Yearning for the back to school years

back to school
First day of kindergarten

It’s been 10 years since I finished high school (really?), and more than six since I graduated from college. And yet every year when it’s that time – back to school time – I get a little bit of wistfulness and anticipation, as if I were going to be one of the millions of kids getting on the bus for my first day, counting down the final days of summer. The Staples and Target commercials make me wish I was checking off items on my school supplies list or updating my wardrobe. I peruse the summer reading lists on Amazon and on display at Barnes & Noble and lovingly run my fingers over the covers, recalling classics like The Scarlett Letter and Huckleberry Finn  remembering how I blew through the books in days, but procrastinated on the chapter summaries until the final hours before my first English class of the year.

While most kids longed for more days off and dreaded the return to homework and pop quizzes, I looked forward to the new school year. And when my folders and notebooks were all neatly labeled with my name and class subject, my backpack had been packed and reorganized for the third time, and my first day outfit laid out, the real excitement set in. Who would be in my classes? What new boy would I have a crush on in the first week (inevitably)? Which teachers would become my favorites (and yes, I was named Teacher’s Pet on senior superlative day)? How long would it take me to become bored with a class?

Of course, all of those questions come with being a kid, wrapped up in the soap operas we often created for ourselves as imaginative and dramatic youths. Deeper than all that though, I just loved school and loved learning. I wanted to read Shakespeare’s sonnets and learn about the Civil War. I adored studying German under Mr. Friedmann, and even though I struggled most with chemistry and physics, Mr. Wagner pushed me to always “wonder” about them. I looked forward to eating up more books in English and building my writing portfolio. Probably the only classes I could have done without was math…it just wasn’t my thing and never was. In summers, I even made homework for myself to keep the momentum going — my parents helped to “assign” me workbook exercises and research reports from things I learned in magazines. For years, I played school in my room, creating class rosters, fake quizzes, and homework. As my dad says about his own years in school, it was an experience with something he was good at — and that’s how I felt, too, I was just “good” at going to school.

“I had mixed emotions about school each year,” he says. “What was I going to see or learn that’s going to be cool, and is that going to be enough to compensate for the stuff I don’t like?” (He loved history, but couldn’t stand English and grammar.)

In college, I still got excited about having great professors and friends in my classes, but now there were bigger questions at play: which classes would support my major and what activities could I participate in that would help me as I prepared for a job? I looked forward to summer internships at newspapers, and in summers, looked forward to returning to class and working on the school paper.

Sometimes I still think about going back to school, even just to take a few classes here and there, instead of getting another degree. There’s something about sitting in a desk in a classroom setting and writing in a notebook with a pen or pencil (no, not on a laptop) that makes me feel at home. I thrived in school then, and I think I would if I went back now. Not everyone had or has the opportunity to get new clothes or supplies each year, and many kids struggle to even get into good schools or stay in class. I’m grateful that I had those opportunities and that my parents were so involved in my schooling, from going over my homework with me and encouraging good study habits, to challenging me to challenge myself, and to send me to college.

Just for fun, here are a few more fun things I miss about going back to school, and some from others. What about you? Share in the comments!

  • pencils and erasers
    Photo credit: stevendepolo

    Fresh pencils and erasers, notebooks and folders. (Lisa Frank, anyone? Also, I still have extra mechanical pencil lead lying around…)

  • Stealing away on bathroom breaks or lunchtime to chat with a favorite teacher.
  • The crisp new notebooks and long pencils with full erasers. The smell of a fresh box of crayons. A brand new book bag. So many empty pages in my three ring binder just waiting to be filled.    – Addie M
  • I miss school shopping on a weeknight with my mom to get new folders and news backpacks, walking to the elementary school to check the homeroom lists to see which friends I’d have class with, and my mom dragging us all to the front porch for that first day of school photo.  – Will H
  • Every year, I’d spend so much time at Target picking out just the right Trapper Keeper, folders, notebooks, backpack, etc. It was cool to be able to redefine yourself every year like that.  – Annie L
  • As a parent, I miss most taking pictures of the kids on the front porch on the first day back. As a kid, I miss brand new school supplies!  – David H
  • Back to school shopping. The night before, full of nerves, I would select one of the outfits to lay out. This tradition followed me into my adult years as a teacher.  – Brooke S
  • The year I got my very own labelmaker! – Mom

And as a special treat, my friend Julie shares her thoughts on back to school memories:

The first day of school is a magical time. I say this not only because I was that annoying kid who loved school (no joke, I used to cry when I had to stay home sick because I felt I was missing out). But I also say this because as someone who is once again heading back to school in a couple of weeks for a graduate program at the University of Maryland, I realize that the start of school means the start of change, of new possibilities, and new lessons learned both in and out of the classroom.

Probably my first day of school that epitomizes all three of these sentiments would be my senior year of high school. Sure, I thought I was cool in my Gap navy and gray polo shirt (no popped collar, thank you) and coordinating jean skirt, walking into Ms. Marko’s homeroom knowing all the faces sitting in the classroom because they had sat there on the first day of school the previous year and the one before that, and the one before that. But really, I knew that first day would begin a countdown to my last days of normalcy, of living at home, of being “safe.” I knew change was coming in the form of graduation and college, that those changes would bring endless possibilities that are still working their magic today. And I also knew that this was all possible because I wanted to learn more, to see more, and to do more both in and out of the classroom. I wanted to get an education, in a major city, at a major university. And I did. Now I can’t wait to do it all again starting this fall.

3 thoughts on “Yearning for the back to school years

  • Reading your blog brought a big smile to my face. There is something at the start of each school year that also makes me want to be part of the back to school crowd. In a way, it is like New Year’s because summer will soon be behind us and I start making a list of all the things I will be doing in the upcoming seasons and, just like everyone else I am buying new note books and folders. Although mine will be used to keep track of my projects and ideas instead of schedules and assignments.

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