Back-to-school offers new beginnings

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I think I fell in love with pencil shopping first.

Back-to-school was always my favorite time of year growing up. I loved school. I loved the regime, the Lisa Frank rulers, the to-do lists.

I loved how brisk and cool September mornings were (as an adult, I am now aware that those precious three weeks in September are always followed by a month and a half of 90-degree Santa Anas because San Diego refuses to have normal autumnal weather like the rest of the country).

I think I fell in love with pencil shopping first.

Back-to-school was always my favorite time of year growing up. I loved school. I loved the regime, the Lisa Frank rulers, the to-do lists.

I loved how brisk and cool September mornings were (as an adult, I am now aware that those precious three weeks in September are always followed by a month and a half of 90-degree Santa Anas because San Diego refuses to have normal autumnal weather like the rest of the country).

I loved that, like Christmas, I could count on back-to-school season every year, again and again and again.

As a homeschooler, of course, my first day of school looked different than that of most of my peers.

Firstly, no, I was not allowed to stay in pajamas all day.

My dad was an Army officer and, although military discipline was not necessarily an overwhelming presence in our home, early mornings and proper daytime attire were expected.

“If it’s worth getting up for, it’s worth getting dressed for,” my dad always said.

And, though I did go through phases when I wished I could go to a high school football game or have my own locker, I loved being homeschooled.

My mom taught me how to read.

That was a painstaking process. Many tears were involved.

Sometimes, I marvel at the patience my mom must have had to teach all seven of us to read, but then, what a special gift to have also: knowing your children can read because of you.

From phonics to Latin roots, bedtime stories to classic works of literature, my mom walked me through every stage of my literary development.

Dad taught me how to write.

My dad is a writer. I think I started writing because, like so many children, I knew I wanted to be just like him someday.

Gentle, though he is, my father is not a sugar-coater. He was a blunt editor and let me know, as a tender 8-year-old, that I was using to many adjectives in my sentences. I needed to vary my words, change my sentence structures.

In high school, he would edit my papers. You have never seen so much red ink. I learned from that, too.

And he made me read, which also helped my writing.

Ultimately, with both reading and writing, it was practice that made my product palatable.

So, when I began teaching middle school and high school English classes years later, I emphasized the practice side of things.

What is the point in being able to identify adjectives and prepositions if you cannot employ them effectively?

If back-to-school is exciting as a student, it is even more so as a teacher.

There are classrooms to decorate, lessons to plan, even more to-do lists to check off!

I do love a good checklist.

But the thing I loved most about September as a teacher was the opportunity it represented: a chance to start fresh. Same students, same classes, same old routines, but by some arbitrary rule, this new year was a clean slate.

I relished the chance to be a better teacher and redeem my mistakes from the previous year (because being a teacher is a much harder job than most people will ever understand), but I was also grateful for my students’ sake.

Students, like any of us, need a clean slate as much as they need blank paper to write on.

Like learning to read or write, we can only become better people with practice.

Watching my students grow from timid, petty, malleable freshman to strong, opinionated, principled young adults has been one of the most fascinating miracles to which I have ever played witness.

But it came with practice.

It came with a chance to start over.

It came with a dozen Septembers that promise us that we can always buy ourselves new pencils, pull out blank paper and begin again.

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