I Become Ruler of the First Grade. Not… MisAdventures: The Book

By the time I made it into the first grade, I could actually draw a stick horse that didn’t look like a kinky snake. It was finger painting that I excelled at, however. You just smear paint on paper. I circled this rare work of art so my parents wouldn’t forget which one was mine.


In retrospect, getting booted out of the first grade was one of the best things that ever happened to me. When I returned a year later, I was older than my fellow students, bigger than many, and at least as coordinated. More importantly, my brain had advanced to the point where it didn’t embarrass me.

I even made the decision in the rough and tumble world of first grade politics that it was my job to rule. No one agreed of course; why should they? But I wasn’t alone in such delusions. My major competition was another first grader named Joe. He was even less civilized than I, if that’s possible, a true barbarian. He rightfully recognized there could be only one leader of the pack but mistakenly thought it should be him. Obviously, we had to fight.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Young didn’t understand the necessity of our action, even though I explained it to her. It only confirmed her already low opinion of me. I received my first and only school spanking as a reward.

While I was learning the subtleties of power politics, my academic life was suffering; either that or Mrs. Young had decided there wasn’t much hope for Marge Mekemson’s kid. My report cards read C right across the line except where it recorded behavior. All of those categories were marked ‘needs improvement.’ Talks in class, needs improvement; is courteous at all times; needs more improvement. You get the idea. I couldn’t even dress right. I wonder if Mrs. Young knew my attire didn’t include underwear. I thought it was a sissy thing to do until I caught a rather sensitive part of my anatomy in the zipper. That was educational. I learned more about clothing in one second than I did in a whole year of Mrs. Young’s harping.

Eventually, after two years of trying, I made it out of the first grade and began to enjoy school. It turned out that my second and third grade teacher, Miss Jones, was also my Godmother. She had to like me. All sorts of Biblical rules apply. Thus it was that a dash of Holy Water changed my whole perspective on education. I actually wanted to please the teacher. I went from class rebel to teacher’s pet.

“Can I clean the black boards, Miss Jones? Can I empty the trash? Can I, can I, can I?” No chore was too menial. Had my fellow second graders known the word they would have called me a sycophant instead of a kiss-up, or worse.

So, what changed? Mrs. Young was a good teacher as I am sure several generations of graduates from Diamond Elementary would attest. But she was ‘old school’ and her world was one of rules and corporal punishment. Each year she was faced with the daunting task of taming a new group of wild beasts and this required discipline. It was not my ideal environment. I’ve never done particularly well at rules.

MONDAY’S Travel Blog POST: Homeland Security goes looking for a bomb in our food containers for our Grand Canyon raft trip. Doesn’t everyone carry a dozen or so ammo cans when they travel?

WEDNESDAY’S Photo Blog POST: A trip up the Amazon River with Piranhas for dinner. It’s better to eat than be eaten.

FRIDAY’S Blog a Book POST: The magic of reading.






26 thoughts on “I Become Ruler of the First Grade. Not… MisAdventures: The Book

  1. Nice story, going to school must have been such an inconvenience.

    At my Primary (Elementary) School the Headmaster was Mr (George Eddie) Hicks. He was a decent sort of chap but he never seemed to take to me and in days when favouritism was acceptable I found him to be quite unsupportive. I just enjoyed being at school, especially the play times, and wasn’t terribly bothered about the learning bits in between so I think he wrote me off at an early stage as being a bit of a no-hoper and advised my parents to buy me a pair of clogs and prepare me for a long dull working life in a factory, as he was certain that I was destined to be one of life’s academic failures.

    Thanks for the memory nudge!

    • My mother’s little trick of changing my birth certificate to get me into school early the year before may have prejudiced Mrs. Young a bit… you know the sins of the parent. Or maybe she was just devoted to taming me. I have little doubt that it was needed, Andrew. Had the next year not been so dramatically different, I might have a different perspective. Suddenly education became fun, something that I looked forward to.
      It’s sad when a teacher makes negative decisions that can impact a child’s whole life. –Curt

      • I taught when I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer, Andrew, and discovered how rewarding— and challenging— the job can be. Peggy was a teacher as well as a Principal, and our daughter Tasha teaches now. There is no doubt in my my mind that few jobs are more important. –Curt

  2. I would like to report that Curt is still a bit of a handful…….grin! I should add that this is coming from a retired principal……..guess I always had a soft heart for the rebels.

  3. Retired cop issues: Interesting conversation with the airport police dog officer when his faithful companion did the “alert” move on my well worn backpack at my feet. It held only emergency underwear and a shirt in case the airline “lost” my checked bag. The Glock was at home. But the bag had, in my previous life, been the transport for issued handgun, ammunition, cuffs etc. Dogs are great. Their sense of smell is said to be 40 times greater than humans. Nice doggie, no, I’m not a grey haired terrorist.

    • I was lucky to have some really good teachers, Gerard. But I also learned the value of self-education, a skill that has served me well all of my life. Maybe the desire to learn is the best skill that teachers have to give. –Curt

  4. Oh my, thank goodness for Miss Jones!
    Your attempts to be leader of the pack brought back some memories- I used to teach Kindergarten and would joke that all 5 year olds are pretty sure that they rule the world, or at least ought to.

    • Laughing, Clare. You get it! That bit about sharing— toys, power, teacher’s time, etc.— is one of the tough lessons of life. 🙂 And good for you being a kindergarten teacher. –Curt

  5. Interesting how a certain teacher can make such a huge difference. My grades always reflected whether I liked (or perhaps respected) the teacher, or not. Good teachers are worth their weight in gold, or more.

    Love reading your early reminiscences. Keep ’em coming!

    • For better or for worse… Teachers have an incredible impact on young people. No doubt about it, Gunta. From kindergarten on, teachers match or exceed the amount of time that parents spend with children. While society is quick to recognize the educational role of teachers, it is slower to recognize the social role it plays in helping to create a positive (and occasionally negative) self-image that children develop.
      Thanks. I enjoy telling the stories. –Curt

  6. I am not a fan of the Mrs. Youngs of the world. The universe took care of you and sent Miss Jones your way. I wish we had more of her in the teaching world. I think if you truly love kids, and I mean really love being with kids, then the rest (may not be easy) but maybe just easier. I don’t know, I’m not a teacher. But I hated school all my life and didn’t have a lot of positive experiences with teachers. Only when I ran across a kind and patient, Miss Jones was school tolerable. Wonderful post Curt.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Sylvia. I was lucky in teachers for the most part. Several were excellent, the majority were certainly good or okay, and only a few were truly bad.
      Peggy, our daughter Tasha, and Peggy’s mom Helen were all teachers with great reputations. (Tasha still is.) When I attended Peggy’s 40th reunion her classmates were still coming up to us to tell us what a difference her mom had made in their lives. That’s the power of a really good teacher. They are worth their weight in gold. Sadly, a really bad teacher can have the opposite effect. –Curt

  7. Although you manage to keep your trademark sense of humor through the post, I bet some moments of your early life weren’t always funny. Teachers back then believed in discipline more than creativity. Most parents did too. In an interesting way, your challenging early years and report card didn’t stop you to make it to Berkeley 🙂
    Like you, I had a mix of teachers, most were more than okay. But my first grade teacher was a French version of your Mrs. Young. She scared me so much! Even though I was a good student, I had issues with math and coordination. I could not understand substractions very well and couldn’t handle a pair of scissors very well neither. My handwriting didn’t satisfy my teacher. I was also very young, since I was born late November. I was also much smaller than everyone. This teacher believed that I failed at math on purpose and kept me inside at recess. She pulled the small hair in my neck (I had very long hair) and didn’t allow me to go play until I had finished my additions and substractions or wrote a page of lines. Didn’t help much. She taught me until fourth grade. It’s only when I had my fourth and fifth grade teacher that I started to do better in math and stopped being afraid to go to school. Also he suggested to keep me an extra year before middle school. Probably the best idea.
    P.S. You look adorable on the photo! A good mix of sweet and mischevious.

    • Ouch, pulling the hair on the back of your neck. That’s nasty. Teachers could be a bit psycho and get away with it then, always ‘in the best interest of the child,’ naturally.
      Somewhere, early on in my life, I learned the value of a sense of humor. Of course, it’s a lot easier after the fact.
      Math was not my strong suit either. Darn good thing I did so well at reading. 🙂
      Thanks, Evelyne. –Curt

  8. One “escape” I can remember from first grade involved dusting the erasers, a task, of course, that no longer exists. Besides, the teacher always picked the rowdy boys to go out behind the school only to return with white powdery stuff on their shirts so she could work with the girls who really wanted to learn without distractions! 🙂

    • I did my share. 🙂 It was always fun to make the dust fly! And one reason for the chalk on shirts was probably because the boys were using each other to pound the erasers against. Not that I would have, he, he. –Curt

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