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Now that school has started, some of us remember things that were different when we were students.
One thing that has changed is climate control. Decades ago, air-conditioned classrooms were unheard of. Most students and staff toughed it out on those hot days and did not complain, since few of us were accustomed to air conditioning at home. Heat was a normal part of school in August and September and again in May and June. Air-conditioned classrooms these days are a blessing.
The lunchroom was a different world when my generation was in school. Our meals were served on those heavy plastic dishes, which were washed and used over and over again. There were no throw-away products then except table napkins and milk cartons. We used real, stainless-steel utensils, not flimsy plastic ones. Since there was a lot of clanging of dishes and utensils, the lunchroom was a much noisier place, especially when someone dropped a plate or fork on the floor.
Most of the time, girls used a dainty straw to sip their milk, while boys would frequently drink right out of the carton.
I was in the third grade when the new milk cartons came out. You know, the ones that required us to pull the top apart and then pull out the little spout to make an opening for drinking. It took us children a long time to learn how to get that new milk carton open. Teachers worked especially hard that year to teach children the proper technique.
And they tell me that there were paddles at school for teachers to use on unruly children. I never saw one, but I heard about some children who got a paddling for bad behavior. I was told that some of those paddles had holes in them to make the paddling even more unpleasant.
Most people are thankful that corporal punishment fell by the wayside, although there is a person here and there who would like to see it make a comeback.
Chalkboards are also on the way out. You might see an old-fashioned green or black chalkboard occasionally, but most have been replaced by dry-erase boards. Remember how we used to cringe when someone scratched a fingernail on the chalkboard, making that irritating sound?
The teacher used ask a student to take the chalky erasers outside to pound them on the side of the building to get the chalk out. Many of us hoped we would be chosen for that particular job or maybe the task of cleaning the chalkboard, using a bucket of water and a big cloth. Shorter students had to stand on a chair to reach the top of the chalkboard. Remember?
If you remember a Victrola, you are probably as old as I am. The Victrola at my elementary school was stored in the hall outside my first-grade classroom and was used to play those old-fashioned records during a music lesson. We children were charmed by the fascinating technology of the Victrola.
The little rhythm instruments were kept in a drawer at the bottom of the Victrola cart. There were triangles, blocks, tambourines, sticks and a few other instruments that thrilled us each time we got to play along with the Victrola music. I always wanted to play the showy triangle or the tambourine, but I was usually assigned the sticks.
Who could forget that big handbell that the principal used to clang each morning to get students to go to their room? How I wanted to get my hands on that bell and ring it to my heart’s content. I am sure there are other ways to round students up for class in today’s schools, although today’s children might also get a kick out of the old-fashioned handbell method.
Teachers from way back will remember the public school register that was used to report attendance to the state. They knew that the register report must be prepared promptly and accurately each month and that losing the register was unacceptable.
A teacher might lose a room key or a set of papers or any number of things, but losing the register was rare and had unpleasant consequences. School personnel gave a collective sigh of relief when reporting attendance electronically made the public school register obsolete.
What about typewriters, slide rules and hand-written report cards in those yellow envelopes? These items have been replaced by more efficient technology, yet they all are physical reminders of school days of the past.
If you remember the song, “School Days,” you remember those “dear old Golden Rule days”; you know about “readin’ and ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic”; chances are that you remember pleasant as well as unpleasant aspects of school.
The most important thing to remember is that school was there for us and that it served us well, even though it was different in many ways from today.
As “School Days” reminds us, we can remember what happened “when we were a couple of kids.”
Maybe someday I will find some chalky erasers somewhere and go outside to pound them on the side of the building, just for nostalgia.
Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her column focuses on the charms of home, school and country life.