I did it 24 times. My wife did it 56 times. On Monday thousands of kids and teachers throughout Aiken County will do it again.
The “It” is going back to school.
School starts again next week, and with it come all those images of my back-to-school experiences. Some were terrifying – new school, new teachers, new classmates. Some were exhilarating – being a year higher in the pecking order, seeing old friends, getting a new teacher.
Even at my post-Medicare age, I still have occasional dreams about school, and they are always uncomfortable. The most recent was a couple of months back when I found myself somewhere in North Augusta on my way to classes for my senior year in college. (I realize that I did not go to college in North Augusta, but dreams are like that. They put one in familiar places but in improper situations.)
I had an armful of books and was trudging along when I realized that I didn’t know where my classes were held. Not only that, but I couldn’t recall what classes I was taking. To make matters worse, as I walked along, I was told that this was the day of finals. Here I was going to take final exams for classes that I had no idea what the subject matter was and no clue as to where they were held. And my college diploma was at stake.
As I awakened with a start, I was relieved to find myself with diploma on the wall and no class schedule to adhere to. Whew!
My wife, who retired after a 41-year career as a teacher/media specialist, has similar dreams. Even though she knows she does not have to go back to school, those dreams about students, classrooms, meetings and opening bells still drift from her subconscious.
I still recall my very first day of school. As an almost-6-year-old, I remember being excited. My two older brothers had already had a few years of the school experience, and I wanted a taste of it myself. Book bags, lunchrooms, notebooks and homework all sounded exciting.
We lived in Crosland Park at the time, and it was a relatively short walk to the recently constructed North Aiken Elementary School on Rutland Drive. I walked with my brothers, who tried hard to ignore me, on the way to school. As a first grader, I got out of school an hour before they did, so I walked alone or with friends on the way home. In the lone wing that constituted North Aiken at that time, my room was the very first one. My teacher was a beautiful lady, Mrs. Doherty, who welcomed us into this new environment called “school.”
I recall going into the classroom and finding the desk that had a piece of paper and the neatly printed “Jeffrey” on it. One of our first tasks was to write our names as they were spelled out at our desks. I’d never been to kindergarten and had never really written anything before. With one of those huge pencils and a piece of paper with wide rules, I tried. My efforts were not that great. Mrs. Doherty’s smile, however, was kind and reassuring.
Indeed, my attempts at writing – whether printing or cursive – were never outstanding. Through Mrs. Guy in second grade, where we got our first taste of cursive (yes, they really did teach that once upon a time), to Mrs. Hart in third, Mrs. Cato in fourth, Mrs. Courtney in fifth and Mrs. Nance in sixth, I never got better than a B in handwriting. And that was a rarity.
Mrs. Courtney would sometimes look at a paper I turned in and say, “That’s D writing!”
I looked at the efforts of others in my class – especially some of the girls – and I marveled at how beautiful their writing was. Cherry, for instance, had beautiful writing that I would put up against my grandmother’s. And hers was the most fluid, easy-to-read writing I had ever seen. How did they do it?
It was often the handwriting grade that kept me from getting straight A’s on my report card. I cured that problem later, however, by making lower grades in other subjects, so the handwriting mark would not stand out so much.
Fortunately, junior high school came along, and with it no grade in handwriting. It had its own challenges, however. After being on the top rung of the food chain as an elementary school sixth grader, I was at the bottom of the ladder in seventh grade. And some of those ninth graders were huge.
There was angst in changing classes for the first time, getting from one room to another in the allotted time and figuring out how to operate a combination lock.
Two years later, I was a big ninth grader (actually I was still kind of small), but went to the bottom once more when I moved on to high school. Again there were issues in changing classes in a much larger building, having new classmates from the other junior high in town and being a self-conscious kid in a world of seemingly confident quasi-adults.
Then it was to USC Aiken in Banksia, an intimate setting where I found a subject that would later become my career. Then it was on to USC in Columbia where back to school meant a completely different world from any I had experienced before.
Many years later, during my time as a middle school teacher, the return to class meant the excitement of having a new group of students, getting back with familiar colleagues and getting to know new ones. It was an opportunity to start over and do a better job than the previous year.
Back-to-school times always bring those school memories back. I’m sure that many of those who are returning to class on Monday will have a restless night when they lie down on Sunday. There will be nervousness, excitement, anticipation and even fear. All that will give way in a few short days to normalcy and routine that will last for nine months.
So to all the students as well as their teachers, principals, parents and families, I wish you the best of luck for a new year of educational opportunities. It is a chance to learn more about this world of ours and it brings you a step closer to realizing dreams for your future.
Good luck and good studying.
Jeff Wallace is a retired editor of the Aiken Standard.