When the new school opened that Ann and Nicole attended with me, it was close enough for us to walk. We would trudge down the hill, turn left, and keep going until we hit the shiny gates. Before we set off, my mother would gather us near the front door and have us all pray in a circle. She would often start praying and then require one of us to pray as well. Then, the designated prayer would have to verbally and physically, with gestures, put on the armor of god and the rest of had to follow suit (pun intended). The armor of god consists of the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the spirit, and the shoes of peace. Then, at the very end, we would all have to put our hands in the middle of our circle like a sports team and shout “Gooooo Jesus!” My mother got annoyed when we didn’t perform these tasks with enthusiasm. I did not enjoy this daily ritual and neither did my siblings. It felt unnecessary and corny as hell. We complained and asked could we stop, but my mother said no.
I continued to grow more and more frustrated with being forced to engage in rituals like this for the sake of being a “good Christian” or “connecting with god”. If Christianity was all about a personal relationship with god like I was told, why was I required to follow so many rules, pray when I was told, read the Bible daily, and minister to my peers (which never went well by the way). I had no control over my own faith. I already prayed constantly every day all day by myself. I was capable of being a good Christian on my own. I wanted to be a normal thriving teenager and be a light to the world. I wanted to show my faith through my compassion for people.
I was eight, almost nine entering the fourth grade when the new school opened. My teacher was Ms. Sandy. She was a short woman of color and spoke Spanish. She had this thick reddish hair that she had a habit of pushing over her shoulder, shifting her whole body in the process. I really liked that class. We did a daily morning routine complete with songs about the months of the year, weekdays, numbers etc. We sang the songs in both English and Spanish. I loved it. Ms. Sandy didn’t play, and kept a well behaved classroom. She challenged me and I grew a lot. She was the perfect example of a kind and effective teacher who thought outside of the box.
One of my favorite memories was an after lunch activity. We would return to our classroom after running around for 20 minutes on the playground, sit in our assigned seats, put our heads down, and listen to audio stories on tape in the dark. These tapes were called Sideways Stories from Wayside School, goofy tales of school children that I think was solely narrated by a man. He was dramatic and acted out everyone’s part with flair. Best of all, it was a staple in our daily routine. The end of the day can be challenging for teachers considering everyone’s energy level, but after listening to the stories, I felt calm and in a good mood. We all felt that way; there was a sort of synergy in the room during and after listening to the tapes.
I have a distinctive memory of one parent teacher conference. There was one assignment I didn’t perform well on and it was not acceptable to my mother. She sat on my left side and Ms. Sandy sat to my right. I was feeling down about the assignment and sat with my head tucked to my chest. My mother ordered me to lift my head and look at the teacher while she talked to me, so I did. My mother interjected often, adding to what Ms. Sandy was saying so I would look at my mother. When Ms. Sandy started speaking again I moved my head too slow so my mother grabbed me, squeezing my face with her fingers, and violently turned my head to face my teacher. Since they both kept talking, I struggled to turn my head to immediately make eye contact with the speaker, so my mother continued to grab my head and shove it to face Ms. Sandy. After about the third time she did this, my eyes began to sting with the threat of tears. I was humiliated and embarrassed.
Ms. Sandy taught the entire fourth grade a taiko drumming routine. I had no exposure to this type of performance art and I was excited that our class got to participate. We had to buy our own sticks, but they were very affordable. We used overturned rubber trash bins for the drums, and they sounded amazing. Ms. Sandy taught us how to hold the sticks, how to angle them on the bins, and how to be in sync when playing together. It was a tedious and annoying process for me, because I caught on relatively quickly. Imagine about 100 nine-year-olds performing a complicated rhythm on rows and rows of overturned trash cans in the quad. It was a LOT of start and stop. Once we had all gotten to a place where we were in sync, Ms. Sandy selected about 15-20 of us to be in the advanced group.
When we performed, the entire fourth grade played one singular bear together, followed by two clicks and then the beat would would continue in this pattern. Rhythm, clicks, rhythm, clicks. Then the students kneeled, leaving the advanced group to play alone. The general beat was played a few times. Next, when we performed the clicks, we would spin around and travel to the next drum. The hardest job was spinning around the drum on the end to get to the other side. There was one line of drums and two students to a drum, one on each side. After this show of movement and precision, we switched to shorter beat. The ending was the best. The tempo sped up and the performance ended with a final bang to the drum and an exclamation of “HA!” After that final boom the crown would go wild. I was happy, accomplished, and feeling recognized for my hard work. I was a star. Amongst 19 other ones, but still I was in the special advanced group of stars.
Ms. Sandy also taught us quite a long oratorical piece called Diversity is Beautiful. We recited parts of the the speech in different groups and other parts as a whole. I don’t know how she had the patience to do this. I learned how to be more patient and manage annoyance, as I usually caught on before my peers and knew everyone’s parts, not just my own. It took a lot time and a lot of repetition. The experiences I gained from this teacher were invaluable. I cherish these memories of this time in my life. I was in my element. Drumming and speaking before an audience helped me become a better performer and raised my confidence.