The Third Grader

June 11th, 2012

The third grader lived in a six-family tenement building, a stone’s throw from the railroad tracks. The six-family tenement building was a sibling of many like it on the street. They were spaced between a shoe factory, chicken plant, two barrooms, and small grocery store. It was the neighborhood where he lived and learned to make sense of his life. Freight engines played the music of the streets accompanied by the sounds of leather being cut for shores, and trucks rumbling down the street. The nighttime songs were different, the songs of drunken men and women walking home from one of the two bars reached his bedroom, sirens in the distance, and the lonely whistle of the midnight freight kept him company. It was normal. It was his life.

The third grader’s dreams didn’t carry far beyond his neighborhood. Maybe one day he be a mechanic like his uncle, make a career out of the army like another uncle, work in the shoe factory like his mother, or be shoe worker and bartender like his dad.

It changed in third grade for the boy. He met Miss Thompson. She looked old to him, in a way that all adults look old to a third grader. Each morning she stood by the door, towering over the students entered her classroom. Each morning she’d say “good morning” to each student, calling each by name. Around the middle of October, when the young boy came into the classroom she didn’t call him by name. Instead, she called him “Governor.” Governor he thought? Just like the man in the election?

Miss Thompson said, “One day you’re going to be governor.” From that day through the rest of the school year, each time the young boy from the other side of the tracks walked in to the classroom, he said, “Good morning Miss Thompson.” She always said, “Good morning Governor.” He began to think other things were possible.

The boy never became governor. He dreamed big and still believes in dreams thanks to Miss Thompson. It’s a true story. I was that third-grader. Miss Thompson is long dead, but always remembered by me. Every third grader needs someone who believes in him or her. I think its true of everyone no matter the age.

Be Miss Thompson for someone today.



  1.   Jaime Stewart says:

    Mine was Mrs. King. I will never forget her and I try to remind myself of her messages to me when I work with students. I always try to encourage them that there is a way to “get out and give back” rather than feeling responsible to stay.

  2.   rcalabrese says:

    Mrs. King belongs right there with Miss Thompson. We were fortunate. Thanks for sharing.

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