“Lessons Learned in Kindergarten –Twice!” by Susie Duncan Sexton
“Just what makes that little ol’ ant think he’ll move that rubber tree plant? Anyone
knows an ant can’t move a rubber tree plant!” ~ Sammy Cahn
“No, Uncle Jim, I do not wish to start going to school to learn to be smart. I’d
rather stay at home and be just like my mommy and daddy. I have no time for
kindergarten. I need to play.” ~ Susie, precociously mature and a seasoned
“aunt” (to a nephew) already at age five in1951…
In spite of this emphatic declamation of intent, off I remorsefully journeyed to take
a right onto Jefferson Street, then a left turn onto Walnut Street and, once
tentatively inside a set of double front doors, onward through a long spooky West
Ward hall into Mrs. Olive Sheehan’s “garden for children” -- morning session. A
full day woulda been unfathomable. For years thereafter, I felt stigmatized
believing that A.M. kids were dumber – actually we qualified as younger which
appeals to me considerably now!
Met by a grandmotherly lady with fluffy white bluish-tinged hair who was sensibly
shod in rubber-soled loafers, I remained certain that I’d rather be rushing giddily
about my own house. I paused to study this person’s face. Sweet, stern, a tad
wrinkly, she smiled very seldom as she remained unquestionably in charge of her
austere classroom. Mr. Willis, who also had fluffy hair, served as principal.
Daily, for the nine months ahead of both of us plus a herd of other tiny kids
including my two soul mates/boyfriends Craig Langohr and Steve More, “teacher”
consistently appeared in uniform-type soft crep-ey dresses (usually purple) all
shaped alike and accented by assorted sparkling necklaces, brooches and
earrings. Her spectacles draped around her neck with long chains, a sight totally
foreign to this sheltered kid, I stifled my giggling whenever she adjusted her
dangling bi-focals, resting upon her ample bosom, upward to perch upon her
nose. Each time she completed that maneuver, her face resembled a
drawbridge from some Disney movie I’d viewed at the Columbia Theater.
She either paced slowly around this somewhat haunting, echoing, cavernous
“kiddie garden” or stationed herself at a huge desk. Often, a beautiful winged-
back chair served as her throne for story time. I pretty much loved her…and
feared her. Each of us pupils had brought a planter, for our desks, from our
respective houses so that we could learn to care for and nurture whatever cutting
we received from her precious humongous rubber trees stationed in every corner.
My little ceramic, rather odd, black swan still roosts cloistered inside one of my
I recall vividly our re-enactments of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock and
munching popcorn with Indian tribes and total confusion when a month later I
transformed from a Priscilla Alden to the Virgin Mary or maybe an angel for our
live nativity program choreographed to impress visiting mothers in December.
Theatrical moments peppered throughout the year and starring five year old kids
must have served some purpose, although we all remained clueless as to why
we might be scooting our chairs and desks into circular formations for these pint-
sized Broadway shows.
Fated with historic participation in the trendy debut of the Americanized version
of half-day sort-of-mandatory kindergarten (invented by some German guy), I
desperately attempted to latch onto some logical reason why! I had involuntarily
abandoned my fun, comfortable dwelling adequately equipped with toys, pets, a
refrigerator filled with pop, a yard, a private toilet and fluffy terry-cloth towels to
become part of a large group ordered about by a well-meaning but unflinchingly
strict woman occasionally barking at us all morning long.
My progress report, mid-way through this anything but academic year, indicated:
talking out of turn, yet shyness (?), and perceived obstinacy in the face of
“socialization” attempts, but my courteous behavior in the presence of adults
earned accolades. To this day, I disagree with personality/intelligence labeling by
educators who push kids along contrived paths year after year all weighed down
by imaginary sandwich boards advertising their assets and liabilities as if set in
stone. “BEWARE THIS CHILD! Instructions for use, usefulness or uselessness
How I survived was attributable to both snack time and nap time. Lugging
individual throw-rugs from home, a room full of Linuses armed with security
blankets pretended to snooze. Music wafted from a 78 RPM record player while
we appeared to replicate fallen midget soldiers strewn about our Civil War battle
field of a mercilessly hard unyielding linoleum floor…probably so Mrs. S. could
catch her breath? I scooched down tummy first so that for the duration I
repeatedly might raise my legs from knees to toes high into the air and gradually
lower my lanky limbs, convinced that from this position I would then eventually
slip feet first into an imaginary deep blue sea (lurking beneath my oval, braided
rug), similarly to comic book heroine Little Lulu! Never happened, but I continued
every day until (hoo-ray!) summer vacation.
After the agonizingly slow progression of seven additional years, I got selected to
serve as a “cadet teacher” alongside Judy Brallier, newly transferred from the
Kosciusko School System. Esteemed Principal Dale Pence contributed his two
cents toward our selection process, so this honor qualified as very prestigious.
Our assignment translated into serving as junior high school aides to … beloved
Mrs. Olive Sheehan. Kindergarten – Part Two!
In all kinds of weather for two years, “Miss Judy and Miss Susie” trudged along a
well-worn path to kindergarten classes as the green-plant fixated matriarch had
been shifted to her very own newly constructed brick headquarters located
beside Mr. Robert Sharp’s band building. OUR TASKS: polishing leaves of Mrs.
Sheehan’s familiar rubber tree plants, frosting cookies, sorting jumbo crayolas
and over-sized pencils, tying shoelaces, monitoring loose teeth, assisting with
boots and leggings, constructing valentine depository boxes, scotch-taping
construction-paper shamrocks onto window panes, decorating Easter eggs,
reading stories aloud (Got to sit in that cushy winged-back chair!), hand-printing –
with black squeaky magic markers-- poetry upon large hanging tablets, escorting
children adorned in paint smocks across the playground to Mr.George Kind’s
Marshall Memorial art room, and conducting miniature orchestras performing
cacophonous musical rhythms with cymbals, wood blocks and iron triangles
struck by mallets.
Little did I realize, during those junior high days, that I would be so impacted by
my experiences that someday I would attend a teachers’ college. Under Mrs.
Sheehan’s expertly professional tutelage, I observed firsthand that patience,
discipline, organizational skills, and regimentation assure a successful learning
situation. On the sly, though, I vowed that should I assume the valiant role of
educator, whether in a classroom or the world at large, I earnestly would try to
avoid categorizing individuals and instead appreciate diversity. Additionally, I
pledged that I’d neither cater to students whose parents might be self-important
squeaky wheels possessing a sense of entitlement, nor, finally, would I polish
leaves of rubber tree plants ever again!