Today, one of the high school friends I met up with this summer (Fountains of Youth) sent me this picture of our Kindergarten class and it immediately sent me on a trip down memory lane. Fifty year old experiences have been popping into my mind all day. I can’t say with any certainty that any of these are completely true, but here they are, as honestly as I can recreate them:
The Jungle Gym: One day we came to school and a jungle gym had been set up inside our classroom. I approached it suspiciously even though it was the coolest thing ever.
Nap time: I had a crappy mat compared to the comfy ones my classmates were lying on. That might have had something to do with the fact that I never once fell asleep. (Now, years later, it occurs to me that maybe I just wasn’t tired.)
Bathroom Breaks: We were all taken to the bathrooms together at the same time and on a specific schedule. Unfortunately, it usually wasn’t my schedule.
Birthday Spankings: When one of us had a birthday, we had to go up to the teacher and lean over her lap for our celebratory birthday spanking.
I think I remember some of these things, because, in my case, they combined to create the preconditions for my first experience of humiliation.
It was my birthday and my special birthday outfit consisted of tights, some kind of leotard shirt and a jumper over that. It all turned out to be much too much to deal with during our very short, scheduled bathroom break, so I gave up and didn’t go. A short while later I felt the need to go, but it was too late. I ran into the cloakroom and had an accident. I stayed there until I heard my teacher calling me to come to the front of the class so that we could “celebrate” my birthday.
The one saving-grace memory connected with all this was what happened later that day. My mom was sitting on the couch in our living room at home and I was lying on it with my head on her lap. I was crying as I told her everything. She stroked my head and talked to me. I started feeling better.
As a teacher, these memories astonish me. The idea of putting four year olds on a schedule for when they should collectively sleep or go to the bathroom is insane. I have heard or read stories about rigid schools of a century ago: the uncomfortable benches, the knuckle rapping, the dunce caps and the standing in corners . . . I don’t think I realized until today that my own schooling began a half century ago and that some of the pedagogical methods of the time were also unimaginably primitive (or just plain creepy) by today’s standards.
On Monday, two days from now, I will be having my first English lesson with the Beginners’ group. They are all between 8 and 10 years old. I can pretty much guarantee that one of them will interrupt me during the lesson to say that he or she has to go to the bathroom. I can also say with certainty that it will be no problem.