Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lasting impressions

When I was six years old, I lived in Tifton, Georgia, in a house with a driveway lined with hibiscus. There are pictures- slides, really- of me on a warm sunny day, standing in that driveway, dressed in a little blue and white sailor suit, holding a book bag, all ready for my first day of school.

I remember that day.
Part of it, anyway.

I had looked forward to going to school for a long time. I had been in a nursery school before then, at Mrs. Seller's place, since I was three years old. My mother didn't live with us, so I had to have somewhere to be during the day. The past year, I had been the oldest kid there, and although being the most experienced certainly had its advantages, I was more than ready to trade that in and go to a "real" school.

We had bought my school supplies, according to a list we were given. Things I did not ordinarily have at home, since we were of modest means. They included a brand new box of crayola crayons. All of my very own. Sixty-four colors. With the sharpener in the box.

To make a long story short, I found out at the end of that first day that I would not be allowed to take my crayons home with me. They had to stay in my desk.

I was devastated.

And I don't remember every using them in school, all year.
I don't remember any other specifics about first grade, either.

When I was seven, we moved to upstate New York. In April, leaving warm spring weather to come to the cold, wet and gray. I first saw snow a few days after we arrived. It was during recess at school, and I was excited to be going outside, after having seen the flakes out the window of the classroom.

This new school was very different from what I was used to. A big old stone building, and very strict teachers, none of whom seemed to be able to understand much of what I said. Whenever the teacher left the room, the students would all misbehave and even cheat- something I had never seen before.

What I didn't know, that no one bothered to tell me, was that there was a rule in this school that children who talked in the halls had to leave their coat on the back of their chair for a week. So on about my third day there, in my excitement, I said something in the hallway about the snow.

I was forced to go outside with no coat on- the first time I had ever been in freezing temperatures in my life. And then, to go home without my coat, as well, and I had no other coat to wear.

This memory is one of only two that I have of school that year. (The other has to do with valentine's day, and I probably don't need to describe that one; it's very common.)

These two incidents are minor in the grand scheme of things, for sure. Crayons and a bit of cold are not worth worrying about. Certainly not worth the feelings I had at the time they happened, when looked at from the perspective of an adult.

My point is that when they happened, I was NOT an adult. I was a young, naive child.

It is the intensity of an event that carves out the deepest memories.
What qualifies as "intense" varies based on many different things. Age, experience, apprehension level, personality, and context, among others.

I try to remember every time I meet a new group of students that what is routine for me, is brand spanking new for them, that they walk in not knowing what to expect. And whether they are eight, or eighteen, or any other age, I want them to leave my class having learned something, not having had such a negative experience that they will never be able to forget it- or remember much else.


CoyoteFe said...

First, in case you wondered, I want you to know that your words are not being cast out into the astral. I like your voice.

Second, I am a adult, and I find the description of what you suffered that first school year outrageous. Were they catastrophes? No. Were they soul-cutting? Yes. Were you my daughter, I guarantee you would have had your crayons and your coat. I'm glad that you rescued compassion in teaching from that experience.

GreenJello said...

I think what you say also applies to parenting. I try VERY hard to remember how I thought and felt at the ages my kids are at.