January 31, 2009

What I learned in second grade

My second grade teacher loved to dance. In the afternoon when we’d come back from lunch, she’d have us push back the desks to clear the middle of the classroom. Then she’d stand in front of us, pulling up her black robes so that we could see her feet, and demonstrate the steps. Crowded with the other kids against the blackboard that smelled like chalk, I’d listen to the jingle of her beads and the swish of her clothing and the squeak of those sturdy black shoes.

Sun came in the big windows, and our bodies made shadows as we moved. Sister Dancing Marie taught us the jig, the waltz, the foxtrot. She put us together in pairs, usually arranged by height. I’d look down at my legs, skinny legs in green kneesocks under a plaid uniform skirt, to make sure I was doing the right steps. I never looked at the boy I was dancing with, even when he tried to talk to me. He was always trying to talk to me.

Then Sister Dancing Marie would select an album. When she dropped the needle onto the record, music filled the whole room, surging over the desks and under the edges of the spelling tests that hung from the bulletin boards. I forgot all about my feet or the boy who kept trying to talk to me. I tossed my braids back and let the rhythm take over my legs, my arms, my body.

That’s mostly what I remember about second grade. The way the sun felt coming through those big windows, the jingle of beads as my teacher danced, and the way it felt to move my body to music.


Anonymous said...

It's PPB, but I am too impatient to log in to get it to say that:

I LOVE the image of the kids dancing with the nun (I take it the nun in habit?). What a great visual.

It will make me smile all day.

Cloudscome said...

How utterly lovely. I remember the sun streaming in classroom windows too. My 4th grade teacher let us dance after lunch. The Jackson Five and Gladys Knight. We sang the Age of Aquarius walking home from school.

Songbird said...

I love both the memory and the way you write about it.

jo(e) said...

PPB: Yes, she was a Franciscan Sister. It was the late 60s, and the nuns wore full habits in those days.

Cloudscome: Whoever designed the classroom space in those old brick buildings -- with one whole wall of glass -- had the right idea.

Magpie said...

"sister dancing marie" - so sweet.

i love that image. i remember nothing of second grade.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely story - beautifully told as always.

Leslie F. Miller said...

I don't know how you remember these things. I guess we hold what we want, like me and Clifford Green in our own reading group at school because we were the smartest. He had big lips and a side part.

The rest of school is lost.

Your writing is beautiful. I hope you're working every day.

Not Quite Grown Up said...

In a way, this post is unbelievably sad to me, because I know many of the students of now won't have those memories.

Maybe if we worked on fluently reading the lyrics of a song while we danced it would be permissible. But if the principal found out that dancing, for fun was going on, the teacher would get in such trouble. We have the tests to perform on, and if the students don't perform, the teachers get in trouble.

And yet, that's all you remember, and it's a beautiful memory. If the students don't have the memory of a dancing nun to hold on to, what will they remember of first or second grade? They certainly won't remember or care about the test prep, even the test prep disguised as best as possible as fun. What we do is nothing compared to a dancing nun.

jodi said...

Such a lovely memory. My second grade teacher was certifiable. Went around the room with a roll of tape to tape students mouths shut among other things.

liz said...

Jo(e), that is a beautiful memory. Jodi, I'm shuddering.

stephanie said...

I had a dancing teacher in the third grade. Teachers like to dance, I think.

This is a lovely memory.

Lauren said...


What was the music that you danced to? My sons' teachers have them dance, as well. It's that second-grade afternoon itchiness.