Throughout my first-grade year, I felt exposed. As I’ve written, I was a superstar during my three weeks of kindergarten and in the first first-grade classroom I attended, because I could read and the other pupils couldn’t. Even after we moved and I came into a new first-grade class in November of the school year, I was the new kid, and therefore immediately noticeable. My classmates knew my name far sooner than I learned all theirs.
I moved to yet another school for second grade. Christ the King School was a Catholic grade school, the only Catholic school in Richland, Washington. I was one of 52 students in my class. There were two second grades, so there were 52 more kids in the other class.
At the start of second grade, I knew only one other child—another girl who had been in my first grade class in the public school, who also transferred to parochial school for second grade. A few other second-graders were also new to the school, but most of the kids had gone to Christ the King in first grade and knew each other.
For the first time in my short school career, I was mostly anonymous. Not really anonymous, of course, but it felt that way. I was just one of a horde of children—one of 52 bodies crammed into desks that filled the classroom. Thirteen clusters of four desks each. Only one corner of the room was free of desks. That corner contained a semi-circle of pint-sized chairs and one teacher chair, where each reading group took its turn for reading class.
Our teacher, Sister Joanne Maureen, a young nun who I later learned was in her first year of teaching, seated us all alphabetically by last name, so she could learn our names. She had a seating chart, and she learned our names very quickly. But it took me weeks until I knew all my classmates’ names.
Sister Joanne Maureen had us read to her in the early week or two of school, then she sorted us into four groups by ability. I ended up in the A group of thirteen children, and I could identify these kids by the end of September.
As each group had its reading lesson, the other kids did worksheets on other subjects at their desks. The 39 of us were anonymous bodies during reading time. And as I recall, reading was the only subject in which the class split up. For most of the day, there were 52 of us doing everything.
Even during recess I remained mostly anonymous, because we seldom had planned activities. (I imagine even nuns need a little down time after coping with 52 children.) I roamed the playground, sometimes alone, sometimes with a couple of other girls, trying not to get asked to play hopscotch or four-square or jump roping—none of which did I do very well.
I was smaller than most kids because I was a year younger, though I was never the smallest girl in the class. My smallish size brought anonymity also. I could shrink into the woodwork pretty easily.
But as time went on, my anonymity naturally lessened.
For P.E. we were divided into teams. I didn’t know the rules to kickball, so I clearly stood out then. I remember getting yelled at by teacher and students alike when I did kicked the ball wrong (or missed it altogether).
I also was not anonymous when I threw up in the classroom late one afternoon. That made me very noticeable.
Second grade seemed to last forever. Of course, I had spent my first grade year in three different classrooms with three different teachers, so just the novelty of remaining in one room for nine months probably made second grade seem longer than the year before.
Through the course of the year, I made some friends. One very good friend, but she moved away in the summer after our second grade year. Several pretty good friends, and next week I’ll write the story of one of those. And some friends I continued to have as classmates all the way through high school.
As the months wore on, I discerned the various cliques that little girls have—the smart ones, the popular ones, the athletic ones, the slow ones. With 52 kids (about half girls), there were plenty of cliques. While I could hang with the smart kids during reading class, I was not destined to be in the popular or athletic groups. I ended up socializing mostly with the slow kids, despite my reading prowess. But I knew enough girls to invite for a birthday party in April of my second grade year.
By third grade, I was no longer anonymous. I might not have liked how my status shook out in the grade school clique hierarchy. But for better or worse, it was set. And remained that way through my eighth-grade graduation, with traces continuing through high school.
When have you felt anonymous?