Friday, January 24, 2014

Remembering First Grade

I saw in the paper earlier this week that my first grade teacher - or at least someone with her name - had passed away.

This lady seemed quite old when she was my teacher, though of course she probably wasn't. Still, that would have been 44 years ago. The obit did not give her age so I don't know it. But she could have been in her 40s when she taught me.

The thing I remember most about first grade is that Mrs. Zirkle gave me an "F". I don't remember in what subject, but I remember the grade and how much I cried over it. I think I got the F because I had missed a lot of school - I had the mumps in the first grade and missed at least 14 days straight because of it.

The mumps hurt. You don't hear about mumps anymore; do kids still get them? Anyway, I remember waking up that morning and telling my mother I had pain, but I couldn't really describe it. She sent me on to school and later that day they called her to come and get me. Mumps are contagious so I had to stay away from class until they were all gone.

That was the only F I ever made in my entire career as a student (which has been a life-long sort of thing). I am pretty sure I got to take a make-up test for the bad grade but it left an impression on me, obviously, since I remember it.

After my one F paper, I made A's and B's. I stayed on the A or A-B honor roll, though they didn't put you on the honor rolls until 4th grade. I almost always got a B in gym and an A in everything else. It was very irritating to me that I could not get all As simply because I was not as physically adept as others.

Another thing I remember from first grade is learning that no one plays fair. I learned this because I spent all year - yes, all year! - trying to get a turn at riding on this toy truck in the classroom. The boys hogged it during recess. Finally, I was first to it and able to ride it for a minute, but one boy quickly shoved me off and that was the end of that. And having finally ridden on the damned thing, I stopped trying to get on it again.

I also learned a few songs in first grade, one of which I still remember:

In a test, for our class, that we know we cannot pass, and the goof-offs go marching along! And it's rah rah roo! We'll fake the Asian flu! Shout our symptoms loud and long! Blah yeach! And wherever we go, the teachers always know, that the goof-offs are marching along.

That's sung to some popular old ditty but I can't remember the name of it.

And this one, sung to the Battle Hymn of the Republic:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school; we have tortured every teacher, we have broken every rule. We are marching down the hall to hang the principal, and the kids go marching on! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Teacher hit me with a ruler! So I hit her in the bean with a rotten tangerine and she ain't gonna teach me no more.

I am a product of a strange era.

It's amazing the things we do remember, isn't it?


  1. I think some of my teachers were born near the turn of the last century, they just had to have been in their 60s in the 60s.
    A couple could have walked on to the set of the wizard of oz and everyone would have yelled "the witch is here, let's get started", and that would be without makeup, just the way they entered the room would do it. Of course I had some nice ones but man some were hateful and had no business in a classroom.

  2. Kids don't get mumps anymore. They started giving the mmr / mumps measles and rubella vaccine years ago which pretty much eradicated it I believe.

  3. Teachers have a big impact on little minds. It doesn't take much to crush a little one's self esteem. I vividly remember those elementary years, the nice teachers and the mean ones. I got sent to the principal a lot : )
    I also remember having the mumps and how much they hurt. I had the measles and chicken pox too.

  4. Ah, first grade. I still remember my teacher and best friend, though I never saw either of them again after that year. The first song sounds like it is to The Caissons Go Rolling Along -- we had to memorize it for a strings festival or two, and it's also known as the army theme song.


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