This semester I’m asking the grad students in my 21st Century Literacies course to keep a blog, and I’m providing ideas for some of their weekly entries. I’m conflicted about that decision. I worry that providing a prompt makes the blogging experience somewhat artificial. But I’ve also found that when I ask my students, many of whom have limited experiences with Web 2.0 tools, to find their own topics and follow through with a weekly post, they have sometimes been overwhelmed. During their first weeks of blogging, they’re focusing considerable energy on learning the writing platform, so guiding them with to a topic seems to help. I usually begin each class meeting with an in-class writing activity, so many of these weekly topics will be to develop those initial writings into a complete post.
All of that was to explain that I’m going to join them in writing about these weekly topics. Last week I asked the students to bring in a photo from their early school years and to write about the person in the photo and her experiences in school. I brought in the official school photo from my kindergarten year. I’m wearing the same dress I wore for the first day of school. I remember how excited I was about that first day. We were in the Roses store in Whiteville when my mother saw on the front page of the newspaper the date school would begin. I asked her then if I could wear my hair in pigtails on the first day. I don’t remember whose idea it was for me to wear this yellow dress, but I think we made that decision in Roses too. The wait for that first day of school was almost unbearable. School was a wonderful place, and soon I would be part of it.
But kindergarten wasn’t all fun and magic. Oh, there was much to love: Mrs. Howard, the upstairs kitchen center, my best friend Lori Ann, and story time. I learned so much in kindergarten (I refuse to quote from the poster.), but the lessons I most remember are the painful ones. Before school, my only child existence had been a sheltered and loving one. Kindergarten wasn’t always Sheryl-centered, nor was it always loving. From that very first day, I realized that I didn’t get my way in this place. Students who rode bus 73 were given green cut-out buses to wear, and it didn’t matter that I liked the purple buses better. You had to ride bus 64 to get oen of those. That did not make sense to my child’s logic. My mama was still there, and I was going to ride home with her, so why couldn’t I get a purple one? That was my first disappointment, and certainly a lesson worth learning. You don’t always get the purple bus.
Other lessons were more difficult. In kindergarten I learned that some people didn’t like me. I learned that the day two little girls refused to let me play with them in the kitchen center. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t play with them; they wouldn’t even let me enter the kitchen. They called me “fatty.” That memory is burnt into my brain. It was that moment when I learned that I was fat and I somehow if felt “less than.” From that moment on, I was less than worthy because I was unattractive. I didn’t automatically expect other children to like me or want to be friends with me. I was always caught by surprise when they did, and I loved Lori Ann even more because she liked me and expected very little in return.
Today, thirty-five years later, I’m looking at this photo and thinking, “You weren’t fat.” I even think that girl was kinda cute. The more I look at her, the more adorable she gets. And I’ll bet Mrs. Howard thought I was kinda cute too. Mrs. Howard always made me feel liked and special. If it had told her that the other girls had been mean to me, I am sure she would have responded in an appropriate way because Mrs. Howard knew h ow to make things right. But I didn’t tell her. I didn’t tell her because I was too ashamed.
So what’s a teacher to do? Even the best teachers can’t hear every word that’s spoken in the classroom. A child’s ego can be destroyed with one or two sentences, and a teacher who’s busy with another student may never know. It’s a frightening thought, one that makes me wonder how many times it has happened in my classroom.