memoirs

Gold Stars, Goalposts and the Importance of Dental Hygiene

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I never attended Kindergarten.

I’d like to say it was because I was so darned clever I tested out, but that’s simply not the case. In our town, Kindergarten was something that was paid for, and, as I was already proficient at reading the backs of cereal boxes at age four, it was deemed an unnecessary expense. Or, so the legend goes.

Frankly, school and I were kind of at odds from day one. It all started with my teacher, an ancient lady called Mrs. Pratt. Actually, she was probably in her 50s at the time, but when you’re four, that was as close to death as I figured anybody ever got without actually being there. As I recall, she was pretty scary looking with her tight, brunette beehive, and coffee stained teeth that rendered her smile a terrifying grimace. When she would speak, I would go into a sort of trance; I was that fascinated by the yellow teeth and the deep, brown lines between them. They were scary teeth. Bear teeth. They were dragon teeth.

Needless to say, I was not her star pupil.

One of the highest awards anyone could get in a 1970s first-grade classroom was the coveted Gold Star. Some kids seemed to get them all the time. I got stars, alright – blue ones, green ones, red ones. But never a Gold Star. I was sloppy. I was careless. I did not pay proper attention. (Did I mention I was four?).

One day, though, all the rules changed and my universe was up-ended. I cannot tell you how excited I was to receive my first Gold Star. The first one ever!

But then, I looked around the classroom. Everyone had a gold star; apparently, Mrs. Pratt had run out of the coloured variety, and now, the new standard to reach for was two Gold Stars. For truly exceptional work, some students even boasted three Gold Stars. The goalposts of my star universe having been effectively moved beyond reach, I remember looking again at my measly single gold star and feeling the crush of disappointment.

I believe there were two first-grade and two second-grade classrooms in our small school. After recess each day, a different student was picked to dismiss the four columns of 15 students back to their respective classrooms. I never was quite clear on the criteria for who was picked to make such a dismissal. Perhaps it was explained and I was in one of my many tooth-trances. All I knew was that to be selected was a privilege, and it was a privilege I wanted for myself.

As my first year of school wore on and each day a different pupil was chosen to dismiss classes at recess, I was perplexed to find that some students had been chosen multiple times, whereas I had never been chosen. This, my friends, was my first real glimpse of that ugly academic reality that is blatant favouritism, the “teacher’s pet” syndrome that became the bane of my existence.

One day, after months of frustration in being overlooked, I decided to take matters into my own hands. When we were all lined up for dismissal back to our classrooms, somewhere in my now 5-year-old reasoning, I decided that enough was enough. I was going to have to take a stand. Don’t ask my why it seemed so very important – it just was.

Bucking up all my courage, I stepped out of line and marched up in front of the 4 noisy and untidy classroom queues. I took a deep breath, and began dismissing students.

I had two classrooms dismissed before Mrs. Pratt spotted me. I think her head actually swivelled 360 degrees in her rage, and before I could dismiss a third class, she was ON me, her beehive transformed into a nest of snakes, and her forked tongue slicing my little ego to shreds. I was in serious, serious hot water. Hot water that involved a trip to The Principal, a Mr. Sherban, who was at least as old as Mrs. Pratt. He was a big man, scary – no, terrifying. His cold eyes glared at me from behind old-fashioned spectacles. I had Broken A Rule. I was a rebel, a troublemaker. A nonconformist. I was an outcast.

This was going on my permanent record.

The lesson I was meant to learn that day was to remember my place. I was never, ever going to be a teacher’s pet. It was just not going to happen, and so I needed to get over it. Having stepped out of my aforementioned place secured my position forevermore at the back of the line, and thus I remained for the rest of the year.

Looking back, I think my takeaway lesson from those times was to be kind to little ones. The power we hold as adults is immense and can be terrifying. I think what I learned from first grade was that a sense of humour in dealing with children is absolutely essential. Little ones are daft. They are silly and impulsive and cannot always explain WHY they choose to do anything. They say and do all the wrong things all the time, they are easily embarrassed, and it is important to let them know that nothing they say or do is so terribly awful that it cannot be rendered right again. Discipline is necessary, of course. But at the core of discipline is teaching, is it not? And how much simpler is it to teach with kindness and humour?

Some of the best lessons in my life I learned early. I regret nothing from my first year at school, and I have been happily stepping “out of line” ever since. Who cares about gold stars and goalposts? Doesn’t real success and self worth start on the inside?

Plus, I have excellent dental hygiene. When I smile at my grandsons, at least I know they are not fixating on my teeth…

Mother Hen

gold starsDisclaimer: No disrespect is intended to my former teacher, Mrs. Pratt, who I am sure was a very nice lady in real life. I thank her for the important life lessons she taught me. I am not sure how well I would have learned them without her.

feature photo: Shutterstock

gold stars: theguardian.com

© motherhendiaries 2014 all rights reserved

11 replies »

  1. I can totally relate. Despite my current occupation, I was never a teacher’s pet. In fact, I was usually a teacher’s least favourite. I was very independent in school, and I guess if I didn’t like a topic then I didn’t really bother with it.
    The strange thing is, I went back to my old school to train as a teacher. Most of the teachers were fairly indifferent to me, but I did see a different, more human side to them.
    We almost revere them when we’re in school, don’t we?

    I loved this, by the way 🙂 Many teachers have this ideal of rigidity and structure in their classrooms, and if anyone deviates from that, it makes them very uncomfortable. But of course children are going to, it’s how they express themselves.

    Like

    • Thanks Janey! I have no wish to bring down the wrath of all the wonderful teachers out there, for I know there are very, very many. As an introverted child with an overactive imagination, I am sure my own impressions of this teacher fall well under the umbrella of childish musings. I mean, she did not ACTUALLY have snake hair… I hope people realize this!

      I had some fabulous teachers – my second grade teacher was an ex-nun called Miss LaValley, and I absolutely adored her. She was one of the kindest, sweetest women on the planet, and as far as I was concerned, the sun rose and set on her shoulders. Needless to say, I did very well in second grade, and in third with Mrs. Kelly, who was a beautiful, braided hippie with an easy laugh and deep kindness. Like you, I worked hard at what interested me and needed prodding for what did not. But a shred of approval or encouragement would send me scrambling to achieve.

      Keep up the good work with your kids, Janey – as the wonderful teacher you are, I know you have the power to affect them all for the better. Your whacky beautiful soul is no doubt a joy. I wish you had taught my first grade class… MH 😀

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      • D’awww thank you 😀 That’s such a lovely compliment.
        It’s a tough job, and I think that’s why some teachers become so bitter. It’s a shame, because we are in such an important position and even one bad day can have a massive impact on a student.
        I, like you, remember the great, inspiring teachers. But also the fearsome and bitter ones. It’s a shame.

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  2. Most of my teachers hated me, i was the kid that was always looking for a loop hole. However there was one teacher, actually she was my first grade teacher, and she loved me, her name was Mrs.Modlend and every year until i was 14 she would take me out to eat on my birthday. After that we lost touch with one another. So a few years ago i looked her up in the phone book and called her, her son answered and said she had passed away a couple years back. Such a shame she was a wonderful person and a great teacher.

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    • Bless you! I am so sorry to hear that she passed without knowing what a wonderful woman you have turned out to be! Isn’t it amazing how children will blossom under the warmth of positive attention? I had many wonderful teachers… a post in tribute to them all is in order, I think! 🙂

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  3. I had one teacher who didn’t really like me very much. I was in second grade, and I had a habit of doing assignments without reading instructions and finishing before everyone else. (I would, for example, underline answers instead of circle them…) Apparently, I used to bring home papers with 100% correct answers (answered in incorrect ways) that were counted for no credit. Anyway, apparently that was the year they IQ tested me, and I scored higher than anyone else in the school.

    After that, Mrs. Phillips took great pains to like me. It was really weird.

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    • Ohhhhh I would so have loved to see her nitpicking face when she read your scores! This is EXACTLY what I was hoping to get across – rather than a pity party for poor me, which I fear may have been the net result. 😀 There is so much more to a child than the standardization and regulation of the classroom can possibly reveal! Well done you, my little Mensa smartypants! I did score in the top quarter of my own class for same, but I went to school with some proper eggheads! Well above average does not Mensa make. By the time I finished school, I was in the Honor Society and I had a 4.0 in college. Maybe I was just a late bloomer. But how I treat children to this day has very much to do with the fear I had of Mrs. Pratt.

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  4. Excellent post and well done standing up and taking things into your own hands so young! That should’ve been rewarded. If I see that in my own kids, I encourage it! Perhaps the tooth rot rotted her brain?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, APR! It is a sad fact that back in the day, conformism was always rewarded over initiative. How many damaged youths crawled out of those decades I wonder? Haha! But on the upside, I became a fighter. All’s well that ends well…

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  5. Ha ha. I was also never the teacher’s pet. It all started in kindergarten when I dunked my graham crackers into my milk at snack time. Apparently that was a no-no. But isn’t that truly the only way one should eat graham crackers?

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