School has already started here in Cleveland Heights and University Heights. I think I might write this every September, but, if so, here it comes again: I hated the opening of the school year. Every year. Right from the start. I didn’t want to go to kindergarten. Or any grade thereafter, in all my years at Coventry Elementary, Roosevelt Junior High and Heights High.
My granddaughter, who’s starting third grade in a CH-UH school, loved kindergarten, and first and second grade. Which is wonderful. Her brother did kindergarten last year. I think he thought it was okay. Tolerable, at least. Which is better than my situation. I just wanted out. Most of the other kids seemed like babies to me. I was already listening to rock ‘n’ roll records and radio (mostly made possible by a record-distributor uncle; plus, the advent of early rock radio DJs like the Mad Daddy on WJW-AM).
I had very little to talk to about with the other kids. Though I did make a few friends in kindergarten, some of whom I’m still friends with, like Sandy, Barry and Murray. I’d still be friends with a couple others, too, if they hadn’t died.
So, I was mainly bored and felt isolated in kindergarten. The next two school years, first and second grades, were also boring, and I never wanted to be there. I thought those teachers were okay—nice enough, if kind of bland and boring—and I didn’t blame them for my not wanting to be in school; I just didn’t want to be in school. But the beginning of third grade was a big turning point for me. The first minute of that grade, I took an instant dislike to my teacher.
I’m not sure why that happened so fast, though I learned over the course of the year that there was a lot to dislike about her, so my initial reaction must have been instinctive. She was backward in many ways. She was painfully old-fashioned, and blatantly, shockingly racist, even for those times.
She brought out in me things I hadn’t seen in myself before. Like outright defiance. I remember that on one of the first days of the year, she took the class out into the hallway to get a drink at the water fountain. She told us to get in a single-file line, not to get out of the line, and not to talk. There was something I wanted to talk about to my friend, Kathy, who was right behind me. So, after a few minutes, I stepped out of line and stood facing Kathy and started talking—quietly—to her. The teacher flew into an actual rage and started yelling at me, creating much more noise than I had been making. That gave me some satisfaction. And I continued that behavior with her, and almost every other teacher, from that point on.
Third grade was a terrible year. I couldn’t wait to get a new teacher, so, for that reason, I was looking forward, a little, to starting school the next year. The first day of fourth grade, we reported to our third-grade room, which was the custom, and our old teacher announced, “Your teacher for the new year is going to be . . . ME!” For some reason, we were getting her for another year.
When she said that, my friend Freddy, sitting next to me, and I both spontaneously slid way down in our seats and audibly wailed, “Oh, no!” That didn’t exactly help my relationship with her. It did set the tone for the year, and the rest of my school life.
David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.