What I Learned When I Botched First Grade

My local school district newsletter tells parents of first graders to “have your child practice printing their first name.”

This is very important advice.Linda written three times, printed once

Because my parents didn’t know they were supposed to teach me to print my name, I botched first grade.

Here’s what happened.

One rainy, late fall afternoon, my first grade teacher was reading Holiday magazine. If you’re too young to remember Holiday, it was famous for its layouts, photography, writing, and general sophistication.

We first grade students were correcting mistakes we’d made in our We Think and Do exercises. They were, as I recall, sort of a black and white, nonfiction version of Fun With Dick and Jane.

I don’t know what We Think and Do exercises were supposed to teach. However, I think its fair to say We Think and Do pages were not noted for their layouts, art, writing, or general sophistication.

I had corrected my doing several times that afternoon. Each time I was thinking I’d done it right, but each time I submitted it, the teacher told me to do it over.

I had thought and done all I could possibly do without knowing what it was that the teacher thought was wrong.

At that age, I was still a timid child, but I’d gotten frustrated enough to Speak To The Teacher, something I’d never done before.

I found the prospect terrifying.

I stood beside her desk, looking at her magazine, waiting for her to acknowledge my presence.

To this day, I could draw the layout of that page. It was built on what I’d learn years later to call a seven-column grid. The large horizontal photo of a pristine beach in Bermuda covered roughly the top third of columns two through seven. The caption was about two thirds down the first column. The text featured dropped caps, very elegant.

We Think and Do did not use drop caps.

It seemed I stood there for an eternity, wishing she’d would say something, wishing even more that I could read about Bermuda in Holiday magazine.

When she finally looked up, I blurted out that I couldn’t correct my paper because I didn’t know what I’d done wrong.

“Stupid,” she snarled, “in first grade we print our name, we don’t write it.”

I went back to my seat, erased my signature, and printed my name in its place.

The incident changed the way I thought about school.

I wasn’t upset by being called stupid.

What I remember was feeling sorry for the teacher. I thought she probably was as bored by having to teach first grade as I was by having to complete We Think and Do exercises.

And that is why it’s so very important that students practice printing their first names: We don’t want anyone to find out that some teachers hate teaching.