These two school years were years of rapid and sometimes bewildering change for my schoolmates and me. We were all getting taller and developing physically; silly boy-girl divisions, spats, and even “wars” would break out and then disappear just as suddenly, probably in a desperate effort to conceal the fact that we were starting to like one another. Some athletically talented kids would wake up one day to find themselves in clumsy new bodies, and other kids who may have been considered “ciphers” up to that point started to blossom physically, socially, and intellectually. For us “the only constant was change” and each of us privately hoped to avoid suffering extreme embarrassment as we tried to find our footing in this confusing new world.
Mr. Evans, my fifth grade teacher, was my first male teacher. He had the unenviable job of keeping the boy-girl turmoil under control, but his laid-back personality helped to calm the turbulent waters. Being laid back did not mean that Mr. Evans did not exercise discipline, however. The first of the two events from fifth grade that stand out in my memory was the time Mr. Evans made me rewrite a paper I had written in backhand to change it to right-slanted cursive. I’m glad he made me do that and cannot fathom why I started writing that way; it must have been a 5th-grade-girl fad. The other big event was state reports. I got Hawaii, but only after I persuaded another kid to trade it to me in exchange for Oregon.
Sixth grade found most of us a little more comfortable with the opposite sex and a little calmer. Intellectual, artistic, and athletic interests were starting to become more important for most of us. Some of us went to what we called “Special Class,” also known as the “Gifted and Talented Program.” This was what was referred to as a “pull-out” program; we attended once a week while our regular classes were doing something else. The teacher was my regular sixth grade teacher, Miss Miller. Our regular class must have had a substitute or perhaps doubled up with one of the other classes during this hour or two.
There were two “good” teachers and two “bad” teachers in sixth grade at Warm Springs Elementary School. Miss Miller was one of the “good” ones and was able to come up with activities that would keep our restless minds active. The top pick for sixth grade teachers, however, was Mr. Rogers. He had “the gift.” He could inspire any slacker, tame any problem student, and make any subject interesting. Miss Miller’s students got to spend an hour a week with Mr. Rogers for music class while his students went to Miss Miller for art class. If I remember correctly, Mr. Rogers was also a professional musician. We learned to read music in his class and we even got to try our hands at composing music. One day the news flew around school that a rock had been thrown through a window of Mr. Rogers’ house. Because Mr. Rogers and his family were black, we speculated on whether the incident was racially motivated; just two years before, we had been shaken into an awareness of national events by the assassination of President Kennedy. Our world was expanding, whether we wanted it to or not.