Day 7: Garters and First Grade

I am a retired teacher and administrator.  I worked with children for 32 years.  During that time, I met some terrific students and parents.  During that time, I met some really interesting students and parents. I hope I didn’t offend anyone with that last statement. But I met some real doozies! During my career, I really wanted to make a difference in children.  Sometimes I did an awesome job.  Sometimes I wasn’t sure.  But I always wondered what children would say about me when they grew up. Since I have lived in this area since the 70’s, I frequently run into former students.  I am excited to talk with them and see what has been going on in their life.  And they often say funny things to me about what they remembered. Yay!

So I thought I would tell you about my first grade teacher today.  I hope she will be smiling down on me after I publish this post.  I must say up front that first grade is such a critical year. When I was in elementary school, there was no kindergarten in public school.  Almost all children came to school with no formal instruction.  We started after Labor Day and we ended the last day of May. I can never remember school being cancelled due to weather.  We had no fall breaks or winter breaks. We went to school every day. Period.

The school that I attended was one of the first schools in the area. It was over 130 years old. It had started out in another location as a community school that served grades one to nine. It had three teachers.  THREE!!! And one of them was the principal who also taught. After a number of years, the school was renamed for the principal in honor of his dedication to the education of children.  Nowadays, you have to be dead before a school is named for you! When I started there, he was still the principal. The school site was large enough to have an elementary school (1-8) and a high school.  The elementary school was in the original building. It was pretty cool.  Red brick with steps up to the double wooden and glass doors. Large windows that opened to the ceiling. High ceilings. Oiled floors.  For all of you who are saying “what kind of floors”, I have to say they were oiled.  They were wooden planks that had oil rubbed on them to act as a preservative.  The smell was wonderful.  Ancient. Musty. Tangy. Each night, they spread a rubber compound on the floors and swept it up with any dirt that had collected. There were classrooms on each side of the hallway that ran the length of the school. The walls were plaster and beadboard.  I seem to remember it was that sickly green color that schools liked to use.

In the middle of the building was a large auditorium with theater seats that folded up so that children could walk easily down each aisle.  There was an American flag on one side of the stage and the Georgia flag on the other. There was a piano. And EVERY Friday we had assembly.  I liked assembly. We would sit with our class and never utter a word to each other. That was the rule.  We pledged allegiance to the US flag. We had prayer. Yes prayer.  We read a Bible verse. We sang together while someone played the piano. I can’t remember a single song but they were ones I knew after a few weeks. That was the total of our music education.

Now for my first grade room.  It had a cloakroom.  It was a little room where we left our coats and lunchboxes.  Everyone had a little cubby with a hook. You always put your stuff in your spot. The room seemed to be huge but that was probably due to the high ceilings.  We had blackboards on two complete walls.  One wall was windows. And the other wall was in the back and it had nothing on it. We didn’t have bulletin boards. If you have watched old movies, you have seen desks that were attached to each other.  Ours were like that. The lid of my desk lifted up and we put our paper and other supplies in our desk.  We did not have supply lists with items like Kleenex, Crayola crayons, scissors, hand sanitizer or thumb drives. We had pencils. And pink pearl erasers.

My teacher held a special place in the teacher hierarchy.   She was the wife of the principal.  She was older–perhaps more experienced is a better word.  I would love to tell you that she instilled a love of reading in me.  I would love to tell you that she was marvelous and funny and gave us hugs or stars. But I can only remember one thing about her.   She wore knee garters that she adjusted while  reading to us after lunch. That’s it! I can close my eyes right now and see her hand on the garter. I was fascinated by her ability to read and fiddle with her garters at the same time.  FYI, in those days, many women would pull up their hose, place the elastic garter around the top of the hose and then roll the whole shebang down their leg until it was right below their knee.  Their dress would cover the garter.

And that is the sum total of my first grade education knowledge. Garters! Please forgive me Mrs. O.