeks, that teacher determined I didn’t need it. Math and I do not have a loving relationship to this day. It is as complicated as any good Shakepearian drama, or maybe just a soap opera, but needless to say, I believe “x” is an ex for a reason.

At parent-teacher conferences that year, Ms. Ryder told my mom and dad something that altered the course of my life.

“Melissa will never learn how to write, and even if she does, she won’t do it well.”

I was eight.

In the early 1990s, my elementary school was looked at as the ugly stepchild in my district. It often got ignored and many of the teachers were just doing the lemon dance (“here, we’ll pass them around and see where they land.”)

My second grade teacher let us play most of the day. I didn’t do much, if any, of the assigned work. I distinctly remember balling it up and cramming it into my desk. When I wasn’t doing that, one of my friends did it for me because she liked the worksheets. I did not.

Our teacher sat in the back of the room and played with a hippo puppet. (I wish I were making this stuff up, but I am not.)

It was her retirement year and boy didn’t we feel those affects later?

“Melissa will never learn how to write, and even if she does, she won’t do it well.”

Ms. Ryder was talking about cursive writing but it took me a long time to know that. I was supposed to learn cursive writing in second grade. 

Obviously, I didn’t.

My dad took this as a mission. My parents bought paper with big lines and fancy pencils for me. Every night when he got home from work, my dad sat in our living room and practiced cursive writing with me. 

Together, we chose a letter and practiced it until I had it as perfect as I could at age eight.

It was in those afternoon writing sessions that I became a writer.

I began paying attention to the way words look and the way I put words on the page on my own.

My cursive became beautiful. My handwriting has received compliments for as long as I can remember, and even now, I’d rather “write” than print. My writing is much easier to read, as odd as that may sound.

As I grew up, I had teachers that commented on my writing and that writing changed from cursive letters to silly stories to bad poems.

I remembered “Melissa will never learn to write” when my seventh grade teacher praised the autobiography assignment I wrote. 

I remembered “Melissa will never learn to write” when I was president of the writers club in high school.

When I majored in English in college.

Earned my masters degree.

Began teaching.

Getting my work published.

I have students that say, “I am not a good writer” or “I’m not good at writing.” 

I usually ask them if they can read my handwriting. When they say yes, I tell them that’s how my life as a writer began. Because someone once said I couldn’t.

And now I do.

Because what one person says isn’t always true and assumptions made about an eight year old are often wrong.


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  1. Thank you for this. You’re re-telling if these moments was really perfect and spoke to me..My freshman year in college my English professor told me to change majors because I had no chance of ever writing anything useful. I did change majors but eventually I realized she was wrong.

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