6th Grade Life Lesson

photo(3)It’s the early 80’s and I am a student in Mrs. Reddinger’s 6th grade class at Wiley Elementary school in Utica, Michigan. It was actually my second time having her as a teacher. As a lone 5th grader I pushed into her 6th grade class to have all my reading lessons with the big kids. I always felt in way over my head when I went to her class as a 5th grader. Not in academics but in maturity, though I couldn’t articulate it at the time. The kids were bigger, they had clicks, girls had crushes, and I was lost. I did my reading lessons and then quickly returned to the safety of Mrs. Ensley’s class. By the time I got to 6th grade Mrs. Reddinger knew me and I was not surprised that I was placed in her class. (Though I would have rather of had Mr. Hardy.)

During my 6th grade year at parent teacher conferences, Mrs. Reddinger had collected a sampling of my spelling papers and homework assignments to show my Mother. I had a knack for drawing on everything. Homework and tests were not exempt. It seems that Mrs. Reddinger did not appreciate seeing Pacman gobbling up pellets around the perimeter of the page, or Jokey Smurf handing a soon-to-be exploding present to an unsuspecting Brainy Smurf. You see, during the parent teacher conferences she showed these papers to my mother and said… “Joey is always drawing. Joey will never go anywhere in life if he doesn’t focus on his schoolwork. He spends to much time drawing on his papers. He could stand to draw less.”

Almost 30 years later and I can still remember that feeling of utter shock.

Here’s this teacher that I had in the 5th grade, and now have full-time in the 6th grade telling my Mom I need to draw less? Really? I don’t remember my mom’s response, but I have to assume she didn’t agree because I don’t remember getting in trouble that day. I got my work done, and got decent grades. I was a good student that yes could of had benefited with a bit more focus, but can’t that be said for most 6th graders? I never understood why as a teacher she would risk smashing a students passion. I often think back to how different my life would be had I listened to her.

I have lots of friends, family and acquaintances that are exceptional teachers and are champions to kids whether they are on the clock or not. Unfortunately not all teachers are. My son Aaron knows this first hand. He’s in the 6th grade and is a bundle of energy, he’s a quick study, sings constantly, loves music, and plays the Viola and practices religiously. He recently had a choice to make. A choice that was made easier by the unfortunate comments of a teacher, and I’m glad he’s not letting these comments keep him down. It’s uncanny how history repeats.

“Joey is always drawing. Joey will never go anywhere in life if he doesn’t focus on his schoolwork. He spends to much time drawing on his papers. He could stand to draw less.” I could have easily have listened to Mrs. Reddinger and stopped drawing, but spending to much time drawing on my papers gave me confidence to draw more, which eventually led me to graduate from one of the finest art colleges in the country. I draw daily. Paint. Create. And now own my own marketing and advertising company with one of my very best friends. I’d say Mrs. Reddinger was wrong.

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