When I failed the fourth grade I though I was doomed. My teacher grabbed me as I walked out the door and said “You know President John F. Kennedy failed the fourth grade too” Her words filled my heart with a sense of hope and repeating the fourth grade turned out to be a blessing.
I started school late in my third year because my mother didn’t want me to go #9 school which was across the street from where we lived in Chatham Gardens. By the time I started at School #50 everyone else had become accustomed to the daily routine. I probably would have fallen into sync too if I had been assigned a different classroom.
The teacher I had should have retired 20 years earlier. She was an ancient lady who came to class late and never taught a lesson. We had four blackboard panels and she would have someone write out the entire day’s lessons on all of those blackboards. You came in read the lesson and started it. When her timer went off she turned the blackboard over and you would start the next lesson. I had no sense of time whatsoever and I could never finish those assignments before the timer went off. I was lost all year. I don’t recall any arts and crafts or fun and games that year. School life was endless nonstop work with a feeling of never having caught up or caught on.
My fourth grade teacher was a kind and compassionate holocaust survivor. She spent some part of everyday telling us about her life as a child in the concentration camps. She was very sensitive and anything could trigger the subject; someone wasting food or someone arriving to school on a snowy day without any boots on. She didn’t get too many lessons in either with all the storytelling going on. About half way through the year she decided that her stories were lessons and therefore she was teaching. Her stories moved me but her lessons failed me.
Repeating the fourth grade gave me a head start on the following year. My mother took me out of #50 school and put me in #39 school where I did much better. I went to school with my siblings and other kids I knew from my neighborhood and I read all the time.
I believe that if I hadn’t failed the fourth grade I would be among the many adults who pretend to know and understand what they really don’t due to poor learning experiences. They are the people who drop out of school to avoid being a year behind their friends or before someone discovers that they can’t read. They are the ones who struggle through life with a secret that holds them back. Failing the fourth grade was not such a bad thing. We could have been lost forever, John F. Kennedy and I, but we were saved.