I was twelve years old and entering Grade VII in a new concept school in Toronto. Kent Senior Public was the precursor of Junior High School, now referred to as Middle School. The Toronto School Division was experimenting with three such schools to see if students could be better prepared for High School at Grade IX.
My first day was a day of dread: new school, eight blocks to walk there and back every day, and the very name Senior Public scared me. Old Dewson Public where I had spent the first six years of my educational career to date was familiar and comfortable. I knew the teachers and the principal well enough to be greeted by most of them in the hallways and even old Mrs. Walker, the terror of Grade IV was in my past and no longer a threat to my peace of mind. I hated to leave those hallowed halls though most of my classmates were going to the same fate. We shared our dread.
Kent Senior, as a building, was an imposing old fortress. Three stories with a high colonnade in the front that was not to be used by students, it looked like a place which held strange new challenges. And from the papers that I had taken home to my parents at the end of the last school year, the subject list itself brought new anxieties. Mathematics, instead of good old arithmetic, English Comprehension and Literature, (what happened to grammar and reading?), Practical sciences ???? and Music, Art and Physical Education. The last three looked more like my specialties. No Shops or Recess! I could see the ‘C’s’ on my report card already!
I trudged down the shiny wide corridor to my Home Room. That in itself was a new concept. As I had heard it, we marched in lines of twos to each subject room. We only started and ended the day in Home Room. I didn’t look forward to meeting my Home Room teacher, Mr. Pickering. It sounded like a name I had read in Mr. Dicken’s book, A Christmas Carol, probably a friend of Scrooge himself!
Amid the hub-bub of twenty twelve year olds greeting after summer vacation and wondering aloud about the school and the Home Room teacher, a strong male voice broke in, “Good morning people.”
After six years in public school in that era the response was immediate, everyone turned to the voice, stood at attention and said, in unison, “Good morning sir.” This was Mr. Pickering and his first order was totally unexpected, “If you can do it without too much mayhem, take a seat, any seat and park yourselves. And don’t leave all the front ones for the girls and scramble for the back ones boys.” What, no seating plan? I grabbed a good one near the tall windows and next to Mark my buddy, Mark, from Dewson.
As this was the first day of school, the whole morning was to be spent in our Home Room to learn rules and procedures and get to know each other as Mr. Pickering put it. What was amazing was the way he did it. He actually made it interesting! Kent Senior was starting to look good after all.