anne mikolay 2012 120Now that summer vacation has ended, I've seen lots of little children heading off to school, some with neat, new clothes and clean backpacks, others clad in identical Catholic school uniforms and shiny black shoes. These little Catholic school students stir pleasant memories of my own “school days, school days...good ol' golden rule days”.

Each year, at the end of August, my dad took my sister and me to the shoe store to purchase our uniform school shoes. The shoe salesman measured our tootsies with a Brannock device, sort of a mechanical ruler designed for measuring a person's shoe size. Of course, there was no real shopping involved in this excursion, no browsing for fashion; Dad bought what the nuns running the school instructed. Despite those ugly, clunky school shoes, I rather enjoyed the occasion. There was something special about the feel of new shoes and seeing how much I had grown since the previous year. My Mom bought me a Barbie lunch box, quite the envy of little girls, and a new pencil case and folders. I loved my little lunch box, my marble notebooks and newly sharpened number two pencils (it's the writer in me!), and the smell of new, never-before-opened text books. I loved running around the playground at recess, giggling with my friends over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, writing on the blackboard, helping the teacher clean up after school, doing art projects and learning new things. Such recollections brought a smile to my face...until a friend told me a story that harshly reminded me why I eventually learned to hate school.

My friend's grand-daughter (we'll call her Sue) is a delightful, remarkably talented young girl with a healthy enthusiasm for school. Sue is a teacher's dream, a student who comes to class prepared and cooperates with enjoyment. Sue was looking forward to a new school year and gathered her school supplies well before the first day of classes. Imagine Sue's shock when a teacher (for the sake of characterization, we'll call her Mrs. Bully) insensitively singled Sue out for not having the correct items for her class (as the nuns did in my Catholic school; heaven help the kid without the proper uniform shoes, coat, or hat!). Mrs. Bully made a scene over Sue's alleged infraction. When I heard this, my mind went back to my second grade classroom where Sister Bully ruled the roost. Sister Bully took a happy, enthusiastic little girl (namely, me) and taught her school was a forum for embarrassment. According to sister Bully, among other things, I talked too much (possibly true!), was not as well behaved as my older sister (untrue), was too pale and too skinny (what do you expect of an Irish kid?), and had crude penmanship (oh, horrors!). Sister Bully was, indeed, a bully swinging a rosary and hiding behind long, black skirts and golden rules she didn't live by. Recalling Sister Bully's behavior and Mrs. Bully's callous handling of Sue made me realize the legendary three Rs of education - Reading, wRriting, and aRithemetic - should be amended to include a fourth: Respect.

A teacher has a difficult, stressful job. Anybody who thinks it's easy to control and inspire a room full of children should try it! But any teacher who disregards her students' humanity should leave the classroom. Teachers, students are not your minions. Yes, you have the control, but that power should be used to nurture, encourage, and uplift rather than to crush, disparage, or embarrass. Children will learn more than facts from you; they will learn how to treat one another. If you want to stop this cycle of bullying in the schools that everybody is talking about, stop giving it lip service and cease your own bullying behavior. You can't imagine the lasting effect, for better or worse, that you have on your students. I'm proof. I'm middle aged and well remember and resent Sister Bully.

In summary, there are four vital Rs of education: Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic, and most importantly, Respect. Teach it. Live it. Pass it on.