Today is the first day for school for most kids I know. Children everywhere are missing summer, feeling sick to their stomach and fearing the unknown.
When I was in grade 3 I had moved 13 times. This was to be the final home I was going to grow up in. My parents carefully picked my school so I could walk every day and not have to take the bus like they did. My mom made my lunch everyday with fresh, good for me ingredients when all I wanted was peanut butter sandwich and an apple, everyday until I died. Never happened. She insisted on variety. She was concerned about what the other moms would think. News flash moms, other moms don’t come to school to judge lunches.
I had a milk card and could order milk or juice every day for 25 cents.
Hot dog day was the last Friday of every month.
I was sent to school with a new wardrobe and new shoes. My note books were fresh and tidy, I vowed to keep them that way. That vow lasted less than a week. I remember being nervous about not making friends. That was always hard for me. My brother had a knack for meeting kids and being instant best friends. That lasted until he became an adult and didn’t care if people liked him or not. I, on the other hand, worried endlessly over who would like me and who wouldn’t. I blamed my hair. To be fair, it was clown hair.
We all assembled into the music room. I knew not a soul. The teachers up front called out the names of children. I heard “Robyn” but didn’t budge. I looked around the room to see if the hundreds of other Robyn’s stood up to join the teacher. No one did. She looked to the other Teachers and said, “The new girl? Anyone seen her?” That is when I knew it was me. Here I was the new girl…again. Grade 3 and already been to 5 different schools, 2 of those 5 my dad was a teacher in. I typically bonded with the adults and not the children. Weird, still a problem for me. Most of my friends are much older than I. I am sure a psychiatrist will have fun with that one.
We were led down the hall and shown to our class. Ours was the one without windows. Part of a 1970’s fad about fluorescent lights being good for focus. Thank heavens the pilot project on “Open Classrooms” was done. 6 classrooms with no walls. I think the concept was for the students to mingle in non traditional settings but typical administration, you can’t possibly change the way things have been done for a 100 years. I emerged from grade 2 with chronic headaches and glasses. Still, a class of 30, no windows and a teacher who didn’t like her job and thought smiling might kill her was my destiny. I dreaded recess. I dreaded recess every day until Grade 9 when we didn’t have it any more because we were part of the high school.
School is a lot different now and yet exactly the same. Moms take care of details so kids don’t need to. Food is pre-packaged and not as nutritious so kids don’t have the capacity to stay focused. The teachers who now teach, are there because their school experience sucked and they want to make a difference. They become disillusioned with the growing class sizes, inclusion that doesn’t work and parents who are in your face with problems that aren’t really problems.
The culture of school in middle class communities is very different from when I was a kid. Good grades are expected. Children compete with their peers and parents are emailed if assignments are missed. It certainly is a different world. I remembering not caring about marks, some how as if by magic, good ones appeared on my report card.
The parts that will be the same are the kids the will walk into school with a parent, holding their hand and hiding slightly behind their mom’s arm. They will look on a board to discover what class they are in and see if their friends are with them. They will carry their heavy bags to their room and look for a desk with their name on it. Most teachers take away the scary bits by deciding that for you. They will talk about class rules, and decide which ones are important and help make up new ones. This creates a culture agreement they can live with. The younger grades will be paired up with buddies so recess won’t be scary.
Then it is time to go home. I remember walking home from school in grade 3 on my very first day. I lived 3 doors down from the school. I came home and my Grandma was there to ask me about my day, she made me a snack. Then my dad came home and asked me about my day and if I made any new friends yet. I said yes. Her name was Cheryl. We would be best friends for about 5 months until Carrie with the beautiful hair stole her away from me. I realize now, my shyness was the barrier between me and friends. By the time I reached high school, that shyness was almost all gone. I never showed it on the outside. Now, it is non existent. I had to learn the difference between shy and bold and walk the path in the middle. Not everyone figures that out.
Today is the big day for teachers and children alike. 10 months from now, we won’t even remember what the first day felt like because we are so comfortable in our classroom with the culture the classmates built with the guidance of the teacher.
Now if only I had a Muppet Lunch kit like my daughter has, it would be easier.