Until I was in sixth grade, I didn't know how to read. Despite countless teachers attempting to teach me, I just couldn't get the hang of it. That is, until I met Mr. Longue.
Mr. Longue started the year as my least favorite teacher. His condescending tone and scrutinizing monocle always made me feel inferior, as if I was the only sixth grader in the world who couldn't read. I absolutely despised feeling his stone cold glare on me as I listened to the audiobook version of what all my classmates were reading. Then, one day Mr. Longue called me to his desk, where he invited me to stay after school and work with him on my reading.
By the end of the year, his condescending tone became friendly and his monocle was no longer scrutinizing me, but admiring my newfound talent.
Now I'm in eighth grade and I'm practically a master of linguistics. Here to comment is my mother, and Mr. Longue himself.
“So mother, what is your opinion on me not being able to read for so long?” I ask. “Well honey,” my mother starts, “I think there are plenty of children your age who can't read. I admire your ambition for trying to learn. And succeeding too, who knew that would happen?”
Trying not to act hurt by her last sentence, I ask Mr. Longue a question. “Mr. Longue. How old were you when you learned to read?”
Mr. Longue smiles. “I believe I was 14, about the same age you are now. I had been tired of all the other kids taunting me, so I decided to learn. It was not easy, but I persisted. Now I find joy in teaching young boys and girls how to read, so they are not discriminated against like I was.”
I am intrigued. As a follow up, I ask, “What did those other kids do to you. How were they discriminating.”
“Oh my,” Mr. Longue sighs, “it's almost too painful to think about. Let's see, there was one time involving a toilet and my head. That was unfortunate. Another time they shoved me in my locker, as I was quite small.”
I can see he is emotional from remembering those terrible times. A single tear emerges from behind his monocle.
My mother sees the tear as well, and being a nice woman, she didn't draw attention to it. I, the inconsiderate eighth grader however, point it out. “Mr. Longue, are you crying?”
“Forgive me,” he mumbles, “it's just so hard. All I want to do in my life is keep other children from going through the same things I did.”
Mr. Longue is truly a role model to look up to.
Alicia Niemann, an 8th grader at Friedell Middle School, is the 3rd place winner of the 2017 Next Generation Storytellers contest, presented by Bolder Options Rochester and the Med City Beat.
Read submissions from all the finalists.