Less Than Ideal Memories of My Early Education

Me and my kitty a very long time ago.

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on February 15, 2012.

When I was in the first grade, I sat next to a boy named Leo.  Every Monday the teacher would put a list of spelling words on the blackboard, and we were supposed to write them down.  I did it without a problem, but for some reason, Leo never completed this simple task.  He would hand in an unfinished list of words.

Since this was an ongoing problem, the teacher decided to punish him for not completing the list of words.  Every week after he handed in his almost blank sheet of paper, she’d take him out into the hallway and paddle his behind with one of those big, wooden paddles. This is when I began to notice him.

It happened every week, and every week, she’d take him into the hallway, and he’d return to his desk with tears in his eyes.

I don’t know when I started to do this, but each Monday as I was copying my words down, I’d glance over at Leo.  I noticed that he was staring off into space.  I waved my hand at him, and he looked at me.  I pointed to his paper.  He started writing again.

I don’t remember how many times I had to wave at him to get him to turn his attention back onto this spelling words, but I’ll never forget the look on his face when the teacher saw that he handed in a complete set of words.  She praised him and patted him on the back.  As he walked back to his seat, he smiled and looked at me.

I did it every single week after that, and that stupid teacher never knew it was me or that all he needed was a little help to refocus.  Forgive me for calling a teacher “stupid,” but as I remember that, it makes me angry.

That’s the only memory I have of first grade.  In second grade I remember being dismayed when on the first day of class, Leo walked into the room and immediately came to sit behind me.  Since at that time I thought he was kind of dopey, I was embarrassed by his endearment for me.

I wish I could say that spanking has been eradicated completely in America’s schools, but it hasn’t.  Though it’s banned in 31 states and D.C., it’s still legal in several other states.  Did you know it’s legal in Georgia?  Each district’s school board has a right to decide if it will be allowed.

If you’re surprised, you may find this recent article interesting: click here.

There has been legislation introduced to end corporal punishment in schools.  H.R. 3027 is a bill in the first step of the legislative process.  I hope it makes it further.

At least spanking is much less common now, and I’m sure it would never be used in such a manner as it was for Leo – a situation that did not require punishment.  One of Georgia’s guidelines is that it “should never be used as a first line of punishment.”

Thank goodness we know more about children and their needs now.  We know that children have different learning styles, that different kids learn at different paces, and they even have different needs when it comes to the environment they learn best in.  Proactive parents can make a huge difference in a child’s education.  (And, no, I’m not advocating homeschooling for everyone.)

The memory of Leo has been coming to my mind lately as I teach my son how to read.  I’m experimenting with different methods to see what works best, and I’m trying to gauge if he’s even ready for it.  Considering that I would put him into Kindergarten this coming fall, if I weren’t homeschooling, I would say he’s advanced for his level, so I’m not pushing it.

But last week I sat down with him and tried doing a word search with sight words.  I don’t do many worksheets with him, but he liked it when he first saw it.  However, after he found the first word, I saw Leo all over again.  My son sat back and looked at the ceiling.  “Look at the word,” I’d say.  He’d glance at it.  “You won’t be able to find it if you don’t even look.”

It makes me wonder if perhaps Leo was just too young to be in first grade at that time.  It also makes me wonder if more students need a one-on-one tutor to remind them to look at the words or even tell them that it’s okay not to do that right now.

What memories – good or bad – do you have of your early education?