I loved school. I went to school for 21 years. I loved every year except one. I hated first grade!
Now back in the day, the day being the mid-60’s, we didn’t have pre-K. And some kids went to Kindergarten and some didn’t. Most of us had ‘stay at home moms’ so we just showed up for school when we were six and ready for first grade.
I hated first grade almost immediately. I didn’t like my teacher. Her name was Miss McDonald. She wasn’t a warm person. She was tall and thin. She was young. She wore pencil skirts, tailored shirts, and flat shoes.
School gave me stomach aches. For-real stomach aches. I remember my stomach aches used to frustrate my mother. One day I said I had another stomach ache. She pulled my shoes off, revealing my stirrup pants circling my feet. I remember that so vividly; I stared down at my feet. She gently tossed me back in the bed. It was kind of like, ‘what am I gonna do with this kid?’ I was a little bit ashamed, but more relieved. I pulled the pink & white chenille Cinderella bedspread over my head. I was just glad I wasn’t going to school.
Fortunately for me I loved school starting in second grade and never looked back. I just kept on going to school and college forever. 50 years after I started first grade I still lay my little school clothes out every night and get up and go to college every day. I don’t know why I got off the rails so quickly, but I’m glad that I got back on track just as quickly.
Every day I see students who got off the rails somewhere whether it was early on in elementary, or in middle school, or high school. Or maybe it wasn’t until they went away to college and flunked out. Maybe when they were little they hated their teacher. Maybe they had for-real stomach aches. Perhaps they couldn’t see well or hear well or read well, but no one knew it. It might be they didn’t have any books at home, or maybe they were hungry. Maybe they were caring for their younger brothers and sisters while their parents worked and it kept them from getting their homework done.
Perhaps they were being sexually abused by their cousin or step-dad or neighbor. Maybe in high school they got on drugs or got pregnant or got bullied because they were obese. There are so many ways to get off the rails and to not do well in school. There are so many things that prompt students to drop out.
I’m not trying to make excuses for everyone in the world who ever did badly in school. I’m just sayin’ that sometimes people get off the rails and there’s no one there to help them.
My parents weren’t highly educated folks. My mom has a high school diploma and my dad had a bachelor’s degree that he got when he was 38. When I was in first grade he was in “night school.” My brother and sister were a bit older and had already made it through the early years of school. Maybe my parents were shocked that along came this kid that hated first grade. But they quickly took action to make sure I got engaged. Remember John’s party? Maybe that’s why my mother insisted that I go.
My mom got on a school bus with me and a bunch of kids from my school, I don’t remember which grade, and went to the symphony to hear Peter & the Wolf. My dad got involved in the PTA. He came to eat lunch with me every now and then. They never missed an open house in my classroom. We went to Fall Festivals and participated in Cake Walks. We went to the downtown library often to check out books. I never gave it a second thought then, but now I wonder if all those things were to assure their little one got engaged in school.
I’ve spent my entire career trying to re-engage adult students in school or to teach others how to re-engage adult students in school. And really the very best way for students not to get off the track in the first place is to have parents who care and who try and who are engaged in their children’s education. Some kids are not so fortunate. And that’s why there are politicians who say, “it takes a village.” I can’t believe I just wrote that, but I did. I guess I’m just saying that where you can, and in what ways you are able, get involved in a child’s life or a teenager’s life or a young adult’s life or a not-so-young person’s life and encourage them to engage in education. The pay-off for society is phenomenal.
Nine tenths of education is encouragement.– Anatole France