I just read Brian Palacio’s post about his earliest days in school, and became inspired to think about mine. I think it’s a great idea for us as teachers to recall our first impressions of school – what has stayed with us both as positives and negatives. What do you think, #MTBoSBlogsplosion?
My earliest school days are quite some time ago – back in 1965. I went to a half-day kindergarten at a neighborhood school — the Waltoffer Avenue School (if you think that name is a mouthful, the school was later renamed after a retired superintendent, John Dinkelmeyer). I don’t remember anything about the activities in kindergarten, but I do remember my teacher with great fondness – Miss Barley. She was tall, thin, freckled, and wore glasses, and was a non-ending fountain of warmth and fun. When I remember her, she is wearing an outfit which I long associated with style and glamour – a white pleated skirt with a navy blouse with white polka dots. I had the opportunity to work as a ‘kindergarten assistant’ when I was in fifth grade, and again, remember no specific details about what I did in Miss Barley’s classroom when I was ten years old. But I was as proud of that job as anything as a young student, and I still have the scrapbook she gave me as a thank you gift at the end of the year.
And even though I have no memories of actual activities in kindergarten, my overall recollection was of happiness at being in school with my friends, engaging in playful learning activities for the morning. After we left, we spent the afternoon playing in each other’s backyards. A halcyon time.
In first grade, the situation changed markedly. My teacher, Mrs. Ferme, lived up to her name, even though I loved her as I loved almost all of my elementary school teachers. I was still a happy student, but at some point during the year, my teacher and my parents deemed that I was too far ahead of the rest of the class, and that I would be prepared to skip second grade. I thus attended a second grade reading group (I remember learning to spell the word ‘phoebe’ my very first day in this advanced group), and I remember having a stack of workbooks on my desk that I would work from while the rest of the class was doing first grade classwork. Differentiation a la 1967. I didn’t mind, because I was academically challenged, I suppose, and still in class with my friends. Sometime towards the end of the year, I moved into the second grade classroom. And here I have my first math learning memory. Despite my ‘advanced’ math preparation, I did not know how to subtract numbers over 100, and remember being completely puzzled (and a little freaked out that I was in completely over my head; my days at the top of the class were clearly over!). A kind boy named Larry Brodsky showed me how to ‘carry.’ [Ironically, even though we were in school together through high school, this was the longest interaction we ever had.] I was able to do the remainder of the assignment, but to this day, subtracting multidigit numbers evokes a feeling of discomfort – my mental math Achilles’ heel. And my understanding of this process was purely algorithmic for years. When I am tutoring younger middle school students, and observe them elaborately ‘carrying’ powers of ten when subtracting, I wonder why this is still taught this way.
Thus, my earliest school days. Socially, it was steadily downhill after first grade – the academic placement might have been appropriate, but the social dislocation was severe. I was viewed as the nerdy baby of the class – and it was NOT hip to be square back then. Even though I still lived around the corner from my crew, (my first BFFS, Laura and Carol), grade-level friendships began to impede upon the strong bonds we created in our secret backyard club. I know my parents and teachers thought what they were doing was in my best interest, and from the vantage point of 56 years, it was just an early leg on my life journey, but there were some rough and lonely times. And who’s to say I couldn’t have found academic challenge at my appropriate grade level? It wasn’t until I left Waltoffer Avenue for the junior high on the other side of the highway that I began to feel like I was in the ‘right grade’ again. Middle school years can be torturous for some, but for me, they were a relief after the intense social unpleasantness and persistent bullying. And I can say definitively that these early experiences are the basis for my lifelong distaste for Long Island – apologies to my dear friends Sue and Dorie (as well as Laura and Carol) who have made wonderful lives for themselves and their families there.
What are your earliest school experiences?