Beliefnet

A story from The Push. (Excerpted from Inspiration Your Ultimate Calling)

I was inspired by Mrs. Olive Fletcher. In 1956, I was taking biology for the second time at Denby High School in Detroit. I'd failed the class the previous year because of my own stubbornness: I'd refused to complete a leaf collection, which my then 15-year-old self perceived to be an absurd requirement.

At that time, my mother was divorcing my alcoholic step-father, and I was working in a local grocery store every evening during the week and all day on Saturday and Sunday. My instructor for this second foray into biology was Mrs. Fletcher, and she was the very first teacher I encountered who seemed to care about me personally. For example, she was there for me after school, called my home to see if I was okay during the tumultuousness (including frequent fights and other unpleasantness) taking place at the time, and allowed me to put my head down and sleep during study periods when I'd completed my assignments. She also encouraged me to tutor other students because she recognized something in me that I'd never heard a teacher say before: She told me that I was brilliant and had a mind that could take me wherever I wanted to go.

This incredible person even invited me to go bowling with her and her husband. Before I met Mrs. Fletcher, I'd never imagined that teachers were actually human, let alone went bowling. She was the first "authority figure" who welcomed my questioning and tolerated my sometimes disruptive behavior. She showed me that I was worthy of being loved by someone in a position of authority.

Thanks to Mrs. Fletcher's inspiration, I went from a failing grade the previous year to an A. I wanted to excel just for her because she had so much faith in me. Now, exactly a half century later, Mrs. Olive Fletcher still stands out as the one individual in all of my school years who turned the direction of my life from fighting the system to being able to choose to fit in without having to give in.

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