Growing Up in the 50’s: School

Memorial School, Totowa. I went to kindergarten and 8th grade here.

Memorial School, Totowa. I went to kindergarten and 8th grade here.

A lot of planning goes into preparing for my 10-year-old’s school year. It may start in February when we have the chance to tour other schools in the district and decide whether to stay put or switch schools. We will usually communicate to the school our preference of teacher and then await the end-of-summer notification as to his assignment. We likely get an email from his teacher with supplies he needs and we head out to Staples. His mother is in school usually the first or second day of classes and there are innumerable opportunities to volunteer for classroom help, fund raisers or PTA gigs.

My mother needed one piece of information about school. When does it start and what time should I be there. Having nailed that down her next involvement came on back to school night which she attended religiously, met my teacher, listened to what he or she had to say, talked to me about it and that was it till next year. I don’t believe my father ever set foot in a school I attended.

While it is not necessarily a bad thing to be on your own in dealing with school, when your parents are not actively involved, your teachers assume an even more important role. Your teacher is probably the 3rd most important adult in your life and since my elementary schools were strictly one teacher/one class affairs you spend possibly more time with your teacher than with your parents (both of my parents worked).

The ultimate authority in the school is the principal. Given that as a single-digit aged child I was not dealing with the president, the governor or even the mayor, the school principal was the highest level of adult human being I encountered. Mr. Giancola was the principal of my grammer school for all 7 years I was there. I remember him as a pleasant man who seemed pretty fair minded and generally someone to look up to.

Looking back on it I suspect he was a pretty good principal. While I haven’t a clue what kind of administrator he might have been I do remember that I had a black teacher in second grade and a teacher in a wheelchair in third. As I have pointed out before this was in a town with absolutely no diversity and this was a time before the Americans with Disability Act and the Civil Rights Act. So it is reasonable to assume that unlike most of the adults I encountered at the time, Mr. Giancola judged people by their capabilities only and in retrospect I’d like to think he appreciated the diversity he brought to the teaching staff.

One Friday night I am with my mother in a pharmacy in a neighboring town. Mom picks up whatever it is she was there to buy and we head over to pay. There behind the register is Mr. Giancola. As always he smiled and greeted me while I must have stood there dumbfounded with my mouth open. The most important person I knew was moonlighting behind the register at the drug store.

So one thing hasn’t changed since the 50’s. The people who we entrust with one of society’s most important tasks, educating, mentoring and caring for our children, often don’t get paid enough to comfortably raise their own family.

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3 Responses to Growing Up in the 50’s: School

  1. barbara ravitz melinek says:

    I remember Mr. Giancola (Nat?); the teacher in the wheelchair was originally at Washington Park and must have moved over. Miss _____? My father was on the Board of Ed for a couple of years…difficult times. You’re right, not much diversity back then.


    • Ken Dowell says:

      Most of my blog post is about Washington Park where I went from 1st to 7th grade. That’s where Mr. Giancola was principal at the time. The teacher in the wheelchair was Mrs. Brockman.


  2. Pingback: 10 Most Viewed Off the Leash Blog Posts in 2014 | off the leash

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