Grampy used to sing a song about school days. Maybe that was the name of it. It’s where I learned about the “Three Rs,” although I considered that to be cheating! I am convinced any of my teachers would have called me out for “riting,” and “rithmatic,” but I learned early that the rules of adults can be obscure. I recall showing my Mom a toy of the
“PreSkool” brand and wondering why they couldn’t spell it correctly. I was 7 or 8. She tried to explain trademarks and advertising, but I thought if they couldn’t even spell “school” maybe they should go back to it. That may have been my first experience with irony, although I never had a word for that till I was in 10th grade.
My first day of school both Mom and Gram walked me up the street and to my classroom. There were only two. Mine had first, second, and third grades. I remember my dress – all the girls wore dresses – a turquoise and fuchsia plaid, which I would still love. Mom made it. She tied my braids with ribbons and I was ready to go. Gram said, years later, that I was the smallest kid in the room and she hated to leave me, but I don’t remember being particularly nervous. I recall the teacher giving all first-graders an elephant to color while she helped get the older kids settled. I thought it was kind of plain – a big gray blob – but the next day we got an apple that covered half a page, and that was better.
I remember – or think I do – a big tree in the side yard. First grade sat nearest the windows. I recall the tree as yellow, but like any maple in Vermont it went through all of the seasons in all its colors. I do remember a day the sun shone on the yellow leaves and there was a translucent glow that seemed to make the tree the source of the light. You only see that effect sometimes, and I still love it.
There were two big blackboards on the walls without windows, and they really were black, not green, not white. I think I have morphed to “chalk board” over the years, but I haven’t reached the age of erasable markers in my conversation yet! Really the school was like you’d see in any 19th century book – there were black and white portraits of Lincoln and Washington, and the alphabet. There was a “school clock” ticking away, pendulum marking the beat. There were some modern conveniences – tables in the back you could go to (quietly) – a sand table, some stencils of animals to trace, a long row of books, freshened up every 6 weeks by the bookmobile. You could sign those books out just as in a “real” library and take them home.
We did pretty well, considering. Some kids would get cranky from time to time. Probably the teacher did, too. Some kids came speaking only French but caught up quickly. Sometimes it rained. Rambunctiousness was saved for two recesses and the lunch break. I don’t have much of a memory for down times, though there must have been some, for everyone, although you wouldn’t know it from conversations and letters to editors about “kids nowadays.”
Dad assures me that “kids nowadays” have never measured up, no matter when “nowadays” occurred. I have here a letter from a former teacher who speaks of “loud and crude behavior” of the students, and how their parents are responsible. You’ll probably see a similar one next week. The one I have was written to Time magazine. In 1947.
Kids these days!