HomeblogherRemembering First Grade

Since yesterday’s post got derailed yesterday, I’ll write off of BlogHer’s prompt for yesterday, today. “Cicero said: “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” Tell us about who you are remembering today.”

Time brought perspective as it ticked by.
(Image released to the public domain, but credit still goes to Sonja Langford)

As I’d written at length about in entries past, my school days were very rocky, especially my elementary years. There was one teacher in particular who unwittingly intimidated me at every turn.

I first met her when my family moved halfway through my first grade year.

I had been in public school in Kentucky, under the command of a woman who seemed to hate me and surrounded by people who were raised with an odd prejudice against anyone from the “North”. I don’t think they realized the Civil War had been over long before any of them had been born.

Anyway, the new teacher whose class I was assigned to was a physically big lady. To an already struggling first grader, her firm attitude was hard to handle.

Every day I sat in her class, trying to keep up with everyone else, but having an impossible time of it. I can’t remember if I had been put in the special ed class for part of the day just yet, but I do remember that oppressive feeling of failure hovering over me.

Eventually, my inability to tune out the background noise of the other children got bad enough to prompt her to move my desk next to hers. It was turned to face the class, so she could help me with my work more easily during quiet times. Of course, that had the unintended effect of turning me into a focal point and giving me the ability to watch the sea of faces that made up my first grade class.

The end of that school year had been a relief. I was able to move on to another class, taught by one of my favorite teachers. She was one who treated everyone with kindness, even the kids with behavioral problems. I think she had a deeper understanding of how hard it is for a child when their family life is in turmoil or their neurology works against the teaching methods. I really liked Mrs. Keeney.

However, as I moved up through the grades, it was as if Mrs. Wood followed me. It was a bit creepy, really. At the end of every summer, I was afraid I’d be given her again.

That’s exactly what happened when fourth grade hit. I had her for math class. Of course, that subject had to be one of those that I struggled the most with.

For that class, she used a year long award structure. She set up a sort of race track map, and each student got a car. After receiving their grades, they moved their car along the track accordingly. The higher your grade, the further you got to move your car.

Predictably enough, my car was always last, or close to it. I’m not entirely sure of how I got through that year in one piece.

When I left elementary school, I thought that I had seen the last of her. For a long time, I forgot about her. High school was a bit better for me, and I discovered the fun of preforming on stage. Being active in the drama club, I did a few plays for elementary students.

Either before or after the play, a couple of friends and I were walking down the elementary school hallway, marveling at how small everything had seemed. High school students are much bigger than elementary school students, after all.

While I was distracted, I heard a familiar voice, “Emilie? Is that you?”

When I looked up, there she was. Mrs. Wood. She smiled broadly at me. It was the same smile I’d seen during my time in elementary, but she somehow seemed smaller, just like everything else.

“How’s my favorite student? You’ve grown!”

I don’t remember where the conversation went from there, but I do remember the warmth of her hug. I was baffled that she even remembered me, much less would call me her ‘favorite’.

It is a nice final memory to have of her. I found out that she passed away a while ago. It’s interesting how age can change someone’s perspective on another’s actions. When I was little, her attempts to help me felt more like bullying than guidance, but now I realize what she was trying to do.

I understand why she used the methods she did, and they may have helped to a degree. I also know she loved what she did, and she cared deeply for the students under her supervision.

So, today I think of you, Mrs. Wood. I may not have understood your motives when I was in your classes, but I do, now. Thanks for your hard work, tolerance and perseverance. I hope you find joy wherever you may be now.

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