Old School 2

It’s an unscientific sampling, agreed.  But reader responses to Old School confirms it.  Our earliest school experiences do stay with us.

As we boomers age, nostalgia is in.  Everything old is new again, from the Converse sneakers we wore for gym class to 70s comfort foods like meatloaf and mac and cheese now on the menu in upscale eateries.

It’s no surprise, then, that readers responded to Old School with memories of their own. Whether it is a convent school in Maryland or a red brick building gone coporate, there is nothing more nostalgic than a visit to your elementary school.

Our second grade teacher was Mrs. Carlson.   She taught us to work independently and to add columns of numbers by carrying tens and ones.  She helped us get library cards and when one of the boys showed up with a couple of tadpoles in an empty milk carton, she did her best to create an environment where they could–and did–grow into tiny tree frogs.

So, uber- props to colleagues who work with our youngest students. Their days are devoted to helping kids construct essential foundations for future academic and social success. They teach sight words and sharing, numbers and patience, phonics and fair play.

But wait, there’s more. Forty years from now, those kids will remember story hour and that time they got to be first in line, holding the teacher’s hand on the way to the art room.  They will remember who they sat next to and where the pencil sharpener was located.

No pressure there, right?

Talk to kindergarten teachers. Ask them about their work.  I did.  It’s not all fun and games in those primary classrooms. Though one of my NYS certifications that says I could do what they do, I could never do what they do. Never.  In addition to the academic demands these teachers and their kids face,  there are the intangibles, the emotional attachments that evoked the instant nostalgia among Old School readers.

That’s why we remember singing with Mrs. Beatty. That’s why we remember jumping jacks with Mr. Danzig or spelling with Mrs. Lutri. That’s why we remember Mr. Kanze walking to school every day right along with the kids.

Those of us teaching secondary students manage unique challenges to be sure, but we also depend on our colleagues’ hard work, setting the groundwork for all future learning.  Middle schoolers may be in hormonal turmoil and may sometimes assert their independence in ways we would rather they didn’t, but they come to us with the academic and social skills essential for success.

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Old School

I recently was in the old neighborhood (people who know me will find this mildly amusing) and stopped to admire my old school.  This is what I found:

The red brick building still stands and from the outside, it looks at least a little like an old-school school. The Amoco station next door where we pooled lunch money to buy candy and gum (and later tried, unsuccessfully, to buy cigarettes) is now a full service BP station with a mini mart in place of the automotive bays.  The municipal bus still stops in front and the hot dog/ice cream shack is still across the street serving up fries and cones.

But the school property was sold soon after I was promoted to junior high and has since been reinvented as a commercial building.  The classrooms are now offices, some further divided into cubicles. The asphalt playground where we skinned our knees and picked teams for kickball is a parking lot.

None the less, this is what school looks like to me.  It’s where I first let go of my mother’s hand and joined a community larger than I was.  Even though I am a teacher now and have learned and taught in a number of other buildings, this is still school.

And school is so much more than reading and writing and arithmetic, isn’t it?   It’s learning to play the flute (How do those instrumental music teachers get kids to make music?).   It’s the annual gym show, performing calisthenics to music.  It’s the unmistakeable aroma of pencil shavings and poster paint and eating lunches at long tables with attached benches.  It’s flipping baseball cards by the monkey bars and holding back tears while handing over an Oakland A’s Catfish Hunter card. For me, it is–and always will be–that red brick building on Broadway.

If you ask a dozen people about school,  I think they will go back to their primary experiences–huge kudos to colleagues who make these memories for kids every day.  A child’s first years in school form the foundation for everything yet to come.   School is where the heart was when we were very young.

What does school look like or mean to you?