Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Monday, September 19, 2011

First Day of School 

I was counting today. Today was my 34th first day of school. Actually, it's just about impossible to get an accurate count, because I tend to focus on the fall of the year, and I taught a couple year around schools where that pattern doesn't really fit. But if I think September then it's thirty-four. Thirty-five if you count kindergarten, although, for some reason, it doesn't stick in my mind. I don't know why, but I can remember everything about kindergarten except the first day.

I remember the first day of first grade like it was yesterday. Lewis and Clark School in Williston. And of course I could never, never forget my first day of second grade. Just arrived back in Japan, it was my first day at the boarding school. Auntie Esther came to me personally and told me not to worry about anything, and if I ever needed anything, to talk to her. I worried about everything and didn't talk to her about anything. Pathetic waste of kindness, but I was just too shy.

The first day of eighth grade was quite a shock, too. Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The Junior High school had just burned to the ground, and we were sharing the building with the high school. It was a blessing in disguise in some ways, because we didn't start school until noon, and got out about 6 pm.

I stayed out of school for a year after high school. I didn't want to go to college. Why fill my head with man's knowledge? But, in the end, I did. I had narrowed my selection of a major down to a final choice between Humanities and Social Sciences. I attended a session for the Humanities Department, and one for the Social Science Department. The Humanities guy had a mouth full of black teeth, and smoked heavily without an ash try, letting the ashes fall where they would. The social science guy was a noted geographer from California who had wanted to come to a small college so he could spend time writing or something. After those two sessions, I still couldn't make up my mind which major to choose, so I chose both of them. Did a double major in Humanities and Social Sciences with a Secondary Education endorsement.

The next first day of school that really sticks in my mind is my first day of teaching Palmer School in rural Williston. One school, one room, one teacher. Part of a fading era. I was the last person to teach that old school. It closed the next year.

Fast forward to 2011. A bunch of cheery freshmen just in from the countryside, and I am their first foreign teacher, although English is not their first foreign language. Many young people in China are essentially tri-lingual by the time they reach University. They speak a local village dialect, they have to start speaking Mandarin as soon as they enter school, and, of course, English. Some of them have also tried their hand at other foreign languages. I asked one class if anyone spoke Japanese. One young freshman yelled out the one Japanese expression in his repertoire: "Baka Yaro!"

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