School Days

Summer vacation has vanished like morning dew in the August sun. Family trips to the beach, lake, and mountains linger only as distant memories. Atlanta Public Schools began this week, and other area schools will follow soon.

During my childhood, students enjoyed a three-month summer vacation before returning to class around Labor Day. Teachers gathered one week beforehand for a mysterious rite known as “pre-planning.” During Open House, we perused the student rosters posted outside the classrooms. Teachers distributed lists of required school supplies.

My father worked for Sears-Roebuck, and his employee discount guaranteed our customer loyalty. We rode in the family station wagon to the local mall for back-to-school shopping. Sears strategically placed snack bars in the center of the stores. I still associate the start of school with the aromatic mélange of Spanish nuts, popcorn, and fruit slices.

My mother and sister spent inordinate amounts of time looking at new clothes. Three pairs of blue jeans and a few shirts met my basic fashion needs. The Sears’ “Toughskins” pants featured double-layered knees for active boys. The stiff denim emitted a chemical smell, chaffing in unmentionable places until softened by repeated washings.

I insisted on wearing Keds’ tennis shoes: “The Shoes of Champions.” Ads promised that the sneakers enabled wearers to “run faster and jump higher!” I could race the wind and win while leaping broad canyons with ease.

The school section featured aisles of supplies. We selected three-ring binders that snapped shut with the force of rat traps. Many an unwary child bore the scars of such encounters. 

Cool kids used Ticonderoga #2 pencils. No doubt Moses employed the same instrument while inscribing the Ten Commandments. We used the pencils until they were one-inch nubs that disappeared into a rotating pencil sharpener.  

Discriminating students purchased Blue Horse notebook paper, saving the Blue Horse labels to exchange for neat rewards. I do not recall ever redeeming a prize with the coveted labels, but they formed the stuff of school-day dreams.

We bought plastic rulers marked off in fractions of an inch. A zippered pencil container snapped into a notebook. We filled it with pink erasers the size of Matchbox cars. I once got a miniature stapler with a box of micro-staples and immediately mutilated a fingertip with the device.

The most important items never appeared on a supply list. My best teachers supplied me with a love of learning, thirst for knowledge, and belief in self. These dedicated educators invested their hearts and souls into their students; and the return on their investment proved invaluable.

Christa McAuliffe, the elementary school teacher who perished on the space shuttle Challenger, said, “I touch the future—I teach.” I give thanks for men and women who are teaching a new generation of students in our classrooms. May God supply their every need.

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