Thursday, August 6, 2009

School Daze & School Days


Just when I thought I was going to settle down and enjoy my last week or so of leisure before returning to school, I found myself rearranging furniture and replacing old bath towels for new (but still all white), and making extra room in closets. This fall my son and his wife and my one and only grandson will finally have made a move to just one house in the next state and no longer have a place here in town, which means when they are here (which will be often), they will stay with us. Then, last weekend, it was time for my 40th high school reunion! It was great fun, and most people commented on the fact that we were a class that really loved one another. (Believe me, as a classroom teacher, I have observed that entire classes have distinct personalities and sometimes hate one another while the next year's group will be completely opposite.) Our class had a 10th, 20th, 25th, 30th, 35th, and now 40th reunion. So yes, we really like one another.

Now that I am back at school, and have seen my schedule of all seniors for British Literature, I am experiencing my same old butterflies and mild stage fright: tomorrow is the first day of classes. How silly does that sound? I have been adding up all the years I have actually begun a school year. Above is my first grade picture. I did not attend nursery school or kindergarten, but I did spend the year before first grade enthralled with Alabama Public Television as teachers gave instruction in language and math and social studies designed for use in the elementary classroom. I would set up a little table and chairs in front of our black and white RCA, and I would "attend" school with my dolls and teddy bears. Public television in the US was certainly in its infancy. In fact, Alabama was the first state to have a public television network in 1955! Add to that programming, Romper Room & Captain Kangaroo, and I had a pretty good start! So, when I began to account for every year, from 1957 until 2009, I realized that every year, since 1957, I have returned to a school or college to begin the quest of a New School Year, either as a student or as a teacher. Sometimes, it was a dual beginning, as when I was teaching and attending graduate school. In later years, I was teaching high school during the day, and teaching in a community college at night. If you throw in my year with Public TV, that adds up to 54 consecutive years that I have participated in the ritual of beginning a new school year.

My mother was very much a traditional stickler when it came to dressing her children. Too bad she wasn't there at school to straighten my collar before this picture was taken. She always wanted my hair in ringlets and used a large fountain pen to roll my hair into sausage curls. I hated my bangs because I had a cowlick that always made my hair lift up on one side so that it appeared to me that my bangs were cut unevenly. So, she curled them as well! This was the only one of my school pictures that was black and white. (I think some of the entire classroom photos were in black and white.) All subsequent years, individual photos were in living color.

I vividly remember my first grade teacher, Mrs. Maude Clements. She was classic: Think of the darling little lady in the cartoons with Tweety Bird...adorably plump, sweet face, silver hair in a softy shaped bun. I think she was not really very old -- maybe a late forty something. Every morning she would read to us from Psalms or from a Bible passsage relative to a holy day. My best friends in first grade were Teena, Debbie (my maid of honor), and Harold. Teena was all fun and giggles; Debbie was a little blonde princess, and Harold was adored by all as a perfect gentleman who would become a fine, handsome athlete and class leader despite his brush with polio which left him with a limp. We had the little table and chair styled desks which had a cubby hole, so in the back of the room, Mrs. Clements set up chairs for our reading groups. The floor was that rough, unfinished wood that had to be cleaned by pouring an oily sawdust compound on the floor and sweeping it up. Teena's mother, ever active in the PTA and the only working mother I knew of, bought a darling linoleum floor covering featuring many classic illustrated nursey rhymes so that we could sit on the floor in our reading groups. My favorite part of the day was right after lunch. Mrs. Clements would have us put our heads down for a nap. The steam heat would softly hum and hiss while she would play classic fairytales for us on a record player. I rarely slept but listened with rapt attention to every detail and description. This was the first time I ever heard the story of The Billy Goats Gruff and the Troll and other tales like Rumpelstiltskin.

I am certain that first year in her classroom made me a teacher. I loved my classmates, my school, and I loved Mrs. Clements.

9 comments:

Country Girl said...

And I love this post.

What an absolutely charming teacher you had, who ended up inspiring you at such a young age! I've seen classes come and go and every so often you get one that absolutely loves each other (for the most part!)

I know that our school has already produced lots of teachers. Without them, where would be all be?

FireLight said...

Thank you, Kate. I am bringing my beautiful portrait of your acorn to keep on my desk! From little acorns, mighty oaks do grow!

Derrick said...

Hello FireLight,

Hope you're enjoying being back? What a memory you have! I have never been to a reunion (not been any as far as I know) and don't think I would. Your relationship with your classmates is obviously very special.

willow said...

I had a few of those "Tweety Bird grandma" teachers myself. Yes, and the funny thing that they were younger than we are now!

I am surprised, after 54 years, you still have mild stage fright. Maybe it's just the butterflies of anticipation?

I love all white towels at WM, too. :^)

FireLight said...

Derrick, I think we were just fortunate....the Age of Aquarius and that sort of thing!
Willow, I live in the Land of Mildew....I use bleach in the wash for all my linens...plus they just always go with my 1930's black and white bathrooms!

Thistle Cove Farm said...

What a Fabulous Post! My MIL was a teacher at all levels including university. A few years back we took her to her 75th Queens College reunion and there were 3 other women from her class there to celebrate! What a great time they had, as did we simply watching them enjoy themselves and share memories.

Maggie May said...

is that you in the photo? so sweet.

Virginia said...

Oh dear. My comment didnt' make it here. I had such a wonderfully written essay about Miss Brittain, my first grade teacher, and memories of Minnie Holman Elementary in Crestwood. I loved your post and your absolutely precious school pic. Hope the beginning of school treats you well. I had butterflies every single year I taught. Somet things never change.
Hugs,
V

Rowan said...

What lovely memories of your first teacher, I remember mine too - Miss Williamson who always seemed really old but had actually gone grey when she was very young. Later in my life I got to know her as a friend and she was actually the same age as my mum! I've only ever been to one school re-union, we don't have them here in the same way that you do in the US. The occasion was when my Grammar School(11-18 yr olds)was closing down, I was in my early 40s and it was great fun seeing my old classmates again after so many years. Some had barely changed(including me I think as everyone seemed to recognize me) and others had altered beyond recognition and required some delicate probing questions to figure out who they were:)

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Recreational scholar, former high school and junior college English teacher. Animal lover (especially horses, dogs, and people), live in the South, sometimes poet and essayist... "Ireland, Scotland, Britain, and Wales...I can hear those ancient voices calling..." Van Morrison from Celtic Heartbeat