When I think back to my first memory of school, I always remember my first day of school. I attended Monroe Elementary School near Monmouth (Caruthers), California. I remember the pink dress and pink shoes which I wore on that day and the excited feeling of being with other kids. It was my first image of elementary education and to this day, it is one of my fondest memories.
My mother was lucky enough to work as a migrant aide at this school, and although she knew the staff well, I was to discover later that she was a bit nervous for me since I was so shy. I was the eldest in my family and so it was a big deal for me to attend elementary school.
My first teachers were Mrs. Garrett and Mrs. Smart. When I say teachers, I mean that they were both of my teachers along with numerous aides in the open classroom. In the 1970’s, the open classroom was the concept of multiple grades working together; in my case, kindergarten through third were all together (yet separate by grade level) within a big classroom. There were bells that would ring throughout the day to move us along to our new station (or lesson) which was based on our grade level. At the time, the idea of moving to different locations within a big classroom (this was really three separate classrooms — all open within the same level) took some time, but with practice, became second nature to the students.
Some of these stations included reading, writing (our own books), mathematics, free play, pottery/or art, and other related topics which I can’t recall. What I do remember most was the freedom which the open classroom allowed the students to experience; it gave the students the ability to work with others while allowing them to work independently (and ahead in some cases) so that the students were always active and learning. I never remember feelings of boredom, because there was always something to do. Now, looking back, I imagine it must have required a great deal of organization to get this open classroom to function and work efficiently. In recollection, it must have worked well, because the process was never a problem to any student; when I think about these kindergarten through third grade students, there must have been at least a hundred students or more moving in this open classroom with clear direction and purpose.
On my first day of school, I remember story time as the highlight of my day. I was sitting in a small group of students, intrigued by the concept of being with other children my age. Since Monroe was a country school, most of the students didn’t live close by to other children, so it was an adventure to sit by others our age. I remember Mrs. Garrett, with her glasses and big blonde hair, look out into the audience and ask who would like to sit beside her as she read the story to the class.
With numerous students raising their hands in excitement, I just sort of sat there and looked around, smiling at all of the commotion. Then, Mrs. Garrett pointed to me and asked me to sit beside her in front of everyone. She asked me my name and commented on the uniqueness of such a name, Genevieve. I remember that my hair went all the way down my back, and Mrs. Garrett complimented my pretty dress and long hair. Then, holding the book out to the children, she read the story to the class while I sat right next to her. I wish I could remember the name of the book she read; however, this first memory and the excitement I felt about learning and reading was enough for me. This pleasant memory has remained with me to this day.
Now, in my life as a high school teacher, I still return to this memory and the feeling I had on that day. I think of my role as the teacher and my impact on my students and their acceptance into my classroom. I also hope that my students will feel the excitement of learning. At high school level, I realize much has changed by the time they reach my classroom and their previous experiences in education might not be so positive. I know that one teacher can make the biggest difference in a student’s introduction to the classroom. My first memory in education and learning motivates me to be that difference.