I Think I Get It

9 09 2013

I don’t believe there was ever a time that offered more confusion, sadness, fear and bitterness as my grade school years

Imageback in the early to mid 60s.  The moments were few where I didn’t experience one or more of these emotions back then.  I had heard of children back in the last century who were forced to go to work instead of having the opportunity to achieve an education, and as crazy as it sounds many times I wished I had lived back then to go into the mines and factories with them.  I felt it had to be better than what I was experiencing in school!  Sounds pretty glum, huh?  Okay, it’s taken a long time but now, looking back some 50 years ago I’m willing to say it wasn’t all bad; but it was a long way from being good!  Many times I would do anything I could to keep from going to school which included proclaiming sickness, sometime faked to stay home, but often truthfully physical illness brought on, I’m sure, by thoughts of what lay head that day.  Two of the most frightening worries I carried with me constantly were being called on in class to answer a question or knowing that there would be some kind of test.  True to my fears, if called on to answer a question; I usually gave the wrong answer if I gave one at all or I would bomb the test that day big time.  As some would put it, I fell deeply into the category of “dumb!”  Harsh word I know and in this day and age you wouldn’t dare classify a child as such, but back then that’s how many of us were looked at; we didn’t get it, we didn’t possess the ability to understand or (the big one) we were just too lazy to apply ourselves.  

Now before you get the idea I’ve come today to trash educators from my early days; that is totally incorrect.  Grade school was a wonderful time for many back then and I am quite happy for the ones who had that experience.  But the negative mindset I’ve described was just as prevalent, this I know from extensive research and interviews I’ve done on the subject.  And no, I’m not saying teachers were hired on merits such as how mean you can be to the “dumb” kid.  I feel it was more of a belief back then if a child wasn’t learning these were the reasons, thus you had to be tougher on them.  So often when I couldn’t answer a question it was met with a not so nice attitude.  Sometimes angry words, sometimes being punished by staying in from recess or staying after school to do work I still wasn’t understanding.  A certain teacher hit the nail on the head one day of why I didn’t comprehend and didn’t even realize it.  “Johnny, read the 1st paragraph on the page and tell me what the answer is.”  A lot of uhs, ers, and hesitations mixed in with a few words brought an antagonistic remark from my exasperated instructor.  “What is the matter, can’t you read?!”  BINGO!  Here I was, five years into my educational journey and the fact of the matter was with the exception of words I had memorized, I could not comprehend written vocabulary.  The two biggest influences in my life, my mother and my Great Aunt Pearl were of little help since their reading abilities weren’t much better.  They could tell me what a word said but couldn’t help me understand how to put the letters together and sound them out to make words.  So as time went on I developed this attitude about myself that all the negatives were true, I was dumb, I couldn’t understand it, but at least I’d keep trying until one day a year later.  

Back then I’m not sure why but when the end of the school would come I’d find myself promoted (maybe assigned) to the next grade no matter how badly I did.  I figured no one wanted to be saddled with me twice so they would just ship me off to the next grade and teacher. But at the end of my 5th grade year something different happened.  I not only moved up, but so did the teacher to be a 6th grade teacher now and I ended up in her class again.  Nothing changed; I didn’t do any better in class, still not understanding, still no comprehending.  That fateful day came when we had a test and I blew it big time.  When the teacher handed back the papers the next day she gave out everyone’s except mine. “Johnny did such exceptional work on this last test I’ve decided to hang it here on the bulletin board for all to see.”  With that she pinned my paper up so everyone could see all the red marks, all the mis-spelled words, all the wrong answers but mostly, the biggest letter “F” probably ever written on a paper.  The laughter from the class was deafening, at recess and lunch I had to endure every type of ugly remark on my stupidity there was. The tears burned as they ran down my face when walking home later.  I didn’t even tell my family what had happened.  What hurt the most was I really liked this teacher no matter what, up till then.  She was very popular with everyone, which made it hard to understand how she could do such a thing and feel justified in doing it.  

But something happened after that day, I made a decision I wouldn’t be hurt like that again.  The next day the paper still hung where she placed, kids still made comments but I refused to say a thing.  Later in the day she called on me and I just sat there without replying, that got me a detention.  After everyone went home she gave me her reason for what she did.  I don’t remember what she had to say because now I was doing everything in my power to shut her out.  She finally went over took the paper laid it on my desk and said I could leave.  I did but I left the paper right where she laid it.  That’s how we finished out the last two months of the school year, she never called on me in class and I never spoke to her again.  I was held back that year, but something special came out of it. A classmate’s mother who happened to be a teacher took an interest in me and spent the next year tutoring me in reading.  I know I’ve mentioned this in a prior writing, but it’s worth saying again; it was like the whole world opened up to me, as if a large heavy door that I couldn’t budge now flung open and I discovered a priceless treasure on the other side.  No more was I left with the feeling that I couldn’t understand because of being too dumb.  The ability was always there, someone saw it and took time and effort to unlock the door, it was a feeling beyond awesome to finally understand!

Now I have two points I’m hoping to drive home tonight.  No matter who you are, what you’ve been through, what others may think of you.  “YOU” are an incredible, specially gifted and brilliant individual.  “Now Miller, how can you say that about me when you don’t even know me, know my situation?”  You’re right, I don’t know; but I’ve got a God who does and He tells me that about you.  You don’t believe me, look up and read Psalm 139 (Come on, open that Bible up and take a look.  I promise it won’t take you long and it won’t hurt you a bit to read what the Creator of the universe thinks about you!)

I learned from others and from the one I call Savior long ago now that I have a purpose, I have worth, and I, as well as you was made special.  I’ve dedicated my life to tell ones who were just like me that very message, it’s up to you to believe it, I pray to our Lord that you will.

The second point goes back to my teacher friend, what do I do about her, how she treated me, what she thought of me.  Another quick (I hope) story.

Some 4 years after grade school I was downtown standing on a corner with some fiends talking, laughing and having a smoke when I heard a familiar voice; “Hello Johnny, How are you?”  There she was, first time I had seen her since I left her class.  I had made a promise to myself that someday I would really let her have it for the way she treated me and now here she was and I had my chance to embarrass her in front of others just as she had done me.  But something came over me that I couldn’t explain then.  I quickly put out the cigarette, smiled at her and said “I’m fine, it’s very nice to see you,” and walked off.  As much as I had wanted to really tell her off I just couldn’t get the words and attitude to come.  Years later I attributed that moment of stillness on my part to the Holy Spirit teaching me something.  The easiest thing that any of us can do when attacked is to attack back.  I know many who pride themselves at the art of telling others off.  But as a Believer (and remember when I speak I do on my behalf, on what has worked for me that I now pass on to you) I’ve learned that “Forgiveness and Kindness” lead to more peace and happiness than anything I’ve ever tried.

Max Lucado says, “I choose kindness; I will be kind to the poor, for they are alone.  Kind to the rich, for they are afraid.  And kind to the unkind, for such is how God has treated me.”

Another old boy who had quite the proper name but told folks “Just call me Paul,” said it this way, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

As we journey on as Travelers on the Rock Road, we have no guarantee what life will bring or how fair it will be.  The only promise I see is God’s everlasting love for us no matter what the world throws at us, and through that love we have the knowledge that we are special, that we do have abilities, purpose, and most importantly hope.

Through my Lord I see it now!  Thanks for reading!!




5 responses

9 09 2013
Jan Knoop

Hi John,
Wow! What a powerful story! May I ask a favor of you? Could I share your story with my Grace student teachers? Your story may impact a young teacher in a way that no classroom presentation can. I know it impacted me that way! Let me know what you think.
Thanks so much for sharing this.
Jan Knoop

9 09 2013

Hi Jan,

Thank you for your kind words. We give praise to our Lord in all matters. I would be honored to have you share my story with your young teachers.

Blessings to you and Gib,

John Miller

9 09 2013
Jan Knoop

Thank you so much for sharing!
Blessings back to you and Cathy! :))

9 09 2013


Just one extra note, Jan. Not trying to blow my own horn because there are many like me. Sometimes you don’t know where a treasure or talent has been stored, but God does. Just to follow up, for a boy who never learned to read til he was 12 and who can now claim a college degree with honors, I give all the praise to our Lord for knowing it was there all along and sending people to help bring it out.

Thanks again,
Your Hillbilly Hippie Friend,

9 09 2013
Jan Knoop

LOVE this clarification AND we always love our Hillbilly Hippie Friends! (Half of Gib’s relatives would qualify for that honor!) :))

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