Has it really been over fifty years since I first stepped into a classroom and onto that marbleized green and white schoolhouse tile? Where has the time flown? Someone once asked me what it was like to raise kids. My response was ‘The days are long; the years are short.’
For many of you parents out there, your children are now skipping across that tile and sitting at those very low tables and miniature plastic chairs which, I swear, have suffered tremendous shrinkage in the past fifty years. I could probably still sit in one, but I would either have to replace it when the legs collapsed or the teacher’s aide might have to call 911 to get me out of it.
My mother, looking very much like Jackie Onassis at the time, walked me from the car to the door of the classroom on that bright sunny day many Septembers ago. I was entering the world of education. Of course, this was back in the olden days when phonics were still legal and a rap on the knuckles by a teacher was considered discipline and not grounds for a law suit.
Sure, I was scared. What kid isn’t? I had to be a little Prince Valiant for my Mom who was just as scared as I was. I’m sure she was wondering if I would remember to say “Thank you” and “Yes, ma’am” and not waste the lunch she packed with my daily requirement of vitamins and minerals from all the four basic food groups.
She led me to the feet of a very pretty woman that seemed to be illuminated in her yellow dress like an angel atop a Christmas tree. She wore a name tag shaped like an apple which read “Hi, I’m Mrs. Miller”. I looked up at her in my striped shirt, khaki shorts, little white socks and Buster Brown shoes and, as she removed her horn-rimmed glasses which were attached to a gold chain around her neck, she said hello and I fell in love. I’m sure she did also since I was quite a kindergarten hunk in my Beaver Cleaver haircut and Buster Brown shoes.
“And who do we have here?” she asked. The sound of her voice possessed the sensuality of Marilyn Monroe and the intellectual flavor of Dr. Joyce Brothers. Quite a combination. She was very pretty, but at five years old and with my hormone pool way below the “Full” line, that is as far as my mind would allow me to go.
After a short, inaudible conversation between my mother and this arithmetical angel, my mother gave me a comforting kiss on the forehead and retraced her steps. As she opened the door to the playground, I noticed she finally made use of the Kleenex she had been clasping in her hand ever since we left the house.
Mrs. Miller directed me to a cubbyhole where I deposited my Gentle Ben lunch box and my Speed Racer windbreaker. She then took me into a classroom filled with Cindy Bradys and Opie Taylors. I took my seat and timidly looked at the alphabet that ran around the room just above the black boards. Slowly I began cautious eye contact with fellow classmates, started making friends, and experienced my first student-teacher love affair which would be repeated many times throughout my academic career with those beautiful women who taught me the difference between a noun and a verb, how to diagram a sentence, and how I should never end a phrase with a preposition.
I have been blessed with wonderful teachers. Oh, sure, there were a few who I believe moonlighted as prison guards and drill sergeants, but looking back, they were the ones that instilled the discipline that has enabled me to achieve far beyond my own expectations. From the angelic teaching style of Mrs. Miller who taught me to appreciate the “Romantic Era” to the infinite patience of Mrs. Shumake who taught me the importance of isosceles triangles and parallelograms in Geometry, I tip my hat to them and all our teachers who continue to excite children as they open new doors of adventure each day of the school year.
As the big yellow school buses begin traveling our byways with the occasional mother in her bathrobe following inconspicuously in the family car to assure the safe arrival of her baby to the door of the school for the first time, let us, as parents, get excited once again about education as we did when we learned our multiplication tables, how to spell “gnat” and “knife”, and how to negotiate the exchange of a potted meat sandwich for a peanut butter and jelly in the lunchroom.
As the next generation of Buster Browns and Mary Janes walk into the little red schoolhouse, make sure they are able to give apples to both their teachers and their parents for supporting them throughout their education. Don’t make your children wonder later why Mom or Dad never made a parent-teacher conference or a PTA meeting, or took time to tell them how impressed they were with a report card.
The Gentle Ben, Flipper, and Partridge Family lunchboxes are now collector’s items that adorn shelves of antique shops. Let’s not allow parental support with school work to also become a thing of the past.