Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A Flashback

Just now, at the PASAS institute, I had the opportunity (in context) to relay the story of my first day of school. It was a frightful experience to relive it, for some reason.

I was five yrs old, about to turn six yrs old in two months. I was very excited to be there. One of the first things the teacher did was to distribute tablets and pencils to each child. WOW! A brand new, big yellow tablet of my very own. Then she gave us each our own pencil. This, in 1953, was another big, fat, eraserless pencil. Remember the kind? Another wow! This was going to be GREAT!

The girl in front of me was the daughter of the man who owned a local 5&10 store. Remember THOSE? The five and dime. She lived on the right side of the tracks - one of those with some money. She came to school with her OWN tablet AND a pencil. Not me. Our family didn't have the spare change to buy me a tablet of my own. So, this was my first experience with it.

The girl also knew how to draw five point stars, and she ws busy doodling and drawing starts on her tablet. Another WOW! I looked over her shoulder and watched her draw a star, and then I tried to draw my own on my brand new tablet. Oh the things I was learning already.

Then I became aware that the teacher had told us not to make any marks on our tablet. Oh no! What was I to do? No eraser - and I don't even know now if I would have known how to use it. Now what?

I remember her coming along my left and seeing the stars on my paper and saying (were floames shooting out her nostrils, too?), "I TOLD you not to make any marks on your paper!" What could I say? Probably not much, but I didn't get the chance. She picked me out of my chair and put me face down across the desk and admonished me to, "Stay there!"

I an still see her walking to the front of the room and picking up a leather strap. It reminded me then (and now, of course) of a strap from a Barber Shop. She came back and swatted me THREE TIMES with that leather strap. For drawing stars on my paper.

I was petrified of that woman from that day forward. I cried every morning and every afternoon of that school year. EVERY morning and EVERY afternoon. (I walked home for lunch) I would walk out our back door and out our sidewalk that went out to the garage. I SHOULD have turned left behind the garage and walked out that alley. But many were the days that I would hide in the garage. My mother would watch for me to appear on the other side of the garage on my way out the alley, and when I didn't appear she would come out to the garage to find me. In the corner of the garage was a square hole that lead out to the dog pen where we kept our beagle. He had a regular dog house out there, too, but he could come into the garage when he wanted to. I used to hide in the dog house, too. I'd crawl through the hole, the dog coming to lick my face because he thought I was coming ot visit. But, I'd crawl into the dog house and hide. For drawing stars on my paper?

Going back to school after a long break was AWFUL. For fove or ten days I had been safe at home, but now they were sending me back to that monster. I was terrified EVERY DAY. It effected my health, and I contracted a case of pneumonia, which was, thankfully, quickly detected and cured.

It reminds me of what a motivational speaker once told us at a back-to-school inservice day. He said that our most important job that we have as teachers is to smile. (Groans) Yes, it is! Unless that child feels safe and welcome in your room, little or no learning will take place.

So, it was so odd that the telling of this story this afternoon should evoke such an emotional response. No tears or anything, but a real sense of horror - all over again. Fifty four years after the fact. And all because of some stars on a brand new tablet.

(image: CC licensed at Flickr by ckroberts61)


Frannie said...

My daughters experience with kindergarten was similar. She was not strapped but her teacher was a yeller and she was a very sensitive child. School was so difficult for her that first year. They changed teachers after winter break and her 2nd teacher was wonderful, but it did not change the early damage done. She was school phobic for several years after that. Going back to school after a break was always an ordeal. Please, teachers, remember the impact you can have on these young minds.

Alma Row said...

Powerful story, Jim! It takes me back to "Sister John." (Yes, "John"! In those days, nuns took men's names as well. While I love my Catholic faith, not all choosing to teach should.) BUT on the brighter side, I was subsequently blessed with some terrific, caring, SMILING teachers who instilled the joy for learning. I would venture that you were blessed in later years as well. We take on an awesome responsibility when we gain the title "Teacher." I hope I can always keep in mind what's important (SMILES) and what is not (stars on papers) when I teach, whether that be adults or children. ;-)

N said...

My son also had a similar experience except his was in a county school about 12 years ago. He did not like school, he was and is a very bright young man. But the teachers did not know how to deal with his kinesthetic learning style. He was always tapping his foot, picking his fingers etc. He never disrupted the classroom. Once, the teacher put a big black box on his desk. You know the kind that you cannot see over or around? She put you in the box so you wouldn't look at the window. However, at the same time, she wanted the students to take notes. Needless to say, that big black box ended up with many holes punched in by a pencil. One day his teacher told him "if you throw-up before school, you don't need to come." So guess what? My son, learned to make himself throw-up to avoid school.
After 3 years in the school, we moved. It was the best thing ever. My son is now a graduating senior with an acceptance to University of Pittsburgh, Greensburg. He is currently taking 2 AP classes and finally loves school.