Editor's note: This column was adapted from Dalton Roberts' book, "Things That Really Matter," 1980.
I was expelled from school in the 10th grade. No injustice was done. I should have been expelled a year earlier.
After 8 years of good grades, boredom overwhelmed me and I just broke bad. I hated school, I hated sitting all day, the bells that never stopped ringing, homework and many of the teachers.
Yes, the principal was justified in expelling me. I rolled wastebaskets down the hall, stuck bobby pins in the edges of seats and twanged them with my toe, got into fights, smoked cigarettes in the rest room, hid snuff boxes full of sulfur behind radiators, skipped classes, played hooky and turned a cow loose in the hall.
Now, who would think a kid like that was worth messing with? Who would even try to help him? Lawrence L. Fults, that's who.
Mr. Fults was an awesome looking man, at least that's how he looked to me at the time. Other students seemed to feel the same way about him.
Some of the boys called him "Adolf" because he had a shock of black hair that fell down over his forehead. He tolerated no foolishness and would let the blade down on you quicker than a John Deere tractor.
He taught algebra, civics and economics. Billions of people have lived upon this earth but not a single one has hated algebra as much as I did. I took algebra under another teacher and failed a semester. When I had to take it over to get enough credits to graduate, they assigned me to Mr. Fults.
I shuddered. By this time I had decided half-heartedly to try to graduate but getting stuck in Mr. Fults class took the steam out of me. I stared out the window most of the semester and seldom did homework or the
work assigned for class periods.
One day he told me to come and see him after the final period. All day long I dreaded that final bell. I came within an inch of leaving school.
He offered to stay after school any day to help me. I thanked him but told him I just couldn't learn algebra.
Report card day rolled around. Before the first bell rang, Mr. Fults came out where I was standing with a group of boys and called me aside.
"You know you haven't earned a passing grade in algebra," he said as I looked down at the ground.
"Yes, I know," I acknowledged.
He finally said, "Maybe you deserve to fail but I am giving you a D-minus because some day, you'll amount to something. You come from a good family. You've got a pretty good mind. You may even go to college, but you need that D-minus just to graduate so you can get into college. None of us deserve all the breaks we get in life and you may not deserve this one. But you will remember it somewhere down the line."
You my not remember, Mr. Fults, but down the line I made an "A" in your economics course.
Down the line I made a "C" in college algebra, still hating it.
Down the line I made an "A" in advanced statistics.
As I go on down the line, I will keep remembering the teacher who turned my attitude around.
Contact Dalton Roberts at DownhomeP@aol.com.