Back in 2013, I wrote a series of essays about my middle-school life 30 years prior, in 1983. Since it’s 10 years later, I figured why not revisit them now?
The original Star Wars trilogy concluded four decades ago this year. So did “M*A*S*H”. Jaws 3-D and A Christmas Story both came out. I wasn’t really into listening to music yet, but that year saw the release of “99 Luftballoons”, “It’s a Mistake”, and “Every Breath You Take,” all of which I eventually owned on cassette, either as part of the entire purchased album or recorded off MTV using a boombox placed in front of the family room television.
I’m pretty sure sixth grade was the year I finally made it all the way through reading The Lord of the Rings. And in November 1983, I became a teenager.
When the year began, I was 12 years old and in my first year – sixth grade – at Lake Middle School. This picture is the closest I can get to January of ’83 – it’s actually from late December 1982, and we’re visiting my aunt and uncle in western New York over Christmas break. I’ve used this one because the next pictures of me in our family photo albums don’t show up until March.
Lack of personal photo documentation aside, 1983 did get off to an interesting start: The Lake Local Schools teachers’ union went on strike on January 3 – our first scheduled day back at school following the Christmas break.
My parents kept me home – whether out of support for the teachers, or due to a lack of available busing (this would be less of an issue as the strike continued), I’m not sure. But I remember thinking it was great having an extended winter vacation.
I’m not sure how long it took – a week, maybe? Week-and-a-half? – for mom to get it into her head that I should be doing school-type stuff instead of playing Atari and watching cartoons – but I know that the day she assigned me to write a book report was the last I stayed home. By that point, several of my friends had gone back to school, where substitutes teachers were filling in.
I don’t remember being nervous about walking past the teachers picketing in the parking lot or anything like that. I remember that it felt weird to be back, since a lot of the kids were still staying home, and since the substitutes were kind of more or less winging their lesson plans, which had little to do with whatever it was we’d been working on in December.
Looking through the Canton Repository archives to find out how long the strike lasted, I found this in the January 26th edition:
I remember that day: And yes, I seem to recall having the Fear of the Permanent Record being put into us as far as the penalties for participating in the walkout. There were adults stationed at the building exits, sitting at student desks which had been moved into the hallways for the occasion. In one of my classes, the teacher took attendance and, reaching a gap in the roll, asked if anyone had seen the absent student. “He excaped!” one of my classmates blurted out with vicarious glee.
I believe a couple of the older kids on our street – high schoolers – did participate in the walkout.
The strike ended on Feb. 15. Pictures in the newspaper archives showed the teachers wearing their “TOGETHER WE
CAN DID!” buttons, which I had forgotten about. The paper noted that 28 teachers had been arrested over the course of the strike. I have a vague memory of the whispered buzz about this side of things.