It was 1974. Patty Hearst was kidnapped. Ted Bundy was on a homicidal spree across the country. Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record by hitting number 715. There was an oil embargo against the United States, and fuel shortages began. It was the year of the Watergate scandal, and President Nixon resigned. Our country was in a Space Race and Cold War. And my family moved…again!
I was 10 years old when September came, and it was the night before The First Day. My sisters and I had our clothes in neat piles on the dresser, and we went to bed early as directed by our parents. I was upstairs in my bed, pulled back the curtain, and stared out the window at Washington Elementary, Public School #5, New York state. From my view I could see part of the playground and at least one wing of classrooms. I kept thinking about the kids I would meet, the supplies I would need, and the exciting things I would learn.
I went to Washington Elementary for about 7 months; we moved again in March. Although that does not seem like a long time to me now, I had many treasured experiences at Washington. I was in 4th grade, and 4th graders changed classes for math and language arts. I remember entering school shortly after the first week, when my current math teacher excitedly showed my neatly completed homework to the “advanced class” math teacher. They had no test scores for me, no previous year data, and maybe an end of the year report card from the former school, if it had made it into a moving box. There were no fax machines, and request for records went through the mail and took months to arrive. But a week into school a teacher saw potential in me and saw that I needed to be challenged and took me to her peer for help. In my mind, I became a math wiz that day; someone believed in me. I also became a scientist at Washington. My teacher taught us how to observe the world, and I remember taking that so seriously that I kept a journal about what I saw on my way to school each day. I was observing! I was a scientist.
Unfortunately, not all experiences at Washington were positive. I endured taunting and teasing from many 5th grade boys; I was new, I wore glasses, I was smart. The combination was not a formula for popularity for me. I was also poor. I didn’t know how poor I was until a teacher told me. She didn’t tell me in an innocent, meant well, kind of way. No. She humiliated me in front of my class when I wasted two sheets of paper. Didn’t I know my parents didn’t have the money to spend on more paper? Didn’t I know my parents had 8 other kids to provide for? Didn’t I know paper costs money? It was probably my single most humiliating school experience.
Today is the first day of school for my 7th graders. Did they have trouble sleeping last night, although their well intentioned parents sent them to bed early? Did they have a troubled stomach just thinking about today? Are they dreaming dreams about the possibilities and promises of a new year? Will our school staff validate those dreams? Will we be the ones they remember for convincing them to believe in themselves? Or will I allow them to be bullied? Will I allow them to be disrespected and humiliated by adults? I have spent the summer focusing on professional development, reading books, attending conferences, and reading thousands of tweets. It’s time. I must head out the door today, greet each student, and convince them that this is the place. Their future begins today. They can be a math wiz, a scientist, an athlete, a musician. It starts today.