In Spring 1972, one of my junior high school teachers told the class to make a “special project” that featured some aspect of Colonial Williamsburg. As good Virginians, we were studying this period in American history for about the 7th time in my seven years of schooling.
Since conscious memory, I have loved old houses and I loved drawing pictures of them and reading about them. It didn’t take long to decide I’d like to build a small model of a little wooden church, reminiscent of the Colonial period.
Other kids showed up with their hastily drawn pictures on large pieces of posterboard, but I had my little wooden church, replete with a cross, arched windows, double doors on the front and a removable roof with diminutive wooden pews inside. The gabled roof had a steep pitch of about 12/12, with generous eaves, true to the period. The windows were tall and thin, with an arch at the top.
I had mixed feelings about schoolwork and homework, but building this little wooden church gave me much pleasure and joy.
Kids crowded around my wooden creation, oohing and ahhing when I gently removed the roof and showed the little wooden pews inside. I eagerly anticipated the A+ this project surely would bring.
My accompanying written report was eventually returned to me with the grade scribbled in the upper right-hand corner. When I unfolded the paper, I gasped.
The teacher had given me a bold, red, angry “F.”
After class, I went to her desk and asked about the grade. She coolly replied, “I didn’t ask you to show me what your father could do. I wanted to see what you could do. You failed because you brought in someone else’s work, and claimed it as your own.”
If she’d been a wise woman, she would have asked questions about its construction. Maybe she would have queried me about what kind of saw I used to cut those arched windows. Or asked about the type of wood I used. Or asked what size nails I’d used to fasten the sides.
Instead, she presumed I was a liar.
Memory can be fickle, but as I recall, it was the first time in my life that an adult had accused me of lying. My parents occasionally asked me to be quite certain I was telling the truth during a few intense questionings, but no one had ever called me a liar.
I didn’t bother to tell her that my father wasn’t around much these days because it was obvious – she did not care. It’s true that, you may not remember what people say, but you’ll always remember how they make you feel.
She made me feel pretty low.
In the next day or two, I told my beloved brother Tom what had happened. Tom had been the helper at home. He’d driven me to the hardware store and spent 20 minutes teaching me how to select a saw blade for the old saw frame we had at home. He’d shown me how to drive nails in with a nail punch. He’d patiently taught me how to draw a proportionately accurate arch for those tiny windows, using a little math and a metal compass. My brother, Tom. He was a teacher by trade and also by birth. He loved to teach and he was good at it.
His response to the news of my failing grade was swift and sure. He contacted the teacher and in his most authoritative voice, he explained that I had indeed built this little church entirely by myself.
The next day, my “F” was changed to an “A.”
The school year ended a few weeks later and the teacher asked if she could keep the little wooden church in her classroom, to serve as an example of what can be accomplished by a motivated student.
I thought about it for all of six or seven seconds and said, “No.”
I’d hoped its absence would serve as an example that teachers should not assume that their students are liars, and/or that 7th-grade girls don’t know how to build things.
Today, I write about old houses and now have eight books under my belt. And I still love playing with wood.
It’s the truth. 🙂
Check out the photos of the new bookcase I recently completed in my home in Norfolk!
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