When having difficulty falling asleep, instead of counting sheep I mentally walk the halls of my elementary school, figuratively touching each door, remembering the room number and associating a teacher’s name to the number. I’ve done this for as long as I can remember and honestly, I’ve never shared this information until this blog entry. It’s been nearly two decades since I’ve set foot in the building and it’s been nearly 40 years since I attend a class there, but here I am, at age 48, able to walk the halls of that school and remember the layout, room numbers and names of the teachers that occupied those rooms. I might not remember what someone tells me in response to a question but there’s a lot of things that remain rock solid in my head.
In fourth grade I was selected for the Enrichment Program. The year was 1977 and this Enrichment Program, designed for gifted students, was new to the district. I was the only student selected in Miss Roser’s class (in Room 202) for the Enrichment Program. Three times a week I left my classmates behind and met up with a handful of other students in Room 210 with a very cordial Mr. Hazard, who was quickly replaced by Mr. Rayburn. The fact that I was the only student in my class participating in this program did not escape me. I was interested in electricity at the time and I was encouraged to play with light bulbs, science kits and those little computing Heath kits. On the days I didn’t leave the classroom for Enrichment I could mess around with my little electric experiments in the back of Room 202 while others worked on their seat work at their desks. Miss Roser wasn’t particularly engaged, in fact, I don’t think she really liked me that much and this extra bit of effort for this lone student in her 4th grade class probably rocked her world a little bit.
The singling out of me as a different student established very deep roots in my personality. In fifth grade, in Room 209 with Miss O’Rourke (who had never taught fifth grade prior to that year, she had always taught second grade up until then), I did my best to assimilate by being lazy with my homework, striving for Bs and Cs and the like. I still attended Enrichment across the hall in Room 210, again with the incredibly handsome (to me) Mr. Rayburn, but in fifth grade I was paired with two other students that were also considered gifted and they would go to Room 210 with me. Since Miss O’Rourke rarely had control of the fifth grade classroom, it was a welcomed reprieve from the chaos.
The last grade in our elementary school was sixth grade and I was still in the gifted program. I had long acclimated to the fact that I would be leaving three times a week to go back to Room 210 to work on various projects. That year we went to the nearby Nuclear Plant and we made a video based on Battlestar Galactica. It was the first time I was exposed to a computer, it was an IBM terminal tied to some timesharing network. I was given five or six minutes to type on the screen and the teacher (Mr. Rayburn had been replaced) was amazed at how quickly I could type. Apparently we used up all our time on the timeshare so I was given a typewriter to play with. It was the first time I used an electric typewriter, but at age 12 I was tested for typing speed and I typed just over 60 words per minute. People were amazed by this. For some reason I can’t remember the name of that instructor but I do remember him asking if I knew how to get to the Nuclear Power Plant as the school bus was en route for a field trip. I gave him complete directions from memory. He asked if I had been there before, I told him that I had not, I just knew maps really well. My directions were 100% correct. Looking back, I wonder if my Enrichment teacher that year was stoned.
My sixth grade teacher was supposedly the most popular teacher in the school but I could never figure out what all the hype was about. The girls thought he was cute (I disagreed, still crushed that Mr. Rayburn was nowhere to be found). He liked throwing the football across Room 220, usually bashing a hanging light fixture in the process, and I was always nervous that he would throw the ball at me and I’d miss it and everyone would laugh. That’s what happened on numerous occasions. He said that it would take a little more effort for me to be the man I should be and he’d throw the football at me more. I never improved at catching the football and I was happy when it was time to go to either band to play tuba or to Room 210 for Enrichment.
Earl and I were watching the latest episode of “This Is Us” on the Tivo tonight, and during the previews for next week’s episode, there’s a brief scene of one of the children crying because he just wants to fit in and not be different from the rest of the kids. Admittedly this evoked tears from me, sitting right here on the couch, because it brought up many memories, some of which I’ve shared just now.
In today’s world it seems like every parent thinks their child is a special little snowflake that is gifted and should be treated in a special manner. I never knew what criteria was used to determine if I was gifted; I could never find a correlation between me and some of the other kids in my Enrichment class. There were one or two that felt like they were as far off the beam as I was and I always felt a kinship to them. There’s a line in a song somewhere, “I’m looking for baggage that goes with mine.” We would have never won a popularity contest.
It was well into my adult years that I decided that it was just too time consuming and exhausting trying to fit into the crowd all the time. Even at age 48 I have to remind myself of this, though not as much as I used to.
I sometimes wonder if there’s Gifted/Enrichment Programs in schools today. I suspect there isn’t because it’s probably considered to be politically incorrect. But still, I wonder if there some young lad or lass pounding away on a computer, purposely underachieving to fit in with the rest of the class, with his or her dreams tucked away to be attained later in life.