The Perils of Second Grade

(I wrote this story almost exactly a year ago. It seems appropriate to share it on my blog as the leaves once again start to fall. The boys are in Grade Three now and thriving.)

My two oldest grandsons started Grade Two this autumn, photographed on that first day of school resplendent in their new outfits and superhero backpacks, eyes shining with hopeful expectation.

My heart expanded and I was transported back all those years ago to my introduction into second grade. I had spent Grade One in a rural two-room schoolhouse about three miles from my home. Grades one to six were in one room and grades seven to twelve were in the other. I was surrounded by good friends, our teacher was a loved and respected member of the community, and the neighbourhood school bus driver would look after me if my parents were away when it was time to drop me off. I was warm, cozy, safe, and secure.

Sadly, this world disintegrated the following September when, due to rules about county divisions, I found myself boarding a new yellow school bus headed 15 miles in the other direction. Unbeknownst to me, I was being transported to a much larger school with multiple classrooms at each grade level. Even though I was confused and frightened, I took solace in the knowledge that my two best friends were on the bus with me.

We soon arrived at this strange new school and followed the designated guides to our classroom. The three of us sat down together. We held hands and waited for class to begin. Suddenly, an older student abruptly approached us and announced that my two friends would have to follow him. They were in the wrong classroom. It had been determined that my buddies were in Grade Three and that classroom was down the hall.

My eyes welled up with tears as my childhood pals, my lifelines, disappeared down the endless hallway.

There I sat, all alone.

Clicking heels announced the arrival of our teacher. Thirty-plus little heads turned toward the door in wide-eyed anticipation. There she was—flaming red hair, flaming red lipstick, flaming red fingernails. Her first words to us, “What’s the matter? Haven’t you ever seen a classroom before?”

And so it began—the year of screaming and yelling, of books being smacked down on top of our heads, of being shaken until we were dizzy, of being shamed for absence from school/not learning quickly enough. It went on and on.

Every Sunday night I was sick to my stomach and spent the night shaking and crying. My parents worried but they were powerless. When my mother attempted to speak to the teacher about her concerns, Miss Flaming Hair simply took it out on me the next day. It was better to keep quiet.

I survived that terrifying year of my life but, even now, I hate bright red lipstick and fingernail polish. I can’t listen to ‘Oh! Susanna’, the song that teacher played every morning. The contents of most of my sandwiches that year were baloney and mustard. I still can’t stomach this combo.  

Soon after he started his Grade Two year our grandson Jack was telling us how happy he was with his classroom. He said, “Our teacher told us there would be no yelling this year, not by her and not by any of us.”

Misty-eyed, I thought, “Thank God things have changed.” Maybe, amid all the world problems that we are experiencing there is still some light at the end of the tunnel. In many ways, things are better for Jack than they were for me.


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