The First Day of School

 
 
I believe I had a stomach ache every first day of school for all of my 12 years. Wait…..better add four years of college to that, and probably any class I have taken since. The first day of school has always scared me. While most saw me as an extrovert, I never really was. I would look around feverishly until I saw a friend I could latch onto, or quake with intimidation until someone was nice to me. That’s when I would get a bit comfortable with things and the floodgates would open. I talked a lot when comfortable. Some teachers may have wished I had been a bit less comfortable. Let’s face it…..five kids and two parents. You learn to fight to be heard. And you never get to say everything you want to say, so it’s a constant thing you fight for. Sometimes you get so excited you forget what you meant to say when it is your time to speak and sound a bit like an idiot. Really…the original thought….was profound!
I was in constant fear in school. It was my parent’s fault (of course). The rule in our house was that whatever punishment the teacher doled out, your punishment at home was that times two. Possibly not the best way to learn your times tables, or maybe it was. I was terrified of the paddle, which was the punishment of choice for most teachers during my school years. I managed to avoid it, though I cut it close one time. My name was taken and we were told that it was an automatic paddling. Lindsey Clendenin was the teacher…..must have been fifth grade. I was filled with absolute horror. She was not known for backing down, but I must have been one of her exceptions. She saw the tears in my eyes and couldn’t do it. I loved her after that and suspect my mouth stayed closed when required.
Back to school clothes were great, though for the short chunky girl who hated shopping (maybe it was because I was a chunky girl?) it was torture as we went from store to store looking for clothes that fit. We’d hit downtown Statesville….the place to go back then pre-mall….Belk, J.C. Penney’s, Spainhour’s, and Hines, my favorite because that was usually find sonething to fit me. At least we didn’t have to fit my body in a school uniform.
The school supply lists back then were nothing like the ones now. Sorry teachers, but I think they had it right then. Notebooks, loose leaf, some #2 pencils, extra erasers, a couple of composition books, a protractor, and a new lunchbox, and we were set to go. Not sure why the needs have escalated for parents over the year. I read those lists and they put me in a state of shock! Do these things really help kids learn more? I don’t think so. In fact, I think perhaps we could even have cut a few things from the old timers list!  I think I am with the schools I have heard about in other places that provide all of the basic things for students. That should be the great equalizer….the same school supplies for all. I hate the idea that a kid will go without either because their parents can’t afford it, refuse to buy it, or doesn’t know it is their responsibility. Those notes sent home….ummmmm…..some parents choose not to read them, others don’t know how. Extra attention needs to be paid to their kid. Subtlely. It’s not their fault and should not be their humiliation.
There seems to be less recess and PE now. I would have loved that, especially had it be replaced by library time. (Yep, geek.) I was always told I was unathletic..or maybe I just felt that way. I was always picked last….and never got to pick myself. (That last part was OK….picking would have been a dilemma…friends or athletes?). I wish I had known it was not a life sentence. I now know that I was just not athletically skilled and had not been told that it was new to me and would come with time and practice. It should have been about learning to move for life. I believe it should have been a bit crazy and chaotic and fun. Joyful. Not so much squat thrusts (the earlier evolution of burpees, which I have now made one of my life goals to avoid forever), or dodgeball (Really? Throw balls at your classmates as hard as you can, and the one who hits the most wins?). More running and jumping and dancing and throwing balls at targets instead of people. 
Oh….the ultimate horror of my school years. Mandatory showers after PE freshman year of high school. My teacher positioned over the showers checking off whether we got naked and ran water over our bodies. I worried every day of my summer vacation before high school over that one, and no…..it was not OK. Reality was not better than the fear. While I am not particularly modest now, I was then, and even at that age, maybe especially at that age, I should have been told I was in charge of who sees my body without clothes. I hear it is not a requirement now….good!
The teachers….they could make or break a year. Some I considered friends. Some I considered really smart adults who were right up there on my pedestal. Some I never figured out why they went into teaching anyway. They didn’t seem to enjoy kids, they didn’t have a passion for the classes they taught. I learned a bit about work then. There are those who will always do the minimum for their job. There are those who will make their job drudgery. But it taught me something….I never wanted to be like them.
In honor of this first day of school, here are some life lessons I have learned for students….and adults.
1. Respect your teacher (and we all should have teachers!)  Even if you disagree with them. Sometimes people deserve respect because of their title. This lesson has been forgotten. It is a shame. Remember Daniel in the Bible? No? Well, look up that story. You will learn that you can be respectful but not agree with the leader, hold true to your beliefs, and accomplish your goals, all at the same time. When you come at a person with disrespect, they no longer hear you. You sound like Charlie’s Brown teacher to them. You don’t have to always agree with them….but always respect them. Especially if you want them to listen to you.
2. It is your teacher’s job to teach you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Really….they are getting paid to do this! If you are willing to put in the effort, they should be willing to make sure you learn the material. Don’t be ashamed of what you know (or don’t know) today….only be ashamed if you don’t know more tomorrow.
3. Don’t rebel against learning. That cheats only you and makes you a fool. Learn as much as you can from everyone. Information is gold. Take all you are given….and ask for more.
4. Learn to read…..well. I believe there is no greater thing that will ensure your success. Read anything and everything. There is little you can read that won’t be of value….if you also learn to question, discern, and not take everything you read as truth. Read and think and engage your mind.
5. Make your years of education more than just about book learning. Get involved. Play sports, run for a class office, try out for a school play, write for the school paper, enter a talent show. Try things expecting to fail on occasion. Don’t let that get you down….most of the greats have failed. Most of the really greats have failed big. It’s not that you fell down, it’s all in how you get back up. Do it with grace and style. And laughter. And with the knowledge that you are in great company.
6. Practice virtues you believe in. What kind of qualities do you respect in a person? Honesty, hard work, passion? Then do them. Practice makes perfect.
7. How you act towards other people can change their lives. Be kind. Be interested. Be someone who pulls someone up, not someone who pushes them down. Collect friends. Let them know you care. Make memories. Write them down….and take a selfie.

I loved and hated school. I didn’t like being told what to learn, was disdainful of what I thought of as busy work (still am) and hated that tests weren’t more interactive. But the learning itself….was bliss. I like to know things. I want to know more. I regret I didn’t make more of the opportunities offered, that I didn’t aim a bit higher, that I wasn’t more creative as I designed my life. But our education doesn’t stop because we are out of school. We can learn and change until we die. We can become a good student today. So that is my goal. I resolve to try a bit harder, seek out more knowledge each day, and do things that don’t come easily to me, until they do. We dumb ourselves down too often….let’s get smart instead. Let that first day of school stomach ache be over and done with. We will not be scared….we will be educated.

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