Pop the champagne, throw confetti, kiss the dog—the kids are back to school. The lull of summer has ended. No more lolling about. It’s time to get-with-the-program with our clean slate. It’s a new year.
If I had my way, September would be New Year. For me the first day of school was always the time to start fresh.
My new black marbled notebook was the place that held my new year resolutions written with the freshly sharpened pencil in my brand-new pencil case.
“I will be neat this year. I will be organized this year. This year, I will cover all my books with brown paper bags, and I will not procrastinate on homework.”
So many resolutions that I also make in January, just to be double-sure I will re-invent myself. So many resolutions that I continue to make even though I’m long out of school.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being given a new chance. Maybe this year I’ll have the cool teacher. Maybe this year I’ll be one of the cool kids.
When I became a teacher, I realized that starting a new school year was fraught with those same thoughts, though reversed. Maybe this year I’ll have the cool kids. Maybe this year I’ll be one of the cool teachers.
Just like New Year’s Eve always prompts a visit to my mental memory file, so it is with September beginnings.
The march of independence is one year at a time, each marked by a first-day-of-school picture from a skinny, happy child to a touch-of-surly teenager with the rolled up skirt, “Really Mom, must you take a picture of me going to high school?”
And then there’s college. Still the camera, still the new notebook—digital though it is, and still the lump-in-the-throat-say-goodbye-to-home-wait-I-don’t-want-to-leave-yet feeling of fear overlaying the euphoria of realizing it’s time to write the future in that new notebook.
When I got my first teaching job at Public School 30 on Staten Island, the very elementary school I attended, the first day of school was way more heart-pounding than it had been when I was a kindergartner.
I was going to be facing a room full of seven-year-old second graders and I was petrified. How do I get them into the right reading groups? How many spelling words should they be given each week? How do I set up table groupings when the tables are screwed to the floor in the same rows they had been when I was in school?
I got to my classroom early to be sure I was ready. The minutes ticked away as I placed name tags on desks, unrolled a rug for the story corner, set out rulers and counting blocks in the math corner.
Like the countdown in Times Square, I could feel the new year closing in,
One last thing. I balanced on a chair and was frantically taping an alphabet chart above the chalkboard, (yes, chalk!), when I heard the classroom door open.
I glanced from my precarious spot with the alphabet chart dangling and there was my father walking into the room.
“What are you doing here Dad!?”
“I just came to wish you good luck,” he said.
With that, he turned and gently closed the door behind him.
I finished taping the alphabet chart, wiped my tears, took a deep breath, and headed off to pick up my class of children—the ones with their new notebooks and pencil cases.
We greeted each other with relief. It was going to be a good year; we had clean slates and luck on our side.
So pour the champagne and let’s have a toast to new beginnings. May children everywhere, big and little, begin this new year with a clean slate. We are all one year older and wiser.
Time to take out a freshly sharpened pencil and write our resolutions as well as our future. Let the new year begin!