The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 27, 2013

Carol Hoffman:

The Daily Item

The following is part of a series looking at how we raise our children in this country, how we formally educate them in our schools and how we can improve safety for our children at home and at school.

The teacher is a bundle of nerves — mostly joyful feelings — but somewhat anxious, too. Why is she (or the rare he) experiencing those feelings? Well, there’s a special excitement about meeting those 5-year-olds for the first time. You’d have to be a kindergarten teacher to understand.  

On Day 1, kindergartners have no school record of misbehavior, no report cards. Their progress — or lack of progress, their documented behavior and broken rules and broken parents do not yet appear in our school’s office file. We do not yet know about family life — that seven children live in a single parent home, two children are being raised by their grandmother, another six have lived in several states since birth, two often saw one parent beat the other and three drink Diet Coke for breakfast.

And it is no longer uncommon for at least one incoming kindergartner to have a parent serving time in jail.

On Day 1 of kindergarten, I don’t want to know these things.

I believe it might be good for children, long-term, when the kindergarten teacher has no information that could bias her on the critically important Day 1. A first impression of every kindergartner’s first day of formal schooling should be filed away in the teacher’s head — and addressed at the end of the first school day — in private. 

If the teachers knows, in advance, all the sad and sordid details of her students’ first five years of life, she may not be able to give them a fair first impression. 

First impressions matter. Teacher bias matters. Five-year-olds sense it when a teacher looks at them a certain way — as if the teacher knows — and doesn’t like me.  The same goes for fifth graders and 15-year-olds and all ages in between.

Two things need to be clear regarding this topic. First, if an incoming kindergartner has a serious allergy or medical condition, that is information the teacher must have on Day 1. Second, several new kindergartners may have older brothers or sisters in the school. You know what that could mean. It’s human nature for teachers to begin discussing the behavior or problems the siblings have had. Teachers talk with each other and we don’t want them to stop — just to think before giving out too much family history to another teacher. After all, who better understands the love of — and hard challenges with — being a teacher than other teachers? 

So now we have a picture of kindergartners arriving on Day 1 with a blank slate — no baggage. Medical conditions, of course, must be known.

I was fortunate during my kindergarten teacher years to have a principal who would honor my “strange” request. Except for their names on a list, I never knew my kindergartners on Day 1 when they entered the room. But I knew them pretty well when they left the room to get the school bus home.

Alone in my room, I got out the list of kindergartners’ names. Using codes, I made some marks next to each child’s name. I put the list away in my classroom file drawer. On the last day of the school year, I got that list out to see if my first impressions were right. I was never right 100 percent of the time but most of  my assessments were on target. Like most teachers, I followed the progress of those kindergartners until they graduated, quit school or moved away. 

You may be interested in the code I used. Next to each name, I wrote an R for Ready or an NR for Not Ready. I wrote a B if I had Behavior concerns.  I wrote U for Uncomfortable in a group setting. That’s it.

 You’ve heard of KIS, haven’t you?  Keep It Simple whenever you can. At long last, Simple is the new Smart.

By now you have guessed I’m attempting to “grow and develop” children as they move through this place called school — and this place called home. Where do things go right and where do they go wrong?

Next time we’ll look at a day in kindergarten.  You will find new respect for the teacher.

 Carol Hoffman, of Dalmatia, is a wife, mother, grandmother, author, teacher, consultant and retired school administrator. She holds a doctorate from Temple University. Email your thoughts, ideas and questions to