The first day back at school can be scary. There are worries about what the teacher will be like, who will be in your class, will you fit in, and the age-old question that has bothered girls of all ages – what the heck will I wear. Of course, some students miss all that because now they go to school year round, a concept I find disconcerting. Although these year-rounders get a few weeks off here and there, it is not the same. How can you have a normal school year if you don’t have summer vacation in July and August?
Back in the grey ages when I went to school it was from September to June with two months off for good or bad behaviour. In grade school I actually anticipated that first day. I could smell the lead pencils and text books, feel the exercise books we wrote in (no laptops then), see the blackboards and hear the squeak-scratch of the chalk across that blackboard. But it wasn’t all good times. I felt some dread about fitting in, especially with no brothers or sisters to stand up for me (or tease me). Then there were the teachers and I had some doozies from the old bat who blinked non-stop to the nun who bullied me in grade 2. I write about her in my memoir.
In grade 2 we applied our Grade 1 reading skills in exercises.
“Turn to page 12, exercise A,” Mother St. Helen says. She stands behind her desk. She holds the exercise book, alternating between glancing down at it and over at us. “When you are finished it and exercise B, you may quietly bring them up here for me to look at.” She sits down.
For the next 15 to 20 minutes the only sounds are the flipping of pages and the scratching of pencils. I read through each question and write down my answer or draw the picture required. Some of the students finish quickly and line up at Mother’s desk, so now I hear her occasional, “That’s wrong. How do you expect to pass Grade 2,” and “Good.”
I have now completed the work, so pick up the exercise book, which is the size of a thick colouring book and climb out from behind the desk, walk up to the front and line up. Nora and Michael stand in front of me and as Mother looks at Nora’s work and says, “good,” I think I also have done all right.
“How do you expect to pass grade 2?” Mother asks Michael.
I hope I have done all right.
It is now my turn. I say nothing as I place the open exercise book before Mother. She presses her lips together as she follows along on the page with her pencil. When she reaches the bottom, she jerks the book at me.
“What’s this?” she asks.
I look down and read out loud. “Draw an X.”
“The word isn’t ‘X;’ it’s an ‘axe.’ ”
I have drawn an “X.”
“Stupid,” she says. “You should know better than that.” She whacks the pencil against my nose.
Tears well up in my eyes. My face must be turning red because Mother is looking a little strange for Mother.
“I’m sorry. Did I hurt you?”
I can’t speak because I am too busy pretending tears are not sliding down my face.
“I’m sorry. Come down to the lunchroom after school and I’ll make it up to you.
(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Part 1 – Deconstruct. Copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford)
Shortly after that, this nun disappeared from my grade school but if I thought I was well rid of her, I was mistaken. She returned in full fury as school principal when I was in grade 8 and made it her business to boss me around.
All this may sound tame to what kids have to put up with in school these days. I’m talking high school when I refer to the violence, the gangs and lockdowns. I live in Toronto and we’ve had murders inside and outside Toronto schools – not a lot and not on a daily basis, but because it happens is enough to raise the fear factor and make me glad I’m out of it and my son is out of it, although there were some rumblings in the high schools when he attended in the 1990s and that was in Aurora, Ontario.
These are just my thoughts on the first day back to school in 2010. What do others think? Any hair-raising personal stories? Any heartwarming personal stories about that first day back at school?
And I really did not like the sound of that chalk scratching across the blackboard. And chalk is so messy and dusty.
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