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I Remember (Part 3)

November 25, 2012

What is taught in ‘middle school’ (also referred to as ‘the senior primary grades’) has changed significantly since I went to school in the early 1960s (‘62 – ‘66 for Grades 5 through 8), as have methods of reporting a child’s progress. Students now learn about technology, the environment, and media studies (things we didn’t even HAVE back when I was in school), and delve more deeply into concepts like world politics, the science of matter and energy, and complex mathematics.

Current report cards list ‘measurable outcomes’, for which teachers must provide detailed observations for each student in every subject (as opposed to the list of ‘basic expectations’  – with the notation at that top that ‘ check marks indicate improvement desired’ – that appeared on my report cards).  When I was in school, teachers put in a mark (letter and/or number) for each subject, added a general comment or two, and sent the report card home for a parent signature. Now, individualized remarks are accompanied by ‘Next Steps’, and both the student and the parent are expected to provide commentary on the reporting process.  And while it might seem as if we’re making progress in better educating our children, I often wonder if things are really any ‘better’ than they were in the 60s when I went to school. Here’s what I remember about the middle grades …  (NOTE: this is the third installment of a multi-part series about my school days; in the past two weeks, I have written posts about my first year of school, as well as the years I spent in Grades 1 through 4.)  

Grades 5 and 6 (Fall 1962 – Spring 1964)

Old Raymar Estate HouseBeing promoted to Grade 5 meant moving to a new school – ‘new’ not only for me, but also for the town. New Central School had been built only a few years earlier to replace the outdated (built in 1850) Central School (located at the west end of the main street) that my older brother and eldest sister had attended (the property remained vacant for quite a few years – travelling carnivals used to set up there before the town built a library and performing arts centre there as a Centennial project in 1967).  I remember walking the four blocks east to Balsam Drive (past the massive wrought iron gates of the mysterious Raymar Estate – which unfortunately has since been developed into a community of multi-million dollar homes), then across ‘the highway’ (with the crossing guard), and a half block up Balsam to the school. Tucked behind trees and between graceful old homes, the school was (and still is) nearly invisible from the street (there’s also a driveway entrance off Lakeshore Road that was used by the teachers; they parked in a tiny twelve-car parking lot behind the school – an area where students were forbidden to go).

New Central Public SchoolI remember the building being long and low and very ‘modern’ (compared to the ancient school I’d attended previously).  The exterior was clad in powder blue tiles beneath expansive windows; the front lobby had a dark blue mosaic tile effect next to an indoor garden; the principal’s office and the staff room were on the far side of the lobby.  If you turned right, you faced the ENORMOUS gymnasium (the gym at Brantwood had been in the basement and had seemed low-ceilinged, dark, and just a little smelly); the gym had green and gold stripes (the school colours at the time) painted along the walls. New Central School - Front View

The hallway to the left led to ten classrooms – all much bigger and brighter than any classroom I’d previously had the pleasure of spending time in.  (I recently paid a visit to the school – to see how much it had changed – and was pleasantly surprised to see that it is still very much as I remember it.  Several classrooms have been added at one end to accommodate the junior primary classes that were moved over when Brantwood closed, but the rest of the school is pretty much the same.  I also had the pleasure of being escorted around by the school secretary [Mrs. K. Hogg] who attended New Central at the same time as my older sister, and whose family I remember as well – what a delight!)

Silver Attendance MedalI had the same teacher in Grades 5 and 6 – Mrs. T. Foster (about whom I have absolutely no recollection!)  I was in Room 1 in Grade 5 and Room 10 in Grade 6. The curriculum was basically the same – Reading, Writing, Spelling, Language, Literature, Social Studies, Science, Arithmetic, Phys Ed & Health, Art, Music – and (according to my report cards) I was well above the ‘median mark’ in pretty much everything (except ‘Writing and Printing’ – AGAIN!)  Comments were sparse (Grade 5: “Margo is making good progress”; “A very good report”; “Another good report”; Grade 6:  “A satisfactory report”; “Margo is doing good work, keep it up”; “What a wonderful improvement in Margo’s average! Good for you.”), and my attendance was good enough for me to earn my Silver Medal in Grade 5 (the school board stopped acknowledging ‘good attendance’ the year I entered Grade 7, so I never received a Gold Medal, although I believe my sister did).

I remember having to sit at the front of the class in Grade 5 because I was having difficulty reading the board – that lead to an appointment with the eye doctor and my first pair of glasses (I wear glasses to this day). I remember a boy named Chris sitting behind me and constantly playing with my (shoulder length) hair – he used to comb his fingers though it and braid it and twist it up into a bun (I often wonder if he became a hairdresser).

Grade 5 Writing

A sample of my (lousy) Grade 5 penmanship

I remember having to buy a bottle of ‘India ink’ that fit into the slot in the upper right corner of the desk, and dipping a ‘nib pen’ into it (nibs of different sizes slipped into a long wooden ‘stick’ – I remember them as being curved in shape and painted red) in order to master ‘cursive writing’ (my left-handedness was a REAL problem in the ‘pen and ink’ days at school – teachers didn’t like you turning your notebook to avoid smearing the letters, so I twisted my hand awkwardly over what I was writing, which resulted in my letters being big and round – I wrote this way until well past high school).

New House Fall 1963

My sister and I outside ‘the new house’; Fall 1963

Just before I started Grade 6, our family moved four blocks up Allan Street (practically across the street from Brantwood – convenient for my little brother, who was about to start Kindergarten that fall); the walk to New Central was slightly longer than before (still only about 1 km [.6 miles]) but we no longer had to cross ‘the highway’ to get there.

Grades 7 and 8 (Fall 1964 – Spring 1966)

New Central RibbonsMy teacher for Grade 7 was Miss Clark; she was also the girl’s phys ed teacher (I don’t remember much else about her – but I do have three ‘Sports’ badges and a ‘Play Day Champion’ ribbon from spring of 1965, so she must have been pretty good on that end of things because I was hardly the athletic type. NOTE: I also have a Music badge, although I don’t recall doing much more than singing [badly] in Music class).   I definitely remember my Grade 8 teacher – Mr. Forester – because he nagged me incessantly about my ‘sloppy writing style’ and kept insisting I learn to write ‘football shaped’ (the only X on my report card – ‘Improvement Desirable’ – was beside ‘Does work neatly’; I have multiple check marks – ‘Outstanding’ – in all other areas).  He was also ‘convinced’ (in his own mind) that my name was spelled Margot (with a ‘t’) and despite my assertions to the contrary, I remember him writing it that way on all my papers and on the blackboard (years later I worked for a College Dean who did the same thing – it drove me crazy!)

I was a ‘good’ student during these years; I had a >80% average in Grade 7 (Miss Clark wrote: “Margo’s effort and results are very good for this term” [December]; “A fine young girl with above-average grades” [March]; and “Very good results. A fine young student” [June]).  I slipped a little in the early part of Grade 8 (averaging in the mid-70s) but I pulled out all the stops in the final months, and was promoted at the end of the year to Grade 9 (high school) with honours. Mr. Forester’s comments were the same in December and March: “Doing very good work; keep it up”; in June he wrote, “Congratulations on your honours pass!”

There were three big changes I remember about Grades 7 and 8 (over Grades 5 and 6):

  1. We began to learn French (‘Parisian’ French, which in hindsight is odd because Canada’s official second language is Quebecois French, which is quite a bit different from what they taught us in school).
  2. Rather than ‘Social Studies’ we began to study History and Geography separately; these were both subjects I enjoyed immensely.
  3. Pyjama Pattern 1960sOnce every two weeks we would climb on a bus and go ‘across town’ to Westdale Public School for Home Ec (the boys took ‘Industrial Arts’ – more commonly referred to as ‘shop’). I remember making aprons in Grade 7 and ‘shorty pyjamas’ in Grade 8; we learned how to set a table, cook basic meals (including a casserole that had a potato chip ‘crust’ on top and lemon meringue pie from scratch), and operate a washing machine, a dryer, and an automatic dishwasher (a fairly new appliance at the time)!

Folk Dancing 1960sAnother thing I remember clearly about those years at New Central was learning various folk dances (I don’t imagine folk dancing is taught in school anymore, but it was a foundation of most of our phys ed classes during those years – probably because it was one of the few ‘physical activities’ where teenage boys and girls could be in the gym together without fear of any ‘inappropriate contact’ taking place).  Miss Clark would line us up – boys on one side of the gym, girls on the other – and pair us off. Those of us who were dating (and by Grade 8, some of us were) would slip back in the line to make sure we were ‘partnered’ with our boyfriends.  I also remember a group of us being invited to a teacher’s conference to ‘entertain’ the visiting teachers (from other schools) with our folk dancing prowess!

Finally, I remember my Grade 8 graduation. It was held in the gym at the school and seventy-four Grade 8 students attended (see below); Miss Clark, Mr. Forester, and our school principal, Mr. Fulford ‘chaperoned’; we ate sandwiches and drank punch and danced the night way (well, until 11:00 p.m.)  The last dance (which I danced with my good friend, Larry Wilson, not my boyfriend-at-the-time, Brian F.) was ‘House of the Rising Sun’ by the Animals (which I’ve always thought was a rather odd choice for a last dance at a Grade 8 graduation in 1966).  To this day, whenever I hear that song, it brings back fond memories of life long before I reached … the other side of 55.


Grade 8 Graduation

My Grade 8 Graduation (Click for larger)

My Story Continues: I Remember (Part 4)

  1. November 29, 2012 9:34 am

    This is very different than middle school as I remember it. I went to a very large, inner city public school, for the most part I remember lots of angst and drama.
    I don’t mind the lack of penmanship skills/cursive writing; as long as people can write in some form–print or script. The skills learned in school are supposed to prepare kids for their futures, I can’t think of much in modern, adult life that requires cursive, other than a signature.

    • November 30, 2012 11:00 am

      I suppose I was lucky to have gone to school in a fairly ‘affluent’ neighbourhood in a fairly ‘affluent’ town. It was all good.

      As for cursive writing, I still think its an important skill to have (for writing cards, love letters, etc.) My son ran into trouble when he tried to open his first bank account because he didn’t have a ‘signature’. And they really should do a better job teaching spelling and grammar – the (College) student papers I had to mark (hand-written!) were abysmal!


  2. November 25, 2012 7:17 pm

    I am a teacher, and I do not think anything is changing, we just label it differently. Those who want to be successful and try are successful; those who do not pay attention and do not care do poorly. Same as it always was.

    • November 26, 2012 11:00 am

      I think what’s changed is the content of curriculum, rather than the context (preparing students for their futures). My boys learned different things (in different ways) from what and how I learned at their age, and my own teaching (College courses) varied greatly over almost 30 years. I am 100% with you on your comment about success – the cardinal rule in all my classes (and my kids heard it often enough to roll their eyes whenever I uttered it) was: Result is directly proportional to effort. (Or, as Yoda would say, “Do or do not, there is no try”). Thanks for commenting.

  3. November 25, 2012 4:56 pm

    Did your “sloppy writing style” affect you much as an adult? It seemed to be so important back then. I remember my Busines teacher commenting about mine in high school. Now (although I think it’s unfortunate) hand-writing is almost obsolete.

    • November 25, 2012 5:04 pm

      I gradually ‘ improved’ my writing but it was never as ‘good’ as my teachers probably wanted it to be (and it’s getting worse again as I age). My youngest son never learned ‘cursive’ writing – he’s 26 and he still prints everything (and not very neatly, either). I can’t believe that schools don’t believe writing is a skill that’s important (regardless of the fact that most people type things these days, I believe everyone should know how to write).



  1. I Remember (Part 2) | The Other Side of 55

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