My first day of school.
It was back in the Sixties, and I was five and a half years-old.
I only knew what school would be like because I saw it on television. The kids in “My Three Sons,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” and “Leave it to Beaver” went to school. Finally, I would, too.
There weren’t many toddler or preschool classes in those days. Kids started school in kindergarten, and went for only a half-day.
Walking to School
My assigned class was the afternoon, so my mom would sometimes walk me to school, pushing my little brother in his stroller down our tarred road. We lived in the country, and there weren’t sidewalks, just unpaved roads and big ditches on either side.
I was eager to meet my teacher. She was new to the school and no one knew anything about her, except that she was very young and had never taught before. It was the very first day of school for both of us.
My mom took me into the classroom, and right away my senses took in:
1) the smell of paste,
2) the miniature furniture, and
3) my beautiful teacher.
She was gentle, pretty, and smiling. She stooped to shake my hand and showed me to my seat at one of the little tables. I sat quietly and waved good-bye to my mom. Let the adventure begin.
I quickly learned that recess was an unstructured playtime, and that I liked a boy named Charlie. A rag-tag group of us would play together at recess.
I also learned that I did not like a boy named Jimmy who sat at my table. Jimmy cried a lot, causing Miss Shoff much distress. No one should distress my dear, lovely Miss Shoff.
My best friend and neighbor, Cindy, was also in my class. It was she who instigated the paste eating contests and giggling during nap time. At least, that was my story and I was sticking to it.
Bee Our Guest
One day, Miss Shoff invited a guest to our classroom. It was a man, and he had a large glass jar covered with a dish towel.
Miss Shoff told us that he was her boyfriend, Jim, and that he had brought something special for us to see.
Jim, her boyfriend! I was mesmerized. He had a kind smile, and only eyes for Miss Shoff. To me, that was just another piece of evidence proving that she was the most beautiful teacher in the world.
As he pulled the towel off, we all saw three bumble bees flying in circles around the inside of the jar.
Some kids squealed that they would be stung. Miss Shoff quieted them and explained that the bees couldn’t get out of the jar because Jim had tied a screen securely around the top.
We watched the bees fly and buzz, asking questions like “What do bees eat?” and “Do they stop flying, ever?” Miss Shoff and Jim answered our eager questions.
Recess and Then?
In no time, we were lined up for recess. Our teacher reminded us to behave on the playground and escorted us outside.
Our latest game was walking around the perimeter fence of the school yard, through weedy overgrowth in the back of the lot. We were explorers in a new world, following a path through the forest.
Soon, the bell rang to signal the end of playtime, and we lined up to await Miss Shoff.
All of the other classes went in as their teachers arrived. We waited and waited, all sixteen kindergartners scuffing their shoes in the gravel and dust.
An older woman, about the age of my grandma, appeared at the door, and led us back to our classroom. She looked stern. She wasn’t gentle, or smiling.
Cindy, who was less shy than most of my classmates, raised her hand as we had been taught.
“Where is Miss Shoff?” she asked politely.
The matronly woman looked at Cindy thoughtfully, then replied.
“Your teacher had to change her clothes.”
We all began to murmur. What had happened? She was fine when we left her. Had Jimmy spilt his milk on her again? Even when that had happened before, she never left us with someone else.
Was she allowed to leave school? I didn’t think so. Teachers had to stay at school and teach their students.
This was highly irregular.
Did Jim have something to do with this mystery? He may have been nice, but I decided that he wasn’t good enough for Miss Shoff. No one was good enough for her. And, she belonged to us, not to him.
I felt sure that if she had to choose between us, she would absolutely choose her class over her boyfriend.
The older woman read us a story that we had already heard. Then she told us to get our carpets and lie down, even though we had already taken our nap time that day.
Just a few minutes before the dismissal bell rang, Miss Shoff appeared at the classroom door. She looked as beautiful as ever, with her shiny auburn beehive hair, long eyelashes, and pretty dress. But, it was a different dress than the one she had worn earlier.
We crowded her and hugged her as she walked into the room, ignoring the older woman’s direction to return to our seats and put our heads down. The older woman got up to leave, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Miss Shoff thanked the older woman, who grumpily acknowledged the thanks, and left.
“Miss, where were you? Why did you leave us?” We peppered her with questions.
“Well,” she answered, “You didn’t notice, I don’t think, but when we were looking at that jar of bumble bees, my dress tore.”
We were incredulous. How could a dress just tear?
“You see, I wanted to try something new. It was a dress made of paper.”
What? None of us could believe it. Clothing made from paper? There couldn’t be such a thing.
Miss Shoff told us that designers were making paper clothes. She thought it would be fun to try them out. But, she didn’t realize that these prototypes were so flimsy. She had to tape her dress when we went out to recess, and hurry home to change into actual “cloth” clothing.
We missed her so much, and were so glad that she was back. We asked her never to wear paper clothes again, and she chuckled her pledge.
Miss Shoff was more than just pretty on the outside. She was adventurous. She was inquisitive, willing to try and sometimes fail.
Why not try a paper dress? Or, a hot air balloon ride?
We could learn the letter “B” and learn about bees.
She showed us that learning was not always linear, sometimes the branches and leaves were the best part. Try something new. Give ideas a chance. Fail, and then get up and try again.
Miss Shoff taught us the most important things that we would ever learn. And we didn’t even know it, yet.
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