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Started high school at 12, extremely shy and bookish. My teachers loved me, because I always knew the answers, but my fellow students thought I was snobbish, because I didn't talk to anybody and sat by myself at lunchtime in the cafeteria.

It didn't help matters any when teachers would refuse to call on me, saying that they knew I knew the answer. Or, when everybody had guessed wrong, ask me to answer correctly. The worst time was when we were supposed to write a story about autumn and my teacher read it out loud to the class as an example of how to write! I was so embarrassed and self-conscious, I wanted to crawl under my desk.

Adjusting to a constant change of schools would have been easier if I had been an average student. By high school, I had changed schools 21 times.

It was my English teacher who helped me come out of my shell. My junior year English class was English Lit, poetry and prose. The teacher gave us book report assignments which we had to give orally. Mine was a disaster, because I was too shy to speak in front of the class.

Then one day she asked me to read from the poetry section of the Lit book out loud to the rest of the class. She didn't make me stand up; just read from where I was sitting.

A fragment of medieval poetry, the first poem was by Anonymous (it speaks to anyone who grew up in cold, wet weather country):

Western wind, when wilt thou blow?
The small rain down can rain.
Christ, if my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!

That was the earliest poem in the anthology. Poems went on from there through Milton, Donne, and Wordsworth and all the familiar favorites.

I came alive. I loved to read aloud and it showed in my face and voice. Everyone was completely silent, and I read aloud for the entire class period, poem after poem.

Every few days she would give me poetry or prose selections to read out loud to the class. She said I had a gift for it. I always thought of it as my gift to whoever was listening.

After that, girls started talking to me and, eventually, boys, too. I made friends (though I was still terribly shy with strangers. Still am, to some extent). All because my teacher, Mrs. Robertson, who knew I loved to read, kept trying till she found something that worked. Bless her.

Every time it rains (as it is doing this morning), I remember that poem ("...the small rain") and think of other rainy days and the teacher who knew there was more to teaching that filling heads with the right answers.

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