First grade was a powerful year for me. Powerful in that I learned the value of the written word. I wish I had paid more attention to that year as I was planning out my future. Sometimes, I think that if I had, some things in my life would be a little different and would be making me a little bit happier. But I digress…
My teacher that year was Mrs. Cooper. She was an angel. Sweet, enthusiastic, kind. I loved being in her class and loved going to school. I can’t say that about every year of my education and about every teacher who played a part in it.
There are two events that made that year pivotal for me. The first event took place because of my favorite time of the school day: reading circle. We’d all gather around the area in front of Mrs. Cooper’s desk. Usually, she would have a book or stories from a children’s magazine to read to us. As we all became more proficient readers, we were allowed to read to our peers. I loved reading by then and thought that being allowed to read aloud was a great honor. I was ahead of many of my peers when it came to reading, too. I don’t say that to brag. I just loved it more than many of them, and that made me more voracious both in terms of the quantity of reading that I did and, through that constant practice, the quality of that reading.
On the day that sticks in my memory, one of my friends had been chosen to read to the class. I don’t remember what she was reading, but I do remember that she was my kind of reader. We didn’t pick stories that contained three-letter words that ended in -at; we read stories much like Mrs. Cooper would pick for us. I liked this girl for her reading prowess, but a tiny part of me also viewed her as competition. I think, looking back, that I just wanted Mrs. Cooper’s favor, to be her favorite.
Anyway, my friend was reading the story she had brought in. As she did so, she stumbled over a longer word; I wish I could remember which one. She struggled to pronounce it, as young readers do, and then she turned to ask Mrs. Cooper for help. I didn’t realize it then, but I was about to be tested. Mrs. Cooper turned to me and said, “Nichole? Could you help her figure this word out?”
I think I might have strutted much in the manner of a peacock as I walked up to Mrs. Cooper’s desk. I looked at the page, considered the word for a moment, and stated what I felt was it’s proper pronunciation. I smiled proudly (and probably a little annoyingly) and returned to my seat. Frankly, I couldn’t tell you if I got that word right. But it felt right. And I liked the feeling that I got from that moment, that I was smart and that knowing words was a good thing.
The other event I remember is a writing exercise we did. Unlike most where we were just writing different letters and words over and over and over again, for this assignment we were allowed to write a story. Mrs. Cooper had coloring pages for us, and once they were colored, we were to write a story about the picture. I chose carefully. I didn’t want to write about a pig on a bike or a little girl with a lollipop. I wanted to write literature…well, as much as my first-grade mind could comprehend that idea.
The picture I chose was of a boy, girl, and their dog. I believe they were playing in a small pond. But in my little writer’s mind, it was not a pond. It was quicksand. They were trapped in it and trapped in a desperate struggle to free themselves.
Not bad for a first-grader, huh?
Well, it probably was. Bad, that is. But I do remember two things. I remember Mrs. Cooper’s surprised look when I asked her how to spell quicksand. And I remember the rush I got from that writing exercise. As much as I loved reading stories to my peers, this idea that I could write stories for them to enjoy? It was empowering. It was thrilling.
It was the first time that I felt like a Writer, an elusive title that, even now, I use rarely for fear that I don’t measure up to it.