August 24th, 2019

Happy New Year!


For most adults, unless you happen to be of a similar profession to mine, the new year begins, each and every year, on the first day of January. Not so, in some ways, for the millions of children in our country, and for their teachers. For them, the new school year, whatever day it starts for them, is a much bigger event than some snowy day on the calendar, shortly after Christmas.

The start of the new school year, for kids, can be an exciting, and/or exasperating time. For some it is the beginning of a season of true dread, as summer vacation draws to a close, and the prospect, in their minds, of nearly countless days of classes, tests, and homework assignments looms ahead. For other kids, and even for some of the doubters of the benefits of going back to school, there is a feeling of excitement in the air right now. For them it is a chance to see friends (and foes) that they haven’t seen for three months. It is an adventure filled with things like new backpacks, lunch boxes, notebooks, pens, and some nicely-sharpened, brand new, bright yellow, ‘number 2’ pencils.

As a young child I always loved those new pencils. I actually remember wondering, since everyone had to use those number 2s, or, I thought, go to prison, why they were not called ‘number 1’ pencils. Those pencils, somehow, were actually an important part of this yearly new beginning, for me. I don’t know why, but they made me feel like my grades would be better, and my mind sharper, by having those sharp new pencils to use in the fresh new year. (Don’t blame me. I was just a kid.) It didn’t always (or ever) work out that way for me, but those bright yellow, pointed pencils were good to have on that frightening first day, in a new classroom, with a brand new, scary-looking teacher. In my day we even had something called a pencil box. I’m not sure if kids still use those, but one that I had was pretty cool. It had a roll-top desk type plastic cover that slid inside of the box to reveal those pencils, some pens, and another of my favorites, a big, pink, rubber eraser. Remember those?

If I had a time machine, and was able to go back and redo all of those school years of my past, there is one lesson I have learned that I would try to remember, and follow. It is something I should have stuck to at that time, and something I have always encouraged my own kids to do. (I used the word ‘encourage’ in that last sentence, because to say that I have tried to beat it into my kids heads all these years would sound a bit harsh.) Truthfully, the latter is what I have tried to do, and, as a teacher, the lesson is something I still try, hopefully more tactfully, to relate to my students. That lesson that I wish I had learned, and am still encouraging my youngest children to follow, is this:

(Here is where it gets a little serious.) Kids, and students of all ages, you NEED to study, do your best, and take advantage of the ‘advantages’ you have, in being in school in our great country. I know that statement sounds like something one of your grandparents would say, but the reason they would say it is because they love you, and, because, by the way, the statement happens to be true. You have heard for years that this is the land of opportunity, and that you can be anything you want to be here. I don’t think that all of you can be president, as we don’t need that many presidents, but you certainly have more opportunities for success here than you would have if you lived any place else on earth. The truth is, your parents and grandparents aren’t lying to you, or trying to torture you, as they hassle you about grades, and homework, and studying for that next big test. Your future, in many big respects, really does depend on your grades, and what you do about them, right now. Going to a late, week-night movie with your friends, or staying up all night texting before a test will not seem like it was such a hot idea a few years from now when you are refused acceptance at that special college you’re going to apply to. That college’s admissions office won’t care that you were too ‘busy’ to study. They really won’t.

So, (here is where it gets VERY serious) this is what I have always told my own kids: Don’t, and I repeat, DON’T let your grades decide that future for you! Don’t let them limit your options for further education. Your high school accomplishments, recorded in those grades, will be either the key, or the lock, to what you do the rest of your life. Master them now, and you will be the master of that future. As the school year begins, it is the perfect time to make a fresh new start, with a great determination to succeed. As harsh as this may sound, you need to get your butt back to school, and get to work. (And don’t forget those number 2 pencils.)

Happy New Year!


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