It was on September 7, 1960, my 21st birthday, that I began my teaching career. I was assigned to teach a group of 36 fifth-grade students in a self-contained classroom at Washington Elementary School in Royal Oak, Michigan. The annual contract paid $4,650.
Miss Burdett, you’ve changed the color of your lipstick!
A discussion had been previously held between Mr. Knox, the principal, and myself about each of my students. He explained that they came from families with a wide range of economic and educational backgrounds, and gave me information concerning some of the students which he thought might be helpful.
I boarded the bus which took me from my home to school, accompanied by many maids who were traveling to Birmingham to perform domestic duties, with a feeling of anxiety.
I nervously greeted my students that morning in a classroom lined wall to wall with desks. The children were very polite, and we enjoyed a productive morning. At about noon, the temperature of the room reached 98 degrees! I asked the principal if I might take the children outside for recess. The answer was, “No. They are fifth graders.”
I ended the first day with a sense of relief and happiness, although overwhelmed by the responsibility. Student teaching didn’t prepare me for all of this! There was so much to learn about my 36 little people, some very bright and confident, and others having to struggle with their lack of ability and feeling inadequate. That night, my brother and his friend took me out to celebrate my birthday. The celebration was brief, however, because I had to prepare for the second day of teaching.
In retrospect, I honestly enjoyed the most amazing students in my 38 years of teaching. Some of the memorable thoughts I hold with me are being in awe of the intelligence of several of these 10- and 11-year-olds, the passion with which they delved into subjects such as the 1960 presidential election. I remember hearing one girl’s father—a well-known, hard-edged TV journalist—climb the terrazzo steps to my classroom with a cane which he had to use following surgery. (I was so fearful that the conference about his daughter would be confrontational, but he was so nice!) One morning, a boy looked at me and remarked, “Miss Burdett, you’ve changed the color of your lipstick!” There are so many more stories I remember with pure joy!
There were sad times, too. The loss of one boy’s dad, and then another father coming to school and telling me that he had been diagnosed with leukemia, deeply affected me. I was ill-equipped at the age of 21 to handle those situations well.
It’s thrilling for me today that I communicate with some of these very same students I taught so many years ago. They are successful, kind, highly educated, productive, fun-loving human beings whom I am honored to know.
Editor’s note: For this week’s prompt, I asked my fifth-grade teacher if she would write a story about experiencing the First Day of School from the teacher’s point of view. I was delighted when this story appeared. Thanks, Anne, for the knowledge, wisdom, and love you imparted to your students.