All I ever really needed to know I learned in first grade.
I get it—you don’t even really master subtraction until second grade. And aren’t confident about what an adverb is till like sixth. And you don’t learn that Christopher Columbus was maybe-not-so-great until later in high school, and hell, I’m still not really sure if I know the first thing about how mortgage works (I had to look up how to even spell mortgage). So, alright, maybe I haven’t yet learned everything I ever needed to know.
One of my most important life lessons to date came to me in Mrs. Vani’s class at Laura B. Sprague Elementary. I knew I liked Mrs. Vani from the start—before the school year had even begun, she invited the whole class and our families over to her house for an ice-cream party. But of course the ice cream wasn’t what mattered. What mattered was walking into class one day and seeing a bowl full of handmade buttons, all sporting the same five letters: IALAC.
I remember specifically glancing at the first button and assuming that each one had a different classmate’s name on it, and then turning to the boy next to me, Alec, and pointing out that his was misspelled.
The school day started and I forgot about the bowl, instead focused on things like vowel sounds and when snack time was going to be. Eventually, though, Mrs. Vani picked up the Mystery Bowl with all of its colorful little buttons. Moments later, I learned what an acronym was, and what this particular acronym stood for.
I Am Lovable And Capable.
We were each allowed to pick out a pin of our very own, and placed them on our jackets or our backpacks or wherever else and everywhere else we could think of. Our teacher reminded us of the saying enthusiastically and often, and clearly, it became something at least some of us would remember the most from being seven years old.
I don’t remember what my pin looked like. Or where I put it, or even if I thought anything of it at the time or for years afterward. But I do know that the acronym has for whatever reason somehow stuck with me for the past twelve years, even after I’ve forgotten what other Sprague classics like DARE and RESPECT stand for.
I think people tend to assume that teaching elementary school is easier than teaching any other age, because it’s all about basic concepts and things that to us grown-ups feel like common knowledge. But talking to a friend this afternoon about how I was writing this article, we both came to the agreement that really, teaching kids when they’re still really young is such an overlooked but massively influential part of who they grow up to be.
I don’t know if I know anyone struggles with feeling unloved or like they can’t do whatever they put their minds to when they’re in first grade, but every person I’ve ever met has struggled with it at some point. But who ever said that people only needed to be encouraged after they felt discouraged? I definitely never would have been able to realize it then, but making it a point to tell myself that I’m lovable and capable has become something that I sometimes need to completely ground myself to. And of course, I would have probably heard the message at some point somewhere else sometime from someone else, but I think there’s something more powerful in hearing it before you even know that you need it as opposed to when you’re already feeling low. It’s the kind of thing that plays a huge hand from keeping you from feeling helpless like that in the first place.
image Credit: imanda.com, The Daily Herald, Pearson Education