Back When… Some Things were Still Important


Having grown up in the 1950’s, I can see many differences in teaching philosophies, expectations, family attitudes towards education, and the way children viewed school.I had a lot of interaction with my teachers, especially in elementary school. This actually seems surprising now, since all of our classrooms had one teacher (no aides) and at least 35 children. I remember the teachers being very hands-on, and caring about each of us. They made a point of connecting with each of us on a daily basis in some way. We had two recesses every day, morning and afternoon, for about 20 minutes. After playing Red Rover and tag, we came back in ready to learn.

black child 50s

All of us went home for lunch and came back to the playground to play before the afternoon session began… so I guess we had 3 recesses. I grew up enjoying outdoor play, and often came back to the school to use the playground equipment after school with my friends. Nothing inside the house had more appeal than being outside.

Our primary grades curriculum focused on reading, math and science… art and music were a “treat”. I remember my first grade teacher bringing out huge sheets of Manila paper (this is a cream-colored paper manufactured in the Philippines from the pulp of a species of banana plant, sometimes called Manila hemp) for free drawing on special afternoons (never too often for me!) and I would cross my fingers that she had the smooth kind, rather than the rough type that had bits of fiber on the surface. I also remember the teachers having green modeling clay once in a while. It came in giant blocks wrapped in cellophane.I remember it being really stiff until we worked it long enough to be pliable. What great fine motor exercise! We made whatever we wanted for that glorious hour and all went home with green fingernails.

One of the differences I can see from back then was a sense of respect the children had for the teacher. This was part of our upbringing… to respect persons of authority. This was probably why having 35 children in a room by yourself was entirely manageable! The teachers had a lot of support from the parents. We never had low turnout on “Open House” night. All the parents were keenly interested in their children’s progress and learning how to best support them. I saw this again, first hand, when I spent my first 5 years of teaching in the same school system. Oh, I failed to mention that this was in the Chicago Public Schools! Do I imagine things are the same today? No, I do not.

kids raising hands

I left elementary school admiring my teachers, respecting the flag and what it stood for, and my president. I understood personal responsibility and how to treat others with kindness and patience. I had mastered the basic skills in preparation for further education and learned I had to work for the things I wanted. I realize these were gifts and I am sad that there are many children today who finish school without them.

girl and puppy

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