Starting a clean slate

Published 3:56 am Wednesday, August 7, 2019

I stood at the front of my makeshift classroom with my students in various stages of disarray. One had a strong odor permeating the air around him, and to be honest his breath could sink a battle ship. But what was one to expect from this pupil? He was rather furry, and hadn’t had a bath in quite some time. But in my little school, doggies were welcome, as well as cats. With my two little brothers and the family pets, I had enough students to feel rather important.

In my best school marm voice, I instructed my students to settle down and find a seat. With my hands firmly planted on my hips, I marched around the room giving instructions. I had even made peanut butter crackers as a snack, or maybe a bribe, to encourage good behavior.

My favorite part of playing school was reading to my students, and they listened dutifully if not enthusiastically. Of course, the four-legged pupils engaged for only a few moments before they chose to move on to more exciting outdoor play, but my little brothers could usually be persuaded to slow down long enough to listen.

These days of make believe and role-play set the stage for my future as a teacher. I loved the moment when an idea was born or a concept understood and could actually be seen in a student’s eyes.

When the students and teachers begin to prepare for each new school year, I fondly remember going in several days early to get my classroom ready for my new class. I always eagerly anticipated the beginning of the new year. Some of the others would compare notes as to which students were the “troublemakers,” but I always liked to welcome my students with no preconceived notions of what to expect.

One year, when I was young, I tragically lost my sister in a car accident. For a year or two after that, I was filled with anger and frustration, and it showed up in my attitude at school. The once sweet little honor student was not quite so sweet any more, and my grades suffered, as well.

Over the summer, I thought about the changes in my behavior and decided to turn things around. I was so excited to once more take my studies seriously and get back to having a positive attitude. When I walked in my first period class and took a seat the teacher, whom I had never met, looked at me and said, “Well, look who it is! If you think you are going to misbehave in my class you have another think coming!”

I know it was wrong, but I was immature and hurt, so my idea of making a positive change went out the window for yet another year. This experience helped me to want to give all my students a chance to prove themselves. After all, a lot can happen in one summer.

Jan Penton Miller can be reached at