In 1951, I entered Horace Mann Elementary School. Kids had to be five by December 1st to enter first grade, and just made it by two weeks. As a result I was always one of the youngest kids in my class.
A group of us walked the six blocks to school almost everyday, until we were old enough to ride our bikes. Rarely did we get to ride to school in a car.
My earliest memory of school was winning the prize for best costume in the first grade. My mother was a very skilled seamstress, and loved to make clothes. She made me a very cute outfit and sent me to school as Little Bo Peep! . I vividly recall sitting on the gym floor and the principal announcing, “You won, little girl. Come on up and get your prize.” I just sat there, until my teacher whispered to the principal, “It’s a boy.”
I loved school and reading. Our small school library had a pretty good collection of biographies of famous people. They all had orange covers. Pretty certain I had devoured the whole collection by the time I had left sixth grade.
In the third grade, I recall having a spelling test. One of the words was “fruit.” I was unsure of the correct spelling – until I saw a box on the shelf about the teachers desk labels “Fruit Co.” in bold letters. I got it right.
Mrs. Corbett was my fourth grade teacher. By that time, several of my teachers had written on my report card, “Ronnie has a voice that carries.” Everyone could be talking, but they always seemed to hear me. So, I occasionally got scolded.
One day she just sent me out of the room to stand alone outside the door. I did as told, but after five minutes I heard an adult climbing the creaky old stairway. In those days, all student knew that if the principal found anyone standing in the hallway for misbehavior, they would immediately get paddled. I had never witnessed such consequences, but didn’t want to test it.
It had rained that day, and all the students had left their umbrellas open, lying along the wall. I instinctively hunkered down under one of those umbrellas, holding my breath. I closed my eyes as the steps grew louder. I never found out who had walked by, but I resolved to try harder not to talk too much again.
I tried, but it in the spring, Mrs. Corbett just lost it one afternoon, as she exclaimed, “Just get out of here! Go up to the teachers’ work room, and don’t come out until I tell you!” I did as told and left the classroom, climbing a few steps up to a small room with a wooden desk, a couple chairs and a window overlooking the playgroup.
I sat and pouted. Then I got bored. “Please, let me come back. I’ll be quiet,” I promised silently. I sat and stared out the window.
Then I saw all the kids go home. And I sat. Then I saw all the teachers go home . . . . Now, I don’t plead innocence. I knew exactly what was happening. Let’s see – you said, “Don’t come out until I tell you.” Hmmm! Okay.
Well, about 15 or 20 minutes later, the school matriarch opened the door and exclaimed, “What are you doing in here?”
I immediately explained, with tears welling up in my eyes. She replied, “It’s okay. Go on home.” Of course, my mother was furious.
The next day I innocently returned to school. I am not sure exactly what had transpired in the interval, but all my teacher softly said was, “Now, Ronnie you know you could have when the other kids did, don’t you?” I just innocently looked back and shrugged.
So in later years, when I taught teachers about classroom management, timeout, I always shared that story and warned, “If you use timeout, don’t forget where you put the kid!”
There is more to the story. Many years later, in my university career, I offered many workshops for teachers. Mrs. Corbett enrolled in one of my workshops – ironically, on classroom management. She remembered me, but said, “It was along time ago, but there was one thing that I remember well. I won’t mention it, unless you know what I it was.” I smiled warmly, and replied, “ I think I know what you mean.”
I next encountered Mrs. Corbett about 20 years later, after she retired. She was in the same nursing home as my parents. We had a nice a discussion but never mentioned “the incident.”