When Pierre Moss was in fourth grade, he went to an integrated school for the first time -- Mallory Grade School in Logan County.
Until then, he'd attended classes in a one-room schoolhouse in the coalfields where he grew up, with a black woman who drove from Charleston each day because Kanawha County wouldn't hire a black teacher.
"At first I was afraid of the new school -- I said, will I be able to do the school work, will I be behind?" Moss said. "Well when we got there, I went into the fourth grade and the work they were doing in the fourth-grade was work I had done in the second and third grades. It was like, 'Wow, we can do this.'"
He credits his teacher for that. She was strict but kind, he said, and was able to teach 30 students of all grade levels more in a one-room schoolhouse than his peers could learn in big schools with the luxury of single-grade classrooms. And starting school ahead of the curve in the fourth grade set him on an upward trajectory that lasted out his school years and projected him into college.
"It's just like these kids," he says, gesturing to the classroom behind him, at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary.
"When I get them in the second grade they can be so behind, and it's a lot of work getting them caught up. But it matters so much."
Moss, 61, is a new second-grade teacher at Mary C. Snow -- he taught special education classes there for two years before this.
And he's new to teaching altogether. He earned his education degree in 2008, after four years at West Virginia State University. That was more than 30 years after he earned his first degree from West Virginia State, in sociology. And after he spent more than 30 years in the workforce, working as an operating technician at the Monsanto Co. chemical plant in Nitro.
When the plant closed in 2004 it put Moss out of a job, but it would have been easy enough to find another one in the same field, he says.
Instead, he decided to get his education degree.
"Everybody thought I was crazy," Moss said. "They kept saying 'Just go out and get another job, you don't have to be a schoolteacher.' But I've always wanted to be a teacher. I have great respect for teachers."