First Grade Memories of Failure

school desk

Don’t allow apparent setbacks to prevent you from achieving great things.

How in the world can anyone flunk first grade?

Well. I did.

If a teacher decides that a child is advancing rapidly and should “skip” a grade, there is much consultation in the board room, and discussion with the child’s parents. Many things are considered including the child’s emotional maturity, even physical size. Care is taken ensuring that advancing the child quickly won’t be detrimental. But that’s now.

This was then. When I entered Kindergarten the schools had all of the authority and a teacher’s decision was accepted by parents. Questioning perceived authority was verboten. Society as a whole was  passive.

We small fry were marched, three at a time, to a room in the school with what appeared to us to be a very large, round table, and we were introduced to, and then left alone with, a stranger who explained that we would be given several sheets of pictures. We had to decide how many items we noticed which were different between each set of two superficially identical drawings.

That sounded like fun to me. Uncomfortable in large groups to this day, I found the size of the group in my post-war baby boom class to be overwhelming and intimidating. Sitting in a room with only two others and doing something by myself had appeal.

The other two were out of there in a flash. Two more came in. They left. Two more came in, and so on. I was still concentrating on the drawings. The stranger went out and called my teacher to the door and they conversed in hushed tones. I just kept finding and circling differences.

Perhaps there should have been a time limit.

The stranger looked over my papers. She looked up at me quizzically and then continued to go through the papers. She stood and held out her hand for me, and hand in hand we went back to my class.

The stranger told me to get my things while she talked to my teacher. Then she took me to a classroom with desks. She told the teacher I would be her student now and I was given a desk, pencil, eraser, notebook and a stern admonition to sit still and listen.

I was tired and cranky over Christmas vacation because I was incubating chicken pox. When I should have been returning to my class in the New Year I was in bed smothered with calamine lotion. I missed another two weeks of school. I was back for a week when I caught cold. In those days children stayed home with colds.

That is why I failed. The next year, when I should have been entering a grade one classroom for the first time anyway, I could already print the alphabet and I could read Fun with Dick and Jane.

Remind me to tell you the one about how we moved every year, in the middle of the school year, not just to a new district but to new cities.


4 thoughts on “First Grade Memories of Failure

  1. I sympathize. In seven years I completed eight grades and went to nine different schools, then, two different high schools in four years and the fifth year was done at home by correspondence. Like you, I am an introvert. I did not make friends in those years. My sister suffered from that even more than I did.
    But look at us now. All of us successful, intelligent, socially adept moving ever forward. It is impossible to predict how an adult will turn out based on early childhood experiences. Many of us simply refuse to stay in the mold. That’s a good thing.

  2. The school system still fails its most vulnerable of citizens. While they parade for equal rights and hush intolerance, those with true disabilities and illnesses are shunted to the side…there is no time, no resources and no will to help those that simply need more help than what is “normal”. Our taxes go to fatten salaries of those who complain about having one month off in four every year, year after year. Oh boy, i am ranting again, but as I deal with a child that only makes it to school one day in five, i feel entitled.

    • I know some good teachers who invest heavily in the kids in their charge. They put in a lot of unpaid prep time. They take too much of abuse from parents, too. But I will agree that there is much truth in your comment.

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