I scrambled into the classroom with the other kids that cold January morning and, like clockwork, we began to remove our heavy wool coats, hats and mittens.

In Miss Goldammar’s third grade class, we all knew the routine — shed the winter gear, find our seats, fold our hands and wait for the next cue.

But that day I discovered what would be one of the most embarrassing gaffes of my school career: I was wearing a flannel pajama top under my coat and ski pants.

Miss Goldammar was a strict old school teacher, but she also had compassion and was kind enough to call my mother, who rescued me by delivering a crisp, clean blouse to the school.

It’s memories like this that come back as summer winds down, the air turns chilly and back-to-school sales shout out at us from all the advertising flyers.

I feel a twinge of both excitement and dread as the school year starts, even though I’m long removed from that era of my life.

Elementary school was, for the most part, a thrilling time, where each day brought some unexpected adventure.

I don’t remember feeling self-conscious then; we pretty much rammed through the days, happy to be learning new stuff, plotting with our friends and generally being devoted students.

In the fifth grade, I found myself once again embarrassed by my behavior when the principal stopped me in the hallway and told me the outfit I was wearing was inappropriate for school.

My mother had bought me this cute blue top with matching knee-length pants shaped like bloomers and we both were tickled to have found it. I proudly marched into school that day, to compliments from friends, only to face the unexpected disapproval of my principal.

School was a funny place. Most of our teachers were wonderful — caring, encouraging and compassionate — but occasionally even a good one would say something to a student that was, likely unintentionally, hurtful.

One such comment came, unexpectedly, from Mr. Smith, one of our high school English teachers. He was tall and handsome, looked like a young Robert Frost and was by all accounts an inspiring teacher. All the girls had crushes on him as he passionately told us the importance of knowing good literature.

One day, while describing a character in a novel, he said the man wore spectacles with thick lenses that were like Coke bottles — “kind of like Ms. Calder’s here,” and he pointed at me. My classmates roared.

I laughed along with them to avoid the appearance of being crushed, but I thought I would die right there in my seat — particularly since I had just started wearing my new rimless glasses that were considered quite modern at the time. A year later, contact lenses saved me from my grief.

Whenever I get together with old friends, we ultimately wind up telling school stories. Some stand out more than others. Like the one about a high school teacher who told a friend, in front of the whole class, that he “would never amount to anything.” Despite that declaration, my friend went on to become an accomplished and well-known photographer.

As my husband and I talked one day about our school experiences, he recalled that when he was in kindergarten, children were encouraged to be social and interact with each other a lot. By the time he got into the first grade, he was very talkative and friendly. One day his teacher chastised him, telling him he talked too much, and ordered him to stand in the corner for the rest of the day.

He had learned his lesson. He rarely spoke in class after that, unless spoken to first, and this continued throughout his school career. When he got into high school, a teacher said to him one day, “Philip, you are amazingly silent.”

I often wonder if those sorts of things still happen in school today. Mixed with my great memories of school are those of little unfortunate incidents that seemed pretty big at the time.

But we live and learn. And school, I guess, is the proper place for that.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears here Mondays.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.