Monday, November 29, 2010

My Life as a First Grader

Back in the day - children were not required to go to Kindergarten, but my mom worked so I was enrolled in a small private Kindergarten where I mostly remember playing in the sandbox. However, going to "real" school was a big deal and I was enrolled in Royall Elementary School in Florence, SC on that first day of first grade with a little fear and lots of anticipation. My teacher was Mrs. Sharp and she ruled with an iron hand. She was older, stern and had a ruddy complexion. I don't remember that she ever smiled. I was deathly afraid of her. I vividly remember the day in first grade as we opened our reading books to the "adventures" of Dick, Jane and Sally. I did not know the word "see" and called the word "look". Mrs. Sharp was furious, furious, furious (as I remember it!) and pulled me by the ear. I was so afraid that she was going to make me wear the baby cap (which was a baby blue crocheted cap with a satin bow she made the "bad" boys wear to lunch) that I was practically trembling. I was a timid student with no self confidence. My mother had never read to me. I don't think she knew that is what she was suppose to do so I was not particularly well prepared for the academic pursuits of first grade. I was very fortunate the next year to have a second grade teacher, Mrs. Gilmore, that changed my life by believing in me. She was the reason that I later became a teacher. Right before I got married, my mother and I ran into Mrs. Sharp and she was actually delightful. She told my mom that I was such a sweet, well-behaved student! Really? She was actually pleasant and I remember walking away and being so surprised. That lesson has stuck with me all these years. When my students remember me I want it to be with a smile on my face!

I graduated from high school with most of the same students who sat with me in first grade. There was very little diversity in our little school. Schools in my southern town would not be integrated until my final years of high school. I knew nothing else so it would be years - when I became a teacher in my own hometown - before I really came to terms with what was actually happening in our southern segregated schools.

Life was safe in my little first grade world. I rode my bike to and from school. It was a couple of miles, across a main road. Many of my friends rode their bikes or walked to school and I can't ever remember any parent worrying, although remembering some of the things we did on the way home, maybe they should have! Even though my mom owned her own dancing school and worked every day, which was unusual for the times, I came home every day to my Granny who lived with us. I don't think there was anything like day care or Extended Day after school. All my friends went home to after-school snacks  and most of them went home to their stay-at-home moms. Divorce was not even an option in the times when I was a first grader.

I think life is much more complex for families today. Children spend larger amounts of time in the care of someone other than a family member. Parents, who mostly seem to be working these days, often come home tired. I know I did when I was a parent and I had a first grader while I was working full time. As a teacher now, I try to remember that my little first graders really have much more complex lives and the very things that excite us about their connectedness to the world also bother us because our children are exposed to so much more. In my years as a first grader we only had three television stations available, no cell phones or computers - hard to imagine - and rotary telephones with cords attached! Was it easier when we were just oblivious? I guess only time will tell....


Maria Mallon & Cheryl Dillard said...

So glad you didn't have to wear the blue crocheted cap! We have to be so careful in how we treat the little ones each day. There is no such thing as "having a bad day" when you are a teacher. Leave your problems at the door and enter with a fresh face a good attitude because our bad day will quickly turn into their bad day...they deserve better. So many distractions for them these days - that's why books and reading is more important than ever. They can travel to way more places than video-game land with a good story!! :) MM

Melanie Holtsman said...

She grabbed you by the ear? A baby cap??? Oh my! My bad teachers were nothing in comparison! I feel like you do about what I want my students to remember from teaching them. You really did have an amazing experience for the person you have become! I know your first graders will remember your smile and joyful learning.

Susan T. Phillips said...

Even though there are a number of years between us I was shocked at the similarities between our first grade experiences. My teacher was British (image how I said house and mouse at the end of that year), older and stern as well. What really struck me though was that I also learned to read with Dick and Jane. Evidence of how little change there was to educational practice back in our how times have changed. Thank goodness.