Somewhere along the way, I started spending part of my summer in Arizona with my grandparents, my mom’s mom and step-dad, also known as Grandma Carol and Papa Bill. I love these weeks spent in the dry, unforgiving heat. My grandparents work from home, and spend their days in their home office, tapping away on the only computers I’ve ever seen. I spend my days lying under the ceiling fan, reading and writing away. I learned to type—THE RIGHT WAY—which infuriated me at first, but thrilled me when I had to pound out papers as an English major in college. There are trips to the pool and frozen yogurt and endless books, and most of all, my grandparents, who to this day are two of my favorite people on the planet. It is something I look forward to every summer, and the summer before first grade is no exception.
First grade starts just like every other year. My mom takes pictures of me in my special first day of school outfit, a colorfully embroidered denim skirt colorful that was big enough to let me twirl. My mom had us pose every which way: first the front, and then the back. Then with my brother, and then without. It was a ritual that lasted for the entirety of my schooling. By the time I get to school, I am so excited I can hardly stand it. I know that this year will be “real” school: we will read and have homework and it feels so big and important to my tiny six-year-old self.
In a word, first grade is disappointing. My teacher is mean. She yells at us nearly everyday, saying that we aren’t fast enough at math or that we didn’t understand what she was teaching. I had never ever met such a mean teacher. School was transformed from a joyous experience where I felt smart and treasured, to a place I hated, a place that was miserable.
The worst day of all came on the birthday of Courtney A., my best friend in school, just before Thanksgiving. We were weaving Thanksgiving placemats out of thin strips of brown and yellow paper, gluing them together for our class feast.
“You’re doing it wrong!” Mrs. Numoto yelled. “You can’t even weave a placemat!”
I cried and cried. As punishment for my supposedly-awful placemat, I wasn’t permitted to help Courtney A. pass out her cupcakes, or even eat one. This was obviously devastating for a six-year-old. Especially a chubby one like me, who loved cupcakes.
Still, there were bright spots of first grade. My best friend from the Bay Area moved up to our hometown, and I once again had a constant playmate, someone who knew me well. I started playing soccer. My brother grew and changed and learned to walk. Life at home was happy, a respite from the classroom I hated so much.
The summer after first grade, I got a postcard addressed to “Amy Estates.” After a whole year of teaching me, Mrs. Numoto STILL didn’t know my name. She didn’t care. In her postcard, she detailed her terrible divorce and her awful summer. My parents were less than thrilled at explaining “divorce” to their six-year-old daughter.
And so, at six years old, I learned that teachers can be mean and that marriage didn’t always last forever. As a teacher, I hold on to these memories and make a point every year of learning all of my students’ names.