A very tough First (and Second and Third) Day of School 1960 and a Dad and Principal who knew how to infiltrate a frightened 4th grade brain ~
This morning, several of my 12 grandkids headed back to school.
Ah, that monumental First Day of School, the end to hours of daytime outdoors, sunshine, hopefully sleeping a bit later. Summer Reading done. Backpacks packed. Moms and Dads back to routines.
This morning, as I drove through my town and a couple of towns north, I saw kids walking, kids waiting at school bus stops, police monitoring crosswalks on busy thoroughfares, parents waving.
First Day Of School.
I waved to my own kids as they headed off to first days of school, from Kindergarten to seniors in high school.
I taught high school for 30 years and welcomed my students into my English or Reading classes each first day of school.
There is an excitement… as well as, often, trepidation.
I remember my first day of 4th grade as clearly as if it happened this morning. This happens each first day of school because of my 4th grade trauma of being a new kid in a new state, all the way across the United States from California to New Hampshire.
My Dad was in the Navy and when his California duty was up, my family moved to another duty station in New Hampshire. I was sad to leave my friends and a school I loved, but New Hampshire meant being closer to my Mom’s big family with lots of aunts, uncles and cousins. We actually stayed with one of my Mom’s sisters and her family when we arrived in New Hampshire, got enrolled in the local elementary school, all within a few days before school began.
Sounds easy. OK. I headed to the school bus stop on that first day, surrounded with my cousin (3rd grade) and brothers (1st and 5th grades). The walk to the bus stop was up the street, left through the ball field behind the historic school house next to the church and adjacent to the horse corral. I can still see all of this.
I wore a white blouse and black and white checkered skirt and carried a lunch box that I don’t remember.
A bunch of kids were already at the bus stop, an enclosed porch on the front of that historic school. I don’t remember anything about the kids. But I do remember feeling sick to my stomach. I had never ridden a school bus. In California, we walked to school with a gigantic pack of kids, talking and often bending down to check out the tiny lizards that ran by our feet.
At some point, on that new first day of 4th grade in New Hampshire, I just ran from that bus stop porch. Past that horse corral and ball field with the church and old school behind me and taking a running right to the house at the near end of that street.
My Dad was there at my aunt’s house with my Mom and her sister. I was surprised to see my Dad still there, but I ran into his arms and never wanted to let go.
We talked, I don’t remember how long, but soon I was in the back seat of that blue and white station wagon and heading off to the bus stop. As we approached that old school bus stop, I saw no kids, meaning the bus had already arrived.
Not so quick.
My Dad told me that we were driving to school.
The next thing I remember is sitting in the principal’s office. Mr. Raymond. I still remember this formidable man as if I’m sitting before him right now. He wore a suit, a gray suit. His voice was deep and calm as he and my Dad talked. If I remember correctly, Mr. Raymond may have been retired military. I’m not sure. But these two men connected on some level that brought this little girl into the world of change, of new, of new things, of school and going to school.
There was no disappointment by them about me. No.
Just the expectation of going to school. I was sent off to Miss Plante’s class, feeling even more intimidated because now I was not only new, but standing before all of my new classmates like a science project.
Well, I ran back “home” from the bus stop on that second day of school, too.
I also “missed” the bus that second day.
And third day.
Repeat the meetings with Mr. Raymond. But on the third day, my Dad hugged me and left the office. I was there alone with Mr. Raymond and in his very deep voice, he told me that I would not be doing this again.
And I didn’t.
Bottom Line: A little patience, a bit of understanding, and a firm grasp of child development and compassionate discipline goes a long, long way.
And I loved 4th grade… and would survive each First Day of School beyond 4th grade all the way up to graduating from high school, college and a Master’s Degree in Education from Boston University.