Tuesday, September 4, 2007
First Day of School
It's back to school for students and teachers in Wisconsin today. Wisconsin passed a law to keep students from returning before Labor Day, mostly to keep young workers from abandoning their posts before the last gasp of summer vacations. When I was in elementary and high school we returned to the classroom after Labor Day because the Walworth County Fair wrapped up then, and many of us attended and exhibeted there. Today is only the second time since childhood that I am not returning to the classroom, and it feels pretty good. The morning is cool and the crickets are chirping. It's nice to be here reading the newspaper, planning my day, and feeling rested. Usually the first day of high school teaching meant feeling groggy from getting up and moving faster than usual, and from school anxiety dreams (can't find my classroom, can't find the students, forgot to prepare lessons). Of course there was usually nothing to worry about the first couple days except pointing confused freshmen in the right direction for their classes and the lunch room, and struggling to open their Master Locks on the soon-to-be-filled metal lockers. I wish the all anxious teachers and the confused freshmen the best.
The photo is me on the first day of school, either first or second grade. I attended the same elementary school as my father and grandfather, Millard School. I never attended kindergarten - they just threw me off the end of the educational pier into the deep water of first grade when I was six. I didn't have to walk to school; my parents gave me a ride in the green Mercury, and one memorable winter day when we were snowed in, on the tractor. It was a cream colored brick school with two classrooms and two lavatories (name of former students and the mark of Zorro scratched in the wooden doors) upstairs, a cloak room and boiler room in the basement. One classroom housed grades one through four, the other four through eight. The Big Room and the Little Room. A thick rope descending through a hole in the ceiling of the central staircase and hall led to a bell on the roof, the one that signaled the beginning of school and the end of recess. I remember standing on a chair to pull the rope. We brought our lunches in paper bags or lunch pails, and bought milk each week ahead of time, for daily delivery. You had your choice of white or chocolate in waxed paper cartons, and in the winter the cartons froze, creating a good slush. Physical education involved playing on the swings, rings and monkey bars, or chasing madly around the school building. Our music teacher came once a week, and could play a decent boogey woogie on the upright piano. Most of the time there were about five students in my grade, but I didn't notice the shortage of classmates since grades one through four all sat in the same room, listening to each other's lessons. If you didn't know it all by fourth grade you just weren't paying attention. It is a sorrow of my life that I never finished reading all the books in our little library before our little rural school consolidated with the Elkhorn school system, and I never made it to the Big Room before Millard School closed for good.