Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Elementary School Memories

September is flying y and it’s time for my favorite weekly activity – Saturday Night Genealogy Fun with Randy Seaver on Genea-Musings.

This week’s topic also touches on some of my favorite life memories – my elementary school days!

1) The new school year has started in the Northern hemisphere, and for most children that means a new grade, a new teacher, and perhaps new friends.

2)  Tell us about some of your elementary school memories when you were a child.  What are your memories of starting school in a new year?  Who were your teachers?  How did you get to school?  Who were your best friends?  What subjects did you like best?  What extra-curricular activities did you participate in?  Make up your own questions if you’d like!

I’ve written about growing up in Passaic a number of times in the past, including some memories of attending Roosevelt School #10.

Here are a few of my memories of the (almost) seven years that I went to #10 School:

Kindergarten – I was more than excited about going to school and can still remember the day Mom and I walked the four blocks form home to school to register me for Kindergarten. I don’t remember taking the pre-K readiness test (which I know I did because I have photocopies of it, retrieved when I was in college), but I do remember Mrs. Teninbaum asking me my name, address, phone number, birthday, and what siblings I had.

Not only did I know all the answers to the first four questions, I proudly told her I was going to have a brother born that summer.  (I did indeed get a baby brother, but that day at school, having a brother was just wishful thinking. We had to wait until he was born to find out for sure!

Grade 1Mrs. (Doris) Fine was a first year teacher right out of college and my mother told me years later that she was an excellent teacher. I loved reading, especially when we finished a unit and were tested to see how many sight words we knew.  Each reading group sat in a circle and Mrs. Fine displayed a flashcard to each one of us. We got to keep the flashcard if we correctly read the word.

Grade 2  – Miss (Mary) Ferraro was my second grade teacher. I don’t remember any special about her class, but do remember that she got married the following year and became Mrs. Gatto. I believe Mrs. Gatto is still living, too, the only one of my elementary school teachers still with us.

Grade 3 – Third grade was unusual because my first teacher was Mrs. Bremer, but we only had her for 2 or 3 weeks. Apparently, the school population that year was unbalanced and one day, after lunch, she was crying when we came into the classroom. She had been told that she was being transferred to another school and Mrs. Gootman would be our new teacher. Two years later, she returned to #10 School and was my brother’s kindergarten teacher. Mrs. Gootman taught third grade and I remember that she was kind and I liked her class, but I don’t have any particular memories of her class.

Grade 4 – Miss (Dena) Guttman was my 4th grade teacher. She was my least favorite ever teacher because she had a real temper and could be mean. This is a memory of a really quiet, well-behaved little girl who was a very good student, so I can imagine how some of the other kids felt. Miss Guttman also believed that a letter grade of A meant you were perfect and since she also believed no one was perfect, she never gave anyone any As on our report card. It was one of the few times that my mother contacted the school, given that I had lots of 90s and 100’s on my papers, but no A on my report card. No teacher would ever be allowed to do that today, but in the 1950s, the teacher was mostly always right.

Grade 5 – On the other hand, I worried when I learned that Mrs. (Mary) Wallace was to be my teacher because she had a reputation for being very strict. She was, but I enjoyed her class, learned a lot and have two fun memories of that year. We put on a play about George Washington for the whole school in February and Joey Dee and the Starliters came and did a show for us (because Joey Dee himself had gone to #10 School). He tried to get Mrs. Wallace up on the stage to do the twist, but she wasn’t having any of that!

Grade 6 – I was quite thrilled to find my name on the class list for Mrs. (Esther) Wachs, as everyone in her class loved her.  I have two very distinct memories of her class before I moved away to Wayne. We were learning about Mexico and, in addition to a report, we were in groups making small replicas of the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco. Mine never got finished because we were in the middle of the project when I left. The second memory was one that everyone alive at that time still remembers – the assassination of President Kennedy. It was early afternoon when the principal came to the door, called Mrs. Wachs outside and told her the President had been shot. Mrs. Wachs was crying when she came back in and told us what had happened in Dallas. School was dismissed early that day.

#10 School was very different than James Fallon School in Wayne, where I finished 6th grade. #10 School had no cafeteria, so everyone walked home for lunch at 11:30 in the morning and returned to class for the afternoon session at 1:00.  Passaic had absolutely zero school buses and everyone walked home for lunch.

On the other hand, James Fallon School was a much more modern building, had a cafeteria and everyone ate lunch in school, either with our lunch boxes or the cafeteria meal of the day.

#10 School had Miss Meyers, who taught us Spanish once a month, as part of the federal FLES (Foreign Language in the Elementary School) program, and Mrs. Tiessen, who also came around once month to each class and taught music. I did learn to play the autoharp and tonette, in spite of very limited musical abilities and sang many traditional American songs. However, learning Spanish from Grade 1 onwards created a lifelong love of foreign languages and eventually led to me continuing Spanish and adding French, Italian and Romanian to my linguistic skills.

James Fallon School had none of that. Mr. (Jon) Donhauser was my teacher. I remember him being a very laid back personality, who had plenty of do-it-on-your-own activities at hand for those of us who finished regular assignments early.

That’s it for my elementary school memories today. I think I’ve probably shared some version of many of these memories already, but my love of school was the impetus for me becoming a teacher myself.

Thanks, Randy, for this week’s SNGF challenge.



One thought on “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Elementary School Memories”

  1. I finally got a chance to see your post. We’ve been on the train the past three days and I’m catching up today in a hotel. Love your post and you remembered a lot about your teachers. Your 4th-grade teacher sounds like my 5th grade. I think every school had at least one like that. My daughter had one in 5th.

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