What Is Your Earliest School Memory?

It used to be that schools began in September – usually the first Tuesday after Labor Day in the United States – and ended sometime around the third week of June.

By the time I retired in 2010, many schools, including the one at which I worked, had shifted the school year so that it began in early August (yuck was my reaction) and ended in the latter part of May.

It’s now the beginning of graduation season 2018 so I thought it would be fun to think about some of my school memories including my earliest one, which was at Roosevelt #10 School in Passaic, New Jersey.

#10 School has had several facelifts. It was built in 1908 as a two story elementary school. Passaic was a growing immigrant community and a third floor was added in 1918:

Source: My Personal Postcard Collection

By the time I began kindergarten there in 1957, it looked more like it does today.

The two kindergarten classrooms were on the first floor on the far right side of the building. Mrs. Sadye Teninbaum’s class was in the room facing the street.

Mrs. Ruth Adams’ classroom was at the back near the gym building (small red arrow). Kindergarteners had their own entrance to the school, which was the steps accessing Mrs. Teninbaum’s room. All kindergarteners used those steps and those in Mrs. Adams’ class exited the classroom door inside the building and crossed the hall to Mrs. Adams’ room.

My earliest memory isn’t of my first day of kindergarten – I don’t remember that at all. What I distinctly remember is walking with my mother (expecting my brother to be born two months later) down Summer Street, along two blocks of Lexington Avenue and then down two more blocks of Harrison Street to #10 School. I couldn’t wait to start school.

Incoming kindergarten students registered in May, so for me, it was just about 61 years ago. I remember standing at the teacher’s desk – probably Mrs. Teninbaum since enrollment was in her classroom – and being asked my name, address, birth date and whether or not I had any siblings. I knew all the answers to the questions and proudly told the teacher that my brother, Mike, was going to be born in July. I guess I had my heart set on a baby brother!

Everything seems big to a little kid and Mrs. Teninbaum’s room was no exception. In retrospect, my memory is pretty good. It was a bit larger, almost twice the size, than the other classrooms because her room had the play area in it, plus tables and a cloakroom area. Mrs. Teninbaum’s room backed up to the office. Mrs. Adams’s room across the hall was the size of all the other classrooms.

On that registration day, I took in the whole room.

To the left side of the room (if you came in the classroom through the inside door in the hallway), you would see the kindergarten entrance, the cloakroom area and all the tables where the students would sit in a U shape. Mrs. Teninbaum’s desk was dead center in the room, by the windows. To the right were the girls’ housekeeping play area, the boys’ play space, a carpet area where we could gather and sit on the floor and a sink in the corner for clean up. Books and storage cabinets lined the back right wall.

After providing all the pertinent registration information, I had a chance to play in the room for a while. (I’m guessing it was probably about 10 or 15 minutes!) I headed right to the dolls in their beds and had a wonderful time.

My other memory of that day is that both Mrs. Teninbaum and Mrs. Adams were at least as old as my grandmothers. My impression was right on target – Mrs. Teninbaum was born in 1896 so was 61 years old the year I started school. Mrs. Adams was born in 1907, so about 50 years old.

I didn’t realize it until many years later when I searched online, but Mrs. Teninbaum, who retired soon after I promoted to the next grade, didn’t pass away until September 1997, three weeks before her 100th birthday. I would love to have contacted her to say hello and thank her for developing a lifelong love of school in me. She is probably the first reason why I always wanted to be a teacher.

What is your earliest memory of school? Please share!

One thought on “What Is Your Earliest School Memory?”

  1. Thank you for sharing these memories! Some of my memories of kindergarten include nap time on our own special blanket, being introduced to a new letter of the alphabet with these big blow up letters that had names and personalities (ex. Achoo Annie), and having my best friend tie my shoes – often – on the playground since I hadn’t learned yet. 🙂

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