By BILL YEE
I believe that everyone has a teacher that had an impact on their development as a human being and hopefully a productive member of society. In my case, Mrs. Mae Threadgill was that teacher. She was my fourth-grade teacher at Redding Elementary School in San Francisco. Mrs. Threadgill was also my younger brother Ted’s fourth-grade teacher.
We both agreed everyone loved Ms. Threadgill. She was a kind and caring teacher. At this point she was a young teacher who really related well to her students. She was beautiful! Halle Berry would have portrayed her if there was ever was a movie about her life.
Her impact on my academic career was to make me a better reader and to love the written word. Up to the fourth grade, I was not a very good reader. English was not my first language since both my Chinese immigrant parents usually only spoke Chinese to us.
We were not exposed to English until we started school. I could not master phonics, which was being taught in conjunction with reading. As a result, my word attack skills were horrible and I could not understand what I was reading.
I was also a terrible speller. I got so many words wrong on spelling tests that I had to take my spelling book home and have it signed by my dad. Thanks to technology and spellcheck it does not take this remedial speller forever to finish this column.
In the ’60s, students were tracked and placed in groups. Group One was composed of the most advanced readers, Group Two were readers at grade level and Group Three had those who were behind. Being in Group Three every school year up to that point did not help my self-esteem.
During a parent conference, Mrs. Threadgill told my dad with me translating that I needed to learn to read better since it was linked to academic success. She suggested that I start reading for pleasure and interest. She said maybe comic books, which were high-interest, might improve my reading skills.
Well, I did just that, it was the beginning of the Silver Age of Marvel and DC comics and we all loved Superman and Batman. Comic books had advanced vocabulary and of course high interest.
I remember at the beginning we would take an hour to read one comic book but by the 6th grade I could read a comic book in 10 minutes.
The result is that within a year I moved up to Group Two and by the 7th and 8th I was reading above grade level.
Eventually my love of reading and history put me on the path to being a history teacher.
Now as Paul Harvey (Only older people know he is!) used to say, “Now you know the rest of the story!” Well, not quite!
So, what is the rest of the story? A few years passed and I was in my mid-forties. I am attending a teacher workshop on teaching social studies. The woman conducting the workshop is named Threadgill.
On a whim, I ask her if she has any relatives who are teachers, she said she had an aunt who taught in San Francisco. I wondered if her aunt was my fourth-grade teacher.
I asked if she could give me her aunt’s email address. I made contact and it was indeed the Mrs. Threadgill who was my fourth-grade teacher! She was so surprised to hear from one of her students 30 years later.
Well, I set up a date to take her out to lunch with my two young sons. She insisted that we come to her house and she would make lunch for us.
She had a beautiful home with beautiful paintings and sculptures. The house could have been an art museum.
She brought out the fine china and the white tablecloth. The food was excellent. It was a special afternoon and my two boys were so impressed with my fourth-grade teacher!
I found out that after Redding School, she had gotten into administration. In fact, she was one of the first African American elementary school principals in SFUSD. I mentioned Mr. Toler, my junior high dean of boys, who was also among the first African American administrators in the district. She knew him!
We kept in touch through the years and of course Mrs. Threadgill retired but still kept busy.
One of the great honors she bestowed upon our family was to invite me and my wife Lisa to her 80th birthday party in 2018. To think that I had a chance to celebrate a milestone with one of my teachers who had such a great impact on my life is truly a blessing.
And now you know the rest of the story!
Bill Yee is a retired Alhambra High School history teacher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.