My heart was pounding and Mrs. Wiles looked like she was fit to be tied. Her eyes glittered hard like Todd Heydinger’s pet garter snake as she rapped her knuckles fiercely against my desktop. She stuck her red face closer, and a bit of spittle flew onto my skinny clinched fist.
“I’ve told you repeatedly, Miss Thompson, that the lesson is right there in front of you on the blackboard! But every time I come past this desk, what do I see? Nothing! Now, get to work!” As she slammed her flat hand down with a smack to emphasize her point, I slunk further into my chair.
Since coming to this school six weeks ago, I’d had nothing but heartache. The kids tormented me about my country clothes, and Mrs. Wiles, after reading a note from my last teacher, had glared at me and declared that I was NOT going to be a slacker in her class. I’d meekly blinked as my knobby knees shook so hard, my worn pair of knee-highs slipped clear to my ankles.
I had no idea why, but I suspected that I was being picked on. That’d never happened to me before in my short school career. At my old country school, I’d been the star of the class. That is, until Mrs. Brinegar had become my teacher. She’d found all kinds of things wrong with my work, and she’d sent a note about me to my new teacher here in the city. Today was just another awful example of what school had become for me. I couldn’t seem to please this teacher, no matter what I did.
I sighed. We were moving on to vocabulary, and I quickly slipped my notebook from my desk. For some reason, I had a harder time doing the work the other kids found easy. They were quick to answer and quick to laugh when I got things wrong.
I shook my bony head and pushed my stringy bangs behind my ears. Mrs. Wiles was at the chalkboard writing a long list of words for our spelling this week.
“Class, make sure you don’t miss some of these commonly misspelled words. For instance, ‘vegetable’…don’t get confused by that ‘A’ sound between the ‘G’ and the ‘T’. It is NOT an ‘A’; it is an ‘E.’ ” She pointed to the offending vowel with her chalk and tapped it a couple of times for good measure.
I slowly began to copy the words, but I had a tough time seeing all the letters. Finally, my list was complete and I put down my pencil. When Mrs. Wiles spied me, her eyes squinted. “Well,” she said, “since Miss Thompson is finished, let’s have her come up for dictation.”
I rose and reluctantly made my way to the board. I knew everyone was watching and waiting for me to humiliate myself, and they were not disappointed.
“Spell ‘vegetable,’ ” Mrs. Wiles intoned.
I shakily took the chalk and began to write. After agonizing over each letter, I hesitantly finished. Giggles erupted, but not for long, as Mrs. Wiles suddenly charged to the board, and grabbing the chalk, pounded the fragile stick furiously against the hapless ‘A’ that I had placed between the ‘G’ and the ‘T.’
“That’s EXACTLY what I just told you NOT to do!” she cried, exasperated at my dullness. I trembled and wondered if I was going to wet myself from fear and dread of her hard anger. She continued to pound the chalk into dust as she expounded on my deliberate disobedience.
Just then, a knock came on the door and I was rescued by the school nurse who asked to take me to get my required new-student eye exam. “Take her!” pronounced Mrs. Wiles angrily.
Unfortunately, I had to return to class after the respite at the clinic, but when I handed Mrs. Wiles the results from my eye exam, something amazing happened. As she read, her eyes softened, her cheeks slackened, and tears pooled and slipped free. I watched one puddle on her freckled arm.
She suddenly pulled me to her in a tight hug and whispered against my hair, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Please, forgive me! I should have guessed you couldn’t see the board.”
Later that week, with my new glasses perched on my nose, Mrs. Wiles’ soft warm eyes and friendly smile encouraged me as I went to the board for dictation.
“Spell vegetable,” she said gently.
Confidently I wrote: V-E-G-E-T-A-B-L-E.
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