We moved across the country between my first and second grades. On the first day of school in second grade, I knew that I was in trouble. The teacher was writing on the board in a way that I couldn’t read. I knew my alphabet, but I hadn’t learned “writing” yet.

I sat quietly and tried not to attract attention. I liked the school. It was new and the desks and books were new and the kids were all clean. I didn’t want to get kicked out because I couldn’t write, or read writing.

The teacher eventually called on me and asked me a question about something that she had written on the board. I was sitting toward the back of the class and claimed I couldn’t see the board clearly. She invited me to move up to a desk closer to the front, and also told me to get my eyes checked – that I might need glasses. I said OK.

“I mean, move up now, Mary,” she said, but in a kindly way.

At the closer desk, I had to admit to her that I wasn’t sure what the words on the board meant.

“That can’t be,” she said. “They’re very simple words.”

I hung my head.

“I mean, I can’t read that kind of writing,” I said. “I only know regular letters. But I do know capitals and little letters.”

“Which class were you in last year, dear?” she said.

“I went to a school in Virginia.”

“Aha. You were in a school that teaches cursive in the second grade, not in the first grade. That’s OK. We’ll teach you to read this writing very quickly. In the meantime, don’t feel bad that you can’t read it. We’ll help you out as we go along.”

It turned out that there was another kid in the class who didn’t know writing at all, like me. I was glad to hear that. I made friends with him. If I had thought to look around earlier, I would probably have seen other kids squinting at the blackboard as they tried to remember what they had learned back before summer came.

The class spent some time that first day just practicing writing, so I got started with that. We would write a row of a’s and then a row of b’s and then a row of c’s. The paper had lines across and you had to stay on the lines. That was a help. Some of the kids got bored but I was glad for the chance to sit and learn to write on my very first day.