All of my life, all 71 years, I have never wanted to grow up. The Toys-R-Us song, “I don’t want to grow up,” would have been my theme song of my childhood if it had been written in the 1950s.
When I was five, I didn’t want to go to kindergarten, so I didn’t. My mother decided that my older brother didn’t learn anything in kindergarten and there was no law that required parents to send their child to school at the age of five, so my parents didn’t and I didn’t complain. From watching my brother deal with riding a school bus, carrying a lunch box and trying to hide his report card, I knew this was not the kind of life that I wanted to lead.
At the mature age of six, I was forced to pick out a lunch box, a red plaid one just like 10 other students in my class, get on the school bus and keep my crayons in a Lipton tea box. One day when school was over and it was time to get on the bus, I decided that I wasn’t going to ride on a bus anymore and so I hid in the bathroom. When everyone was gone, it was just me and the teacher. My parents were not happy when I got home but I made my point. I don’t like those yellow school buses.
What always confused me was when the other students wanted to “play school” when we would spend time at one another’s homes on the weekends. Who would want to do that when you could play cowboys and Indians, Robin Hood, Cinderella, or so many other things! Play school? No Way! I had enough of that five days a week.
Finally, I would agree but only on one condition. I would never be the teacher. I had watched teachers and I knew that their job was boring, to say the least. All they did was write on the chalkboard, grade papers and deal with the boys who would spit continually. It was not my idea of a happy life.
But our “play school” was even more boring than regular school. We had one teacher and three students. Four students if you count our Great Dane Butch. The “teacher” would make us sit and wait while she prepared the lessons and graded the papers. Life was so dull so I decided to spice it up a little. I started to sing, at first softly, but louder with each song. I sang “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “On the Good Ship Lollipop” and “Home on the Range.” But it was my rendition of “Old Susanna” that finally pushed the “play teacher” over the edge. I was sent to the principal’s office. Some people just don’t appreciate good music!
My brother John had agreed to be the principal which then I thought was the perfect job to have in a school. You just sit in an office all day, listen to teachers talk about students, listen to students talk about teachers and then listen to the parents talk about teachers and the students. All you had to do was listen. What could be so hard about that!
I walked into John’s office which was located on our front porch. He looked bored so I was happy to “give him some business.” I knew I had enough information on him to make him do exactly what I wanted him to do. Within five minutes, I was expelled from “play school.” My weekends were now free. I was on permanent pretend recess. The rest of the day was summer vacation.
My biggest challenge in first grade was writing my name. My mother insisted that I be called “Patricia Ann.” That was 11 letters! I looked with envy at the papers of Rose, Mary and Sue. Just “Patricia” took almost the entire top of my buff colored paper with green lines. When you added the “space” that they insisted on and “Ann,” you were on line two!
But I had the perfect solution: I changed my name to Patsy. I convinced my parents that the teacher never returned our papers so it worked fine for the rest of the year; but in second grade, after my parents came home from parent-teacher conferences and my mother said loudly, “Patricia Ann, come right here!” I knew that my teacher had blown my cover.
With all this said, I think it’s time to admit that my negative feelings about the educational system didn’t last my entire life. One September, sixteen years later, I found myself standing in front of a classroom of students, writing on the chalkboard, grading papers and dealing with the boys who spit because I was the teacher!
Add twenty-one more years, and I found myself in an office listening to students talk about teachers, teachers talk about students and parents talk about students and teachers because I was the principal!
My thirty-five years as an educator taught me one thing: it’s a life that is far from boring. It’s rewarding. It was an adventure with more stories to follow.