Reflections Upon My First Day of School

I went to school the first time in September, 1977. I was 5 1/2 years old. Things were vastly different back then with education than it is now. Preschool wasn’t a common thing, especially if you lived in a rural area like I did. “Young fives” was definitely not a thing yet. If you were 5 or around 5 when kindergarten rolled around, you went to school.  My mother was a “stay at home mom,” and my dad worked at Buick City. I  rarely even baby-sat. Aside from participating in a “tot lot” program during the summer before I started kindergarten, nothing was really done to prepare me for the experience, aside from what I might have heard from my older brother, and mom and dad buying me some new clothes/shoes.

Truth be told? I didn’t want to go to school! I was terrified. I’m sure my mother was equally nervous, but as I got off the bus and went into the school, I didn’t even know where to go! I’m pretty sure I wound up going into the wrong classroom. But since there were only two morning kindergarten classes, I had a 50 percent chance of picking the right one! Yes, I’m pretty much sure I cried on my first day of school (typical kindergartner behavior, LOL)!

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Where I spent grades K-4

Emotionally and socially? I probably wasn’t ready for kindergarten yet. I was thrust into a class with 20 some-odd other kids – most of whom I’d never met before. And it was all ruled by Mrs. Porter, with whom I had kind of a rocky relationship (along with some of the other students). I described Mrs. Porter as having hair that was “many colors” to my parents. It must have been streaked or something, but definitely not with the “mermaid” or “unicorn” colors that are all the rage now. She was a strict disciplinarian, not a warm, fuzzy person by any means. Since this was the ’70s, spanking/paddling  and other corporal punishments were standard fare in homes – and in schools. Punishing children by isolating them from the other kids (i.e. by putting them in the corner or  by making them stand out in the hallway) was also a standard practice. I endured both types of these punishments while under Mrs. Porter’s supervision. The school’s principal had a paddle hanging on his wall – I had to visit the principal’s office later (in first grade) when a school bully had threatened me after I tripped him in the school cafeteria. The principal caught wind of this, and basically told this bully, Steve C., to leave me alone (which he did). I didn’t say anything to anybody when he threatened to “get” me, but obviously someone else did…he was kind of a scary kid who had gotten “held back” a few times.

I certainly wasn’t a “problem child,” but I’m pretty sure I probably had some difficulties adapting to the challenges of school, the other students, and this cold, bossy female authority figure! One of the things I did that REALLY ground her gears was write my initials on my papers instead of my full name. I was geeked when I learned about “initials,” and decided I would just put my initials on my papers instead of my whole name (which was fourteen letters long, first and last). I was just being lazy, to be sure, but Mrs. Porter called me out on it. “You have to write your WHOLE name on your papers, not JUST your initials! Yes ma’am!

Speaking of papers, for these we were graded with either “smiley faces” or “frowny faces.” For a while, I was just throwing away my “frowny face” papers instead of bringing them home to show my parents. Somehow, my parents found out about this and decided to GROUND me. For a whole afternoon! My parents weren’t super strict with discipline, though my brother and I were both spanked when we really screwed around. Ask me about the “ping-pong paddle incident…” Oh THAT! Mom told my brother and I to never, ever hide in a certain closet in the basement while playing hide and seek. And we did it anyway. So we both got the paddle for it.

Despite all of this, I wasn’t a complete loss as a kindergartner! I met with a speech pathologist who determined I didn’t have a speech impediment (whew). But aside from not having to go to speech therapy,  I had something else going well for me, and that was reading. I was reading (and writing) by the time I entered kindergarten. I may have had trouble learning the fine arts of sharing, “playing nice” with kids I didn’t like, following directions, learning to tie my shoes, bringing in cookies the other kids liked (I liked the molasses ones filled with raspberry jam in the middle, which weren’t terribly popular with the other kids) and not throwing rocks at Jeff P’s head (an accidental thing for which I was spanked)..but I DID know how to read! My mom read books to my brother and I regularly, even books that were probably way too advanced for little kids (The Hobbit was one of her favorites to read to us). She also read the standard “kiddie” stuff to us, too – Dr. Seuss, Hop on Pop, Little Golden Books…I was also reading bumper stickers on cars, and on signs for businesses, which would occasionally cause me to ask my parents some uncomfortable questions! Example – “Mommy, what’s a peep show?” I’ll bet my parents just LOVED that we had a Velvet Touch store located right by a highway that we frequently used! My brother’s “joke” name for the store was “Purple Passion Pit.”

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Proof that I was reading before I entered kindergarten. This photo was taken when I was 4. I do not know which “Little Golden Book” this was, but it probably involved kittens or something! Dad had a “Woody is a Pecker” bumper sticker on the back of this van, which of course I had to ask about! “Daddy, what’s a pecker?”

Because I could read, me and one other student – John R. – were put into a reading class with first graders in Miss Rowe’s class, which was on the other side of the building. Or was it Mrs. Schipper? I don’t really remember…It was a time of day I looked forward to! Not only because I got to read, but I got to do something different – and got a little taste of independence! Before John and I went to our reading class, we had to go to the cafeteria and tell the workers how many cartons of chocolate and white milk our class would need for our “cookie break.” We would repeat the numbers over and over while we walked down the hallway to make sure we wouldn’t forget them!

Sometimes the older kids from the school would convene in our “open” kindergarten classroom (the two kindergarten classrooms were not divided by a wall, but divided by a “common” area, which had books/ toys, and big rugs on which we sat to listen to stories and sing songs (I LOVED singing songs…). And all of those kids would cram into that area for singing, so it gave me a chance to see the “other” kids in the first grade class that I’d met in my reading group. “Open” classrooms were all the rage in the 1970s, and that type of classroom was the main reason we moved into this school district before my brother started school in 1974. The place we were living before had traditional classrooms, not the “open” kind. Though not all of the classes in my elementary school were taught in “open” classrooms, some of them were. My third grade classroom was also an “open” classroom with one teacher’s class on one side, and the other teacher’s class on the other, with a common area in the middle.

Despite my difficulties adapting to kindergarten, I still wound up “passing” and advancing to first grade -where I would have an even MORE strict teacher (Mrs. Fay), and eventually second grade, with the equally strict Mrs. Hornung (she gave out “parking tickets” for various transgressions). Nope, teachers weren’t out to be “friends” with their students back in the day! It it weren’t for my cool hippie music teacher Miss Watt (who would turn off all of the lights and have students lie on the floor and listen to various music – insisting that our ears worked better when we couldn’t see), my third grade teacher Mrs. Fohey (whom I have to thank for the countless tidbits of trivia knowledge still sitting in my head such as state capitals, facts about various historical figures, and the names of all of the U.S. presidents) and my dynamic fourth grade teacher Mrs. Brewer? I may have been turned off by the whole elementary school experience entirely!

Looking back, maybe I would have benefited from a “preschool” experience. It probably would have helped me socialize better and adapt to situations involving other kids. You don’t always get to test the waters before you get in –  there is still something to be said for learning some things the “hard way.” I’m not faulting my parents for anything they did – or didn’t do. And I’m not even faulting the teachers for using corporal punishment – or for any of the other punishments that were doled out to me. Things were different then – overly coddling “helicopter parenting” was definitely not a thing, and it was largely a sink or swim existence for kids. Both parenting “styles” have their pros and cons, and both styles can have potentially bad long-term effects. Overall, I’d have to say having parents that let me take my lumps, learn from my mistakes and enjoy a lot of independence without micromanaging me was a good thing. My childhood and school experiences may not have been perfect, but they helped shape the person I would become.

 

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