I never looked forward to the first day of school, it always made me anxious.
A new school year meant a new teacher to contemplate. Given that I attended the same school from kindergarten to grade seven, and there was only one class of each grade, and several teachers had taught the parents of my classmates, I knew who that teacher would be. I had a long time to ruminate on the stories I’d heard long before I crossed the threshold of their classroom. Each teacher came with a foreboding shadow. Mostly, the tales weren’t good, and some were eye popping.
For the first two months of kindergarten, my teacher attempted to change me from a left-handed boy to a right-handed one, rapping my knuckles with a ruler and tying the offending hand behind my back. Fortunately, when my parents learned of this situation, they brought it to an end.
During the same school year, the principal punished one of my classmates with a foot-long strap. I can’t recall what the boy had done to warrant such action, but he certainly hadn’t caused the sky to fall. I saw him then, and see him now, looking so small, standing opposite the principal who towered over him; my classmates and I sitting in a circle on the floor watching in horror as the strap fell across that tiny outstretched hand, sucking the air out of the room.
In grade one, the teacher had her own form of corporal punishment that discouraged unacceptable behavior and served as a warning to anyone considering stepping out of line. An L-shaped paddle leaned against her desk, and I knew that she used it — she was notorious around the schoolyard.
By grade two I knew the rules and had fallen in line. Heck, I knew that if I got in trouble at school, further punishment awaited me at home — my parents had made that fact abundantly clear. The sentiment at the time, the 1950s, acknowledged that the teacher was mistress of her domain; she was always right, and if you were the recipient of her discipline, you merited what you got — no questions asked.
Grade three arrived, bringing with it a teacher proficient at sneak attacks. She would creep up on an offending student, whack him or her on the back of the head and then twist one of their ears — often for simply talking to someone when you should have been working.
With the dawn of grade four, the skies brightened and the gods smiled benevolently, sending my classmates and me a teacher who didn’t resemble a dinosaur. She was young and fresh from teachers’ college, pretty as a new day, thoughtful, and kind. Most importantly, though, we understood that she liked kids — and not just the good ones.
My whole body and mind sighed with relief for that entire school year. Never had I enjoyed school as much. Never had I learned from sheer enjoyment as opposed to anxiety or fear — what a relief.
And then came grade five, and the teacher everyone’s parents wanted to teach their kid.
“She’ll shape you up. She’s the toughest one of all.”
And she was.
Ian Wallace has had a long and distinguished career as an author and illustrator of picture books. He has won the Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Picture Book Award, the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Award and the IODE Violet Downey Book Award. He has also been nominated for the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award. Visit Ian Wallace’s website.
Watch for back-to-school blog posts from Groundwood authors running from August 15th – September 15th. Everyone at Groundwood hopes that this school year will bring you supportive teachers.