The Unexpected Things We Learn in School!

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Photo of (1950’s) painting of “Bishop Bhend School”,
a one-room school in Kentucky, by Nora Young Bishop,
beloved first grade teacher, who taught school for 52 years.

BACK TO SCHOOL SALES ARE IN FULL SWING. As a child, I looked forward to the beginning of a new school year – new shoes and treasured school supplies – 64 crayons with sharp points, new pencils in a colorful pencil box, a sharpener and tablets. I packed and re-packed my book bag many times. The required supplies for children today are well beyond the simple supplies we had to bring.

I HAD MIXED FEELINGS when I escorted my own children to the first day of school. They seemed so young, yet grown up somehow, and I knew they were beginning a transforming adventure – as was I.

WHEN I WAS IN FIRST GRADE, I walked six blocks, with a neighbor in sixth grade, to Robbins School in Charleston, WVa. Mother assured me there would be lots of books and I was eager to find out. Unfortunately, my first grade teacher was not a candidate for teacher of the year. I told mother one day, “Miss Brown must not have any kids because she doesn’t know how to talk to them.” MAYBE NOT ALL ADULTS LIKE CHILDREN. I must have learned to get along with her, As it didn’t dim my enthusiasm for school.

IN THIRD GRADE, my school gave extra attention to music education. We performed skits and sang “Turkey in the Straw”, and I learned the stories behind classical music. I LEARNED TO APPRECIATE THE VARIETY IN MUSIC.

THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME POVERTY AND NEGLECT HAD A FAMILIAR FACE. I noticed that Maryelle, who sat qcross the aisle from me, was trying to use a stub of a pencil, with no eraser, so I gave her one of my new pencils. She smiled at me with a happy smile, as if I had given her something really big. Maryelle wore the same soiled dress every day – brown with three rows of white rickrack on the bodice. One of her brown shoes had a broken strap. Her hair was cut short in a choppy cut and it looked uncombed. Her arms were encrusted with dirt. I had never seen anyone so dirty and I was uncomfortable touching her, although I tried not to show it. She didn’t get a star when the dentist came to school for preventive dental exams.

IN FOURTH GRADE, I entered another school that scheduled TWO lengthy recesses every day. Whoa! We loved it. My skills in jump roping, tumbling, jacks and running relay games improved that year. The principal taught us to do the back flip. Most important, in free play at recess, I LEARNED ABOUT COMPETING AND COORPERATING with classmates who had different personalities and physical abilities.

WE MOVED TO A SMALL TOWN in WVa when I was in the sixth grade. The principal, Miss Berry, was the teacher. some OF her teaching methods would not pass muster today, as she liked to take the line of least resistance. We had spelling bees several times a week and I was thankfully, able to stand up for several rounds. I felt embarrassed for Billy and Joanne who missed most every word, and usually had to sit down first – ducking their heads as they made their way to their seats. A LIFE LESSON IN WINNING AND LOSING.

SHE READ TO US EVERY DAY – wonderful stories like “Treasure island”, “The Hardy Boys” and “Nancy Drew”. She seemed to enjoy them as much as we did. While she read, she had one of her favorite girls to rub her back. I noticed her dandruff and was glad I wasn’t one of her favorites. She also sent a favorite girl to her house on Thursdays to change the sheets of her boarders. She couldn’t get away with that today. MAYBE IT’s GOOD NOT TO BE TEACHER’S PET.

ONE DAY, MISS BERRY DECIDED we needed a fund raising project for the school. She had the cooks make enormous amounts of vegetable soup and fill dozens of mason jars. We were let out of school early for one week to try to sell the soup door to door. We pulled the heavy jars in a wagon – the jars sloshing as we went. I often came home with soup running down my arms. I only sold two jars – one to mom (who poured it out). SO MUCH FOR MAKING SELLING A CAREER.

Miss Berry assigned us reading and math story problems while she read to herself. We also had 8-10 hours a week to read books of our choosing. That was OK with me – and I FELL IN LOVE WITH BOOKS OF ADVENTURE AND MYSTERY THAT YEAR.

SHE FREQUENTLY LED US IN SINGING and she had a loud and lusty style. During the Christmas season we sang carols. I especially remember “Joy to the World”. She had a large bust and when she sang, “and heaven and nature sing”, she raised her shoulders up and down in a bouncing fashion with her chest moving in rhythm to the music. My sister was in her class three years later. All we have to do to break down in peals of laughter is to sing the even refrain,”and heaven and nature sing”, and raise our shoulders up and down. SO MANY FUNNY MEMORIES TO SAVOR.

SOME SCHOOL EXPERIENCES MAKE ME SMILE NOW – some contributed to my awakening to the world around me, while others tested my abilities. The most difficult aspect of my early school years involved our family’s frequent moves, requiring adjustment to new schools and classmates. I attended new schools in first grade – then third, fourth, sixth and seventh grades. When I was in tenth grade, we moved once again to Madison, Indiana for my dad’s work, where my parents lived for over 50 years. My younger siblings experienced fewer moves – my brother attended school for all 12 years in one school system.

FREQUENT MOVES TO NEW SCHOOLS during my elementary school years may have influenced my early shyness in new situations – and to be honest, I sometimes still feel a small buzz of uncertainty inside, when entering a new environment with a new group. The feeling is similar to the feeling that put me on alert as a child going to a new school. As an adult, I know now that this feeling of angst will pass quickly, as soon as I engage in the new situation.

ALTHOUGH I FREQUENTLY CHANGED SCHOOLS in my early years of education, I was blessed with a stable family life that surely facilitated my confidence in adapting to change. These early experiences of frequent change and adaptation may have enabled me to learn useful life lessons – how to check out new settings and individuals – and feel comfortable in a variety of environments and with diverse individuals and groups.

Did you learn an important lesson outside the formal course syllabus in your early years of school?

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

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One thought on “The Unexpected Things We Learn in School!”

  1. Makes me want to write my own memories and yes I can still laugh when I think of our teacher singing. so glad you brought joy into this day wit your memories

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