Sunday, June 13, 2010

Post #5: Elementary My Dear Student

Post #5:  Elementary My Dear Student

When we venture back to the places that hold poignant memories (good or bad) we are forced to  recall what we gained, lost and what has passed.  Visiting one's elementary school can flood the brain with warm and fuzzy thoughts of favorite teachers, friends we met, and insights we had.  It can also show us the path of where we started and where we are now.  Going back to our elementary school can be comfort food (imagine macaroni and cheese).

I am fortunate in that I had a great elementary experience and so has my son.  While his experience is a bit more recent, but there are parallels and overlapping moments that we share.

Most importantly is the truly exceptional teachers we both had.  Creative, engaged, insightful, demanding, and caring are some words that describe the 6 years of elementary school.  We both had struggles with academic content and social situations, but there wasn't one person at the school who made us feel invisible.  This is not the case in middle school.

While middle school has its own gestalt, you are just a number plain and simple.  You either make it through the six periods without incident or you are a known entity in somebody's office.  While it is a generalization, middle school lacks the intimate-nature of elementary education.  You have been kicked out of the village to fend for yourself and by god--you better get it quickly or it is a very long 180 days.

Elementary school allows you to come out of the cocoon, open your wings, and extend them out so you can show the world the beauty you have become.  You experience the world through newness.  Sounds, colors, words, numbers, history, geography, music, art, and best of all friends.  Sometimes you mirror these new people or they mirror you, but the time for joy and discovery is unencumbered and liberating.

If you play your cards right, the relationships formed in elementary school are unique.  Remember when you saw your teacher outside the school for the first time?  Or overhead their first name?  The intimate knowledge of who they were, what they like and dislike, and how they taught you to find your way was no easy task.  We had exceptional elementary teachers, who mostly loved their work.  They allowed us to slack off, miss homework, go to the nurse on a daily basis, call our parents, get B's when we could get A's, etc.  They knew we needed something besides a homework agenda and organized notebooks.

They looked upon us with oversized "Hobo Kelly" glasses and told us she can see the crowns on top of our heads.  They allowed us to be the office monitor so we can get out of the classroom and chat with the office staff whom we came to adore.  They gave us lower grades at the beginning of the year so we could work harder by the last report card.  And much, much, more.

To go back to our elementary school after just graduating, you think that you own the place.  That the school is "yours", the teachers are "yours", the classroom and desks are "yours" and that nothing can take that feeling away.  The teachers hug you, tell you how you have grown, matured, developed and that they can remember how you were in class. 

All this makes the middle-school kid feel that they matter.  This is especially important during times of feelings of insignificance and insecurity.   This very small, yet incredibly significant relationship is elementary.

Now, don't you think that would make anybody feel great and loved?


  1. awww.. now I'm reflecting on my elementary years. VERY nice read Stacy, thank you for sharing :)

  2. From a friend through email:

    * You're a lot younger than me, but still I am amazed that you remember Elementary School. And such detailed memory, of both inner and outer experience. I have no memory of elementary school. You could take me to ten elementary schools in Brooklyn, and I couldn't tell you which one I went to. There would be nothing familiar about any of them. Not even a buried memory, nor a wisp of memory like the vanishing vapor trail of an airplane, or the tiny puff of black carbon when you blow a candle out. I don't remember a single Elementary School student or teacher, nor one activity or architectural detail, nor the walk or bus ride to the school, or activity -- not eating lunch or climbing a stair or looking out a window ... or anything!

    * You speak of being "hugged" by your teachers. Some years ago, my friend Jill did a one-woman play based on her long experience of being a substitute teacher in LAUSD. She taught in the worst schools, with large numbers of homeless children. The characters of these kids that she created were pathetic. I went to a performance at a little theater in Burbank. Afterwards I asked her -- do you ever feel like there's nothing you can do but just hug these children, wrap them in your arms and pull them close to you? She said "No. We're not allowed to hug the children." I was saddened to hear that.