It amazes me how well I can picture the classroom. As I walked into the room, to the left, there was an endless row of black boards, and an overhead projector screen. Beyond that was a row of cupboards that ran along one full wall and at the end was where Ms. Hammer, my third grade teacher, had her desk stationed. The student's desks, small squares that had chairs attached to the sides, were what filled the majority of the large tiled room. Each desktop opened to allow for the storage of what a third grader would call "important supplies" which were merely wide ruled notebook paper and huge pencil boxes filled with markers, pencils, large pink erasers and boxes of crayons. There was a quaint little nook off in the corner where we students could hang our coats and book bags and store our Friday Folders, the large white envelopes in which we took home all of our work for the week. The room had a dry odor of baby powder and chalk; as did my teacher, and was usually semi dark and dingy. At least that is how the experience replays in my mind. The floor was done in large, dark green marble tiles and the lower half of the walls were carpeted in a soft orange-brown color. This place hangs in my mind as a very comforting and happy place.
It was a place where I was able to explore things and feel like I was a part of something large and important. A place where I was unafraid to speak up and be heard and an innocent time in my life when I could say what was on my mind and not be scared to give the wrong answer. I would eagerly raise my hand and squirm anxiously in my seat hoping that Ms. Hammer would call on me next. I raised my hand so often to speak out in class that soon I would have to use my other arm to support the one that was flailing wildly in the air.
It was this time and place that I was reminded of recently while packing to move here to Bellingham. I found a lot of old things of mine that had once been forgotten while my dad and I were going through a bunch of old boxes and things, mostly junk, stuffed in a closet in my old room. While rummaging through all of those old things we ran across an old daily journal that I had kept for my third grade class, which now is, for me, a unique treasure. It was this small notebook that brought memories and experiences of my childhood flooding back to me.
That is what makes it a unique treasure; this small spiral notebook allowed me to see myself again at the age of seven, something most people go on and are never able to do in their life.
After finding the journal I sat down and read through it and had a good laugh at the trivial things that once seemed so vital to my childhood life. Things like eating my afternoon snack and recounting my morning routine of waking up, getting ready for school, and watching my morning cartoons, as well as all of the other things I had written down in my journal; all of the things that had occupied my mind and the activities that had occupied my day. Now, just by reading these awkward little passages in this journal I am revisiting my past and glimpsing events that had once faded into the black oasis of my memory which is filled with discarded events and occasions that I only remember when I look at an old photograph or see someone that I haven't seen in a long time. For me this journal acts like a photograph, a small image or event frozen in time. So many things I had done at that age were lost. Now I am able to remember some thanks to this journal and the small blurbs I had written in it each day. Through the power of writing these parts of my life are now not forgotten, they are instead preserved.
I remember now that seven was such a great age and the third grade was such a good year in school when I started to independently develop my reading and writing skills. I experimented with new words and tested my limits and comfort zones with my reading. In one passage from my journal I recount a night that I spent at a friend's house and the things that we did. In it it's easy to see how I was trying out new words and independently writing and sounding out the spellings.
I think it was good that my teacher let us write freely and didn't make us scrutinize over the small details of spelling. We were allowed to figure things out on our own and help ourselves learn. These are the things that bring a smile to my face as I read over the pages, all of the mistakes, and the personality of me, then.
But through all of the misspellings and awkward fragments, the strength that I had when it came to writing is apparent on the pages. I was not timid on the page. I was bold. I took chances. If it was a new, unfamiliar word I would give it a try, if I didn't know the spelling I would sound it out. I pushed myself to grow and learn. Something that I do even now. I still push myself to grow with writing, to broaden my skills and knowledge of the written word.
My growth continued on that year with our introduction to the term vocabulary. Each week we were given a new list of words to learn. I had always loved "vocab" homework. I would take my new list of words and test them out on my parents and see if they would notice how smart I sounded, or at least, how smart I thought I sounded. One area of my journal was filled with words and their definitions, words like polite, courteous, anxious, advice, publish and so on, each with a definition worthy of a seven year old.
I was confident with reading and writing and wanted to explore it, much like I do now. I never had any learning difficulties in that area of school. In fact, I excelled at it. Often, I would try to incorporate new words and vocabulary into my writing and speech even if I didn't know their precise definition or if I was using them in the right context. I was always receiving good marks and was allowed to go ahead in the assigned readings for class. Comparing my writing now to the writing of myself then is really quite funny. The sloppy penmanship, the grammatical mistakes and the misspellings are, for the most part, gone but that drive and strength is still there.
Another connection that I made between the me now and the me then is my tendency to critically analyze text. I recall that I was always trying to tell anyone who would listen my opinion on the things that we read in class and how it made me feel or what I got out of it. I would write these thoughts down as well. Of course now I dive a little deeper into my analysis of text but it was until now that I realized this started as far back as the third grade.
In a small section of this notebook I kept a few very crude little book reviews and critiques, if they can be called that, on various stories I had read. One such book was a version of The Secret Garden. This is what I had to say:
Of course this intelligent example of a well-written piece of critical writing was accompanied by an equally sophisticated illustration, a large leave-less tree and what appears to be a girl holding a shovel.
Only now looking at this old notebook containing the random thoughts and doings of myself at age seven I see a child with still so much more to learn. With each turn of the page I am recounting my own development and growth.
I sit here now tracking my progress from the third grade on. I remember the next year. I was put in a high reading group where I was able to go to class with the fifth and sixth grade kids. It was during this time that I recall my once loud and confident voice fading out with the incoming of the intimidating, older kids. The arm that once had ached due to a relentless desire to speak out in class now sat stiff and heavy at my side. It was during that year and the next few following that it was with my writing that I was heard instead of my spoken voice. I learned to develop my written word into a concise, assertive way of getting my opinions known. If I couldn't say it I would write it. Group work was always the best because I would take on the task of writing our group's thoughts and answers down on paper and would sit quietly and contently when someone else would read it aloud. That person may have been speaking but what they said was really my voice being heard.
I continued to stay in the advanced reading and language classes throughout junior high and high school. My area of expertise being that of critical analysis of a written work, something I started doing so many years ago. My confidence and strength with writing only expanded. I was soon able to redirect that confidence into other areas at school. In the later years of junior high I was no longer so quiet but instead I was once again a young girl waiting eagerly to voice my opinion out loud.
Now, in college, I still draw much of my strength through my writing. It is something I am sure I will do for the rest of my life. It is what I have chosen to do, in part, as a career. I couldn't imagine my life without it. Seeing just how much of a history that I have with writing makes it very apparent as to why I have grown to love it so much. Looking back now isn't it funny to think that for me it all started with a small, purple, spiral notebook?