How Fifth Grade Shaped My Future
Uncategorized Posted May 29, 2015 by Jennifer Torode
When I was a little girl, I was quite shy. Perhaps being the youngest of three daughters, I learned to fall into line and just go with the flow. One sister got instant queen bee status as she was the oldest and my other sister had no problem speaking her mind and directed me regularly—she was innately quite bossy but mostly in a good way!
By fifth grade, the shyness slowly faded. I got more socially courageous, forcing myself to be more vocal with my peers at school and the rest of the world beyond my life at home. My confidence blossomed around this time thanks to playing sports and making new friends. I had a group of really great friends—we were inseparable. I felt safe inside this tightknit circle of friends. In fact, I had grown so much more social that year that my teacher gave me a less than stellar grade in conduct due to my inability to refrain from talking during quiet time. He compassionately said that I was a great student and kid but I talked to much. After getting a stern talk from my parents, I learned to control the impulse to chat. It was also in the fifth grade that I really discovered my silly sense of humor and my ability to make people laugh.
I was always the tallest girl and likely the tallest girl in the entire fifth grade. However, I didn’t really mind except perhaps when it came to boys as I was a head over them. In fifth grade, I started “borrowing” my older sisters’ clothes and this boosted my confidence as their clothes were far more stylish than the typical 12 year old’s wardrobe. That is when I started to get bullied by a group of sixth graders. They were the rough and tough kids at the Heath Brook School—we called them “burnouts” as they earned the reputation for being troublemakers. Most lacked parental oversight, smoked at the bus stop and would pick on anyone younger, smaller or different.
I remember one day, I walked past their table at lunch and they hurled words like, “you’re too tall,” or “you’re ugly!” I’m sure the words were far more colorful but the point is, they were mean. Those words absolutely hurt my feelings but I’d stand even taller and walked right by them as if they did not exist. I recall one time at recess, they circled me and my friends and would carry on with their less than kind words and one physically prodded me. Thankfully, my teacher (the one who gave me that Chatty Cathy letter grade, “C”) saw what was going on and came to my rescue. He told them to beat it. I got up and asked him if I could go into the class room for a minute and under the protective shield of my compassionate teacher and my dedicated pals, I had a good cry.
Once in a while, I would tell my family at dinner about the bullies but in a nonchalant way—never dramatic. My house was always my safe haven and I’d actually forget about being bullied. I’m so thankful that there were no mobile phones and social media back then as I’m sure it would have been worse.
One day during recess, my friends and were sitting in the grass talking and in the distance, I saw my older sister and her friend walking into the school yard. It was almost like in the movies when you saw cowboys walking in the distance with a trail of rising dust behind them. She had a half day and flew under the radar of the teachers on recess duty. As she got closer, she gave me a wink and a nod and walked on over to those bullies and had a few words with them. I never asked my sister to step in and was shocked and enormously thankful that she appeared unannounced that day. I remember feeling so incredible proud and so utterly loved and protected by my big sister. From that day onward, when I walked into the lunch room, there was never a peep from that once very vocal table and I walked the halls in peace.
I believe that being bullied for a few months in fifth grade made me a stronger child and a better person as an adult—more courageous and forever a supporter of the underdog. Throughout middle school and high school, I formed friends in all circles and couldn’t care less what anyone thought. I carried on each year, experiencing the ups and downs of childhood like any other kid. Learning to step outside my comfort zone had become easier and easier with each passing year. Today, I joke with my parents, noting that I was blessed with the “gift of gab,” which has helped me make positive connections with just about anyone that I encounter. This I tell them…has helped me tremendously both personally and professionally.
PS. Thank You 5th Grade!