This may seem like the blog post where a series of blog posts reminiscing about the past would start, but I worked my way backward chronologically. There is no real reason for it, but the first post is here if anyone’s interested.

I remember a lot of things about elementary school. More than I remember about middle school for sure.  My memory becomes more fuzzy as I progress beyond elementary school, for some reason.

My kindergarten teacher was a frightening woman. She retired after that year, so it may very well be that she’s dead at this point. Anyway, I remember getting into a lot of trouble because I didn’t want to focus. I know that a lot of people have this problem, but my particular brand sprung from the fact that I already knew how to read and write. I was one of the unlucky children whose birthday fell just after the deadline for school, so I’ve always been six months to a year older than many of the kids in my grade. Counting and such things was easy for me, though after I get up to sixty or so, the words I’m saying begin to get muddled and I often forget where I am and what comes next. That hasn’t changed in the least. It is particularly annoying when I’m knitting and have to count the stitches. I’ll get most of the way through, forget where I am, and then I have to restart several times.

I wasn’t too good at math, but I somehow got it into my head that everything was a race. I was always the first one to finish my work or other such activity. This afflicts me now with bad handwriting and an inability to do anything slowly. I probably get lower scores than I could because I just can’t stop to check to make sure I’ve got the correct answer, I just go with the answer that I arrive at first. It really is quite horrible, but 13 years of public school has only ingrained the habit.

I still remember what we did on the first day of school in my first grade year, who I sat by, and what I first said to my teacher. I sat next to Aaron Young and Jake Tolman and we colored a picture of a school bus with children. I told my teacher my name and I told her that I hoped she would make her class interesting. It almost makes me want one of my teachers to make us color something on my last day of school so that it will make something of a circle. The first grade is something of a lonely memory for me. I really loved it and I learned a lot more than they would let me in Kindergarten, but I don’t remember having any friends. I mean, everyone in the class stuck together for the most part, but I only remember attaching myself to the big groups of kids on the playground who were playing games.

The second grade became a bit less lonely, though I still don’t think I really had a close friend. That teacher was also somewhat scary, though I know her now and she’s really friendly. Unfortunately, I was always getting into trouble with her because I discovered chapter books and wouldn’t put them down. One thing that always bugs me about the second grade was that no matter how many times I reported bullying, myself as the subject or others, I was lead to believe that it was my own fault and that I had to deal with it. This ended up being good for me, as I learned really early on how to deal with bullies, but I have always believed that no matter what stupid, horrible situation you get yourself in, you can always go to someone for help.

I, for one, feel safer knowing that there are policemen and administrators and such people. Whenever I have a health class, some lady always comes to the class to teach us about bullying and the ever-present problem that it is. Reporting is always listed among the solutions and I just feel like my teacher and the administration wasn’t doing their job. Now, ten years later, the same kids are bullying the same victims they had back in elementary school and I think it sucks that adults whose job it is to prevent such things were so ineffective at prevention. Bullying sucks so much that I don’t even want to get into it. I’ll be writing all night and I have Chemistry homework.

Anyway, my situation vastly improved in the third grade. I had a few close friends that I was actually socializing with, though I’m not sure I did it with any degree of grace. Not only that, but our class had only 14 people in it. We were crammed into this extra room that they had been using as storage and for our teacher, we got the principal. Because of his principal duties, we were given a lot of responsibility. We were given a lesson and then some unsupervised time to finish the assignments on that lesson. We had a schedule every day that we stuck to, even when our teacher couldn’t show up to class.

This sounds like a horrible, terrible idea now that I look back on it, but we handled it so well that I’m a little suspicious that my memory of it isn’t tainted by how cool I thought I was. Nevertheless, I remember doing a lot of individual studying and more than a few fun activities. For this extra, little class, they had pulled the smartest kids out of the other classes because there wasn’t enough room for our grade to fit into two classrooms. The result was that it took us a lot less time to learn the things that the normal kids were learning and because of the flexibility of our teacher, we got to do a lot of activities that would never have happened with a normal class.

I remember there were a lot of days we stayed after school to do an activity that we’d earned. We got to run around the building (which wasn’t allowed) and we got to play outside when there wasn’t anyone else out there. We even went hiking at one point. We did so many things for no other reason except that they were fun and we learned so much stuff that I wasn’t aware of. This year let me love school like many other kids my age didn’t. They still thought of school as bondage, while I was free to do so many things.

The next year was a little bit of a let down. I was once again in a normal sized classroom with a rather large sized class. Not to mention I was at a social disadvantage again, having been kept away from most of my peers for a year. I spent the year making new friends and getting into more trouble, though less than I did in the second grade. The four grade did agree with me in that there was a focus on reading that hadn’t really been present in my other classes. We read so many great books that I still love to read. Some of them were books that were definitely not our general reading level and I loved that we weren’t reading books based on what normal kids could understand at that point.

The fifth grade was possibly the best year besides the third grade. They once again didn’t have enough room for our grade, but this time, they made a split class, half fourth graders and half fifth graders. I would have guessed that it would slow us down quite a bit, but it most definitely didn’t. I remember a lot of the class time involved my fifth grade classmates set to learn something while the teacher worked with the younger kids. For the most part, this was done while we were learning grammar. Perhaps this is the reason why kids struggled with grammar, but I had made a new friend who was as avid a reader as I was. We spent the entire year getting 100% scores on every grammar assignment we did. Not to mention, the short stories we had to write were fantastic and more than a little bit genius.

For math, another teacher would work with the fourth graders while our teacher worked with us. In no way helping my inability to work slowly, every exercise was a game and involved candy for the winners. I learned how to subtract numbers with decimals so well that I could win every time, which meant a lot of candy for me. Not only that, but for some reason, I developed a long-abiding love for long division. I don’t get to do it a lot now, but I still think it’s the coolest. We did a lot of basic math problems with really long numbers, so much so that I rarely do simple math with a calculator. If I’m working on an assignment or a test and I come across a problem that requires adding or subtracting big numbers, I don’t waste time putting my pencil down to grab my calculator. Most of the time, I’m moving fast enough that I’ll have the problem worked out in the margins of the page before I even think about it.

Science, however, was my favorite part of the fifth grade. If you’ve read any of the episodes previous to this one, you’ll know how much I adore science. The fifth grade was one of the first times where my teacher took us outside and actually showed us science in action. We collected leaves and rocks, we predicted the weather, we built our own tools. Sometimes we just walked outside for the heck of it, appreciating photosynthesis or re-enacting cowboys v.s. indians battles.

It set me up to being disappointed in science classes until I got to Earth Systems in the ninth grade, but it gave me enough curiosity about everything to keep me occupied.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I didn’t transition well after elementary school, but I think it was mostly because learning is viewed differently the closer you get to high school. Suddenly all the teachers want to do is make sure you know the stuff you’ll need to know to make it to high school and survive. There were few who were actually teaching because what they had to say was interesting.

I wish kids could experience learning for the sake of learning more often. If they could look at a class with how much stuff they could know in mind rather than what kind of credit requirement it will fill or what kind of grade they could get out of it, they would be much more motivated to succeed. The motivation of a grade, a half credit, and a step toward graduation is compelling and all, but it could possibly be instilling a hatred of learning on those who experience it.

Next episode in the series.

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