Back to school was always my favorite time of year as a child. The anticipation of making new friends. The excitement of breaking free from parental supervision for the first time. Some kids were dragged into the kindergarten classroom kicking and screaming, crying as they were severed from the protection of their mother’s hand. Not me. I walked into the classroom smiling proudly even though I had butterflies in my stomach. I wore a little plaid sport jacket and a tiny bow tie. I didn’t need glasses back then, but if I did, black horn-rimmed frames would complete my look. And that was way before Nerds were in style. I was always ahead of my time. The unique sensation of the first day of school is so intense I can still feel it today if I let my mind wander back.
There’s an old saying “Everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten”. I believe that’s true. At five years old we learn how to socialize. We learn not everyone is “a good kid”. We learn independence. We begin to develop our strengths. We learn caring and sharing. We learn there are consequences to our behavior. Back then, standing in the corner of the classroom was a humiliating punishment nobody wanted to endure. And just hearing the rumors that the principal had a wide leather belt she used to smack the behinds of disruptive students was enough to keep most of us in line.
“There is no talking in the hallway. Do you want me to get the strap?”
“No, Miss Dyer.”
Granted, it was a different world, a long time ago. No one had food allergies. There was peanut butter everywhere.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life for students, teachers and parents alike. Last week my five-year old granddaughter attended her first day of kindergarten from the comfort of her family’s dining room table. After a confusing month of in-home versus in-school versus hybrid learning platforms, school officially began for her on a lap-top. A virtual Zoom school day consists of a teacher and eight students in boxes on a screen. Learning takes place with lots of parental guidance and even some extra help from younger siblings and pets fighting for screen time.
Virtual classrooms are challenging for everyone involved. Teachers are at their best when they have one-on-one interaction with students. Children are one-step removed from the learning process feeling isolated and alone. Parents are scrambling to adjust, offering advice to each other through social media platforms even though none of them have gone through anything like this before. It breaks my heart to think of recess as one child hanging on an unmoving swing in an empty backyard minus the sounds of laughter and running feet.
“There is no running during recess. Do you want me to get the strap?”
“No Miss Dyer.”
On a recent family visit, I asked my granddaughter what she learned in school that day.
“I learned what a dozen is!” she said excitedly.
“What is a dozen?” I asked her.
“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday!” she answered proudly.
I didn’t correct her. In this pandemic-crazed upside-down Zoom-school world, maybe she’s right. Maybe a dozen now equals seven in our horrifically twisted “new normal” where anything is possible.
All these years later, I’m still in contact with a few friends from my kindergarten class thanks to Facebook and class reunions. And if you have any doubts about the existence of grammar school principal Miss Dyer and her legendary strap, just ask Joanne, Donald and Mary Ellen. They’ll confirm the stories are true. I’m sure they’ve never forgotten those days either.