The year I was in sixth grade–1963–was a water-shed year in many ways. Not only was it the year President John F Kennedy was assassinated, which is really a major memory, it was also the year my parents bought their first ever new car and remodeled the house I grew up in. The previous year had brought record prices for cotton and my father finally felt that he had money to do all those extras. My dad worked very hard and he was very proud of the excellent cotton he grew and the high prices it brought. He believed that his fields were a reflection on his character and the resulting crops a sign of his success.
But, getting back to me, 1963 was a year when I learned a skill that I have used the rest of my life, and it’s what I want to share with you, dear Reader, today. Why today? Because I read this piece of news this morning.
I was very concerned about being called “out” by my teachers. I only wanted to be noticed by the teacher for my good work, not for something I did wrong. Because of my fear of being “shamed” in class, I always worked hard and took pride in my work until one assignment in that sixth grade class. The teacher showed one to two movies and week, and she expected us to take notes on each movie, using a notebook she gave us specifically for this task. She also had a specific way in which she wanted the notes written, having drilled us previous to the first movie. When the lights went off, and the movie started, all of her instructions went right out of my head. I couldn’t get the hang of writing in the dark. It was hard to watch the movie, and then write the notes, going back and forth from screen to paper. I was totally bewildered, and went home, nearly in tears. I thought about this all night. I just knew that when I turned in my notebook the teacher would hold it up to the class and say, “Look. Delaine Kissinger does not know how to take proper notes.” I would be mortified.
So, I thought long and hard on how I could keep that from happening. I decided to practice writing, in my bedroom, with the lights turned off. When the news came on TV, I practiced taking notes on what I was hearing. I also brought my notebook home and tried to fill in some notes for the first movie. By the time the next movie was shown, I was better at the note taking, but still not good. The fear of humiliation was still there, but I kept practicing at home, and by the time we had to turn those notebooks in for a check-point, I was doing pretty well. The teacher made some comments in my notebook, giving me some tips on arranging my notes. I followed her suggestions, and by the end of the sixth grade, I knew how to take notes on movies, speeches, presentations, anything and everything. College was much easier because of this ability.
To this day, I give credit for my ability to take notes to my sixth grade teacher, Miss Pugh. Oh, and some credit to my shorthand teacher in high school, Mr. Arntz. He was another instructor whom I didn’t want to disappoint.
Where and when did that change in the schools? Why aren’t students still fearful of messing up and getting called out for doing inadequate work? Just as my dad saw the importance of high yields and excellent quality in his crops, I too saw the importance of good work and high grades in my school work.