Although we are part of other groups before school begins, especially family and social activities like preschool or religious functions, school plays a very large role in how we identify ourselves. It is not wholly based on the people we encounter.
Arguably, the most influential people in our elementary school experience are our friends. The faculty and staff come in a close second. We cannot skip the fact we have to take some credit. Let’s look at some of the positive influences.
The Bus Driver
If you rode the bus, you can tell stories about the person who drove you to school every morning and brought you home at night. You can probably name (or describe to a “T”) at least one person who ferried you to school. The lessons you learned on the bus included driver courtesy (we hope), how to sit beside someone you really do not know and how to keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle.
Safety was the most important lesson, at least to the bus driver charged with delivering you in one piece. It was not a solitary lesson. You also learned to trust a stranger. The bus driver was telling you of the horrible consequences of standing in the aisles while the bus was in motion, and you believed without having to see proof.
You did want some proof from the little girl who sat beside you. Remember the one with the pigtails? Or did you sit beside the boy with all the action figures stuffed in his backpack? Either one shared life at someone’s house. You learned storytelling. Now, you had someone to tell about the activities in your life, who was not there to see them happen.
While your bus friend is important, more likely you had a friend in the classroom. This friendship probably lasted longer than most of the others in grade school because it was the first. You had not learned any lessons yet. Somehow, the kindergarten teacher managed to teach classroom quiet while allowing you the opportunity to speak freely with someone on your level.
The similarity between you made you comfortable. The differences between you made Quaint interesting.
- Height and weight
- Speech proficiency
- Academic proficiency
You were savoring the first bites of peer pressure. It was not the insidious competition and envy type, but the compare and contrast we exercise everyday when we met someone new. If you do not remember some of the questions you asked kindergarten Quaint, let me refresh your memory:
- How come your hair stands up funny?
- Will this fall off? (Generally refers to scab or mole.)
- Why is your (insert body part) bigger/littler than mine?
In the infant trust, what Quaint told you was golden. Undoubtedly, your parents had to un-teach you some of the lessons Quaint taught you. Each one of those lessons taught you something about yourself.
If someone asked you who was your favorite teacher, you would not hesitate to name one. Why? What did that teacher teach you? No, not which subject. What did you learn?
Teachers touch us profoundly. They are our first pseudo-parents. They are the ambassadors of an unexplored world. They are repositories of answers to questions we never dreamed to ask our parents. They are willing to help us with no strings attached, except homework.
Teachers mold our sense of fair play, consistency and discovery. We use these throughout our lives to evolve our identities.
We learn how we would like to be treated. We learn to expect some things as a given, like what time lunch is. Teachers hold a world waiting to be discovered in books, maps, crafts and stories.
Parents are great at teaching through the if-then principle.
- If you touch the stove, then you will burn your hand.
- If you pull your sisters hair, then you will spend five minutes in time out.
- If you wreck your bicycle, then you will skin your knee.
Friends and teachers fulfill the what, when and why quests in a very straightforward method. With what seems, in retrospect, an inordinate amount of patience, they withstand the barrages of unending questions.
You provide the compare and contrast method. You see others, compare them to yourself, identify with the similarities, contrast the differences and then, decide for yourself.
- I want to grow up and be just like Teacher.
- I want to be more like Quaint because Quaint has the coolest (shoes, hair, ability).
- I do not want to be anything like Bully.
- I want to get closer to that (girl/boy).
You are an observer. You adapt it all into your identity.
Unlike at home, where you do not have the choice to disengage from household members entirely, at school you can choose to not associate with others. The scope of choices and frequency with which you choose becomes a cornerstone to your identity. Inevitably, you choose to disengage from those with whom you have no similarity or dislike the differences.
You also have the opportunity to try on different personas. You are already an accomplished pirate or fashion model, as witnessed by all of the other children at Mommy’s Day Out, but in school you get to try on the identity traits of your classmates without committing to a 30-year mortgage of your soul.
More importantly, you took off the personas which were not who you wanted to be. You found out you did not like the if-then of being a bully or a liar. You discovered the isolation of withholding when other children wanted to discover you. Your journey of being the person you wanted to be, instead of the one you were expected to be at home, began.
The next millipede leg will explore the negative influences. Please save your negative experiences for that section. If you have missed any of the Identity series, you can backtrack to other legs.
Who was your favorite teacher and why? What did you learn about yourself from your first best friend? Did you instantly discover a kindergarten Mate? What part of your identity has never changed since kindergarten?
(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2012
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