going back to school

Since I like to think that a great many of my readers are students in elementary and high schools around the world, it seems only appropriate for me to dedicate this blog post to ‘going back to school’… an international phenomenon, usually timed for September 1st. And it seems fitting to start out with a prayer. ‘Cause you know, whether it’s allowed by the courts or not… the school year usually starts out with a prayer. It’s called ‘the prayer of pupils’. And even if it’s not mumbled into the mustache, as we say… even if it only goes from the heart to the mind, and from there to god almighty.. what’s said is this: “please don’t let me die of boredom.” No matter if the proverbial notebooks have been replaced by laptops or tablets. Nor is there salvation in the classroom just because half the students have gotten their daily dose of Ritalin. You sit in a class with 30 other human beings who have been randomly assembled on the basis of the date of their birth, and try to absorb the wealth of information offered by the teacher at the head of the class… a person who has had only minimal exposure to the entertainment industry.

fish may swim in a school… but these fellows don’t

The clever kids catch it the first time around. But then… they have to listen to the good news explained over and over again, in a variety of ways, till the second from last dumbbell understands. Now that can be boring, no matter how hard you’re trying to keep a positive attitude. And those at the back end of the bell curve have given up long before the classy illustrations come into play. Listening to a teacher talk can be like your first taste of meditation. It can work like hypnosis. Your mind wanders freely. You watch the light refracting on the very edge of the nose of the girl in the row in front of you, a little to the left… as the words continue to flow meaninglessly, on and on. It’s soothing. If you’re not careful, you can fall asleep. Then teacher asks a question and someone drops whatever gadget it was they were playing with… and the sudden noise is a distraction. You look around to see if folks are smiling or sleeping. A few have their hands raised. Bob asks if it’s okay to go to the bathroom. There’s a lone fly moving slowly through space overhead. It makes you wonder if nano technology has developed a tiny camera which is strapped to the chest of that fly… and recording right now… you scratching your elbow… or something else. Time is relative, you think. Who said that? Einstein or Muhammad Ali? The class lasts less than an hour, but it can seem like three hours if you take it seriously. Muhammad Ali is 191 centimeters tall.

portrait of a graffiti artist; extra curricular activities

Students in Israel have it easy. The first of September usually arrives just before the High Holidays. You meet your teachers and your fellow students and get reminded of all the rules, find out where you’re going to sit… and then it’s vacation for the Jewish New Year. You come back and listen to a few introductions to subjects you’re going to be learning, and then it’s time to take off for the Day of Atonement. If you happen to belong to a religious family, you know that atonement is mainly for adults. Children get to do whatever comes into their heads while the adults are busy all day in the synagogue. You can just play around. Or if you like to read, that’s fine. It’s a great holiday for reading. And you get to eat while the adults are fasting. If you come from a secular family, it’s even better. For seculars, the day of atonement is national bicycle day. Everyone gets on a bike and rides around on the freeways. Because no one drives a car on that day. And there are no buses or trains either. Just an occasional ambulance, coming for someone who’s fallen off his bike. And then you can always throw rocks at the ambulance for disturbing the peace. You’re not supposed to, of course… but since most of the police are atoning too, it’s not very likely you’ll get caught.

a weed in a meadow; worth looking at

A few days after the day of atonement, comes Succoth, the holiday of booths. We move out of our homes and into temporary shacks with fancy adornments on the inside, to remember just how frail and temporary life itself is. That lasts a week. For those who don’t like temporary shacks right outside their homes, there’re always tents and camping in nature, so long as a little rain doesn’t bother you. The whole business called ‘the holidays’ lasts about a month. And just a few days of school, all that time. You get a whiff of it, that comes and goes. And you break into it easy. Of course, once the holidays are over, that’s really it. No getting around it. School every day. No teachers’ strike till towards the end of the school year. But you keep hoping for something that’ll break the routine. And you know, that can happen too. We’ve got to think positively…

a man eating his lunch in a temporary booth in honor of the feast of Succoth


80 responses to “going back to school

  1. Fascinating Shimonz. Lots of stuff I didn’td know.
    Love the way school starts.

  2. Again a lovely read with a lot of tongue in cheek humor. Thank you very much!

  3. A post that made me smile Shimon. I love your photograph of the weed, definitely worth looking at! שַׁבָּת שָׁלוֹם
    It’s a bank holiday weekend here so extra traffic and congestion on the roads of Cornwall; a good time to stay at home but I have a friend visiting so it’ll be a weekend of photography. I’m looking forward to it very much!

    • I got two comments at least, mentioning the bank holiday. But of course, I have no idea which it is… Very nice to hear that you had a friend visit, and that the two of you dedicated the holiday to photography. That sounds like a fine holiday indeed. Thanks so much, Chillbrook, and a very good week to you.

  4. What a great post! Very evocative. Your words took me straight back to my first days in school in London and I remember feeling bored exactly as you described! The feelings of boredom, the looking out of the window, the impatience with my classmates who took so long to understand…

    But I have to share with you a funny story from 1st grade. We were learning our “times tables” (multiplication) and in order to memorize them we chanted them. So one rainy morning we’re singing “one times two is two-oo; two times two is fo-our”, etc. Suddenly the teacher said “Shh! stop!”, and we all stopped – all except one boy who continued singing “la la la la la-aaa”. The teacher asked him “what are you doing?”.

    The boy answered “I don’t know the words so I was just singing the song”. 😀

    The class erupted in laughter and even the teacher burst into laughter. The boy was very sweet and good-natured (he still!) but not the brightest. Life was always funny when he was around.

    • Ann, I thank you so much for adding that wonderful story to the post. I love it. And really, when all is said and done, I think we should lighten up a bit about what people (especially young people) have to know. Eventually, the vast majority of the population does know what they want to know. And if some want to take it a bit slower, I’m all for them. Your comment was really a treasure.

    • I’m always surprised that so many people choose intelligence above happiness. Personally, I suspect (perhaps in the tradition of Lao Tze) that the world would be better if more people were happier. Happiness, as illustrated by your young friend, is not the sibling of intelligence. I do note, however, that our host, Mr Z, does possess the humor that is prerequisite for survival with intelligence of his stature.

  5. Our school year starts around the beginning of Feb, has four terms and finishes for the summer holidays in about mid December.

    Your post brings back my memories in the 1950’s. Have a great weekend Shimon.

    • I really appreciate your telling me about the school year in your part of the world, Peter. It makes a lot of sense. But I did have the idea that the whole world was tied together when it came to the school year. I think the vacation pattern came into being originally, so that children could help their parents on the farm during the summer. But there have been a lot of changes since then.

  6. You described the Israeli school calendar with great humour but really, it is one thing I don’t understand about the Israeli school system: why do all the school holidays run according to the Jewish calendar – except for the start and end of the school year. So in a year like this year when the Jewish holidays are early, you get a stop-start session in September, but next year, a leap year, there will be a whole month of school until the Rosh Hashana.

    Why don’t they just finish school on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz and start again on Rosh Chodesh Elul? Or along similar lines?

    • You know Ann, the answer to that could well fall into the category of ‘telling stories out of school’. But if you remember, one of the key aims of Zionism was to get the Jewish people behaving like all the rest of humanity (see Bialik on prostitutes and policemen). And the tug of war continues to this day, with the school board trying to force yeshiva bocherim the ‘essentials’. If school started with chodesh elul, the students would be liable to study tchuvah when they came to class. Here in Jerusalem we do have a lot of schools that run according to your suggestion. But it doesn’t seem like it’ll be accepted on a national level.

  7. This piece is written with such verve and humour, Shimon. You caught the horse and galloped 🙂

  8. Wonderful, Shimon! We both enjoyed this very much, as we both trudge off to work and prepare for another year of teaching…To be fair, talented teachers don’t endlessly lecture, do try to get hands-on activities initiated and do create as many portals into learning as possible. But yes, we’re also burdened and challenged by conforming our gifts and goals to a system that’s outdated and endlessly redesigned by politicians with no education in educating.

    Blessings on all students and their teachers, and thank you so much for this very witty post! 🙂

    • My dear Kitty, it’s true… I wasn’t even trying to be fair. And I do know there are a lot of good teachers out there. In my defense, I can only tell you that I taught for many years on the college level, and quite a few of my students told me that I inspired them to teach elementary and high school. I don’t know if I would have had the patience for it, but I admire their idealism, and do have love for teachers as well as students. Thanks for your comment.

  9. One of your best posts ever. Sounds like you’ve been in school longer than most. Haha. I just had our first child so now I’m thinking a lot about how to rear her and generally how to educate her. It could easily become overwhelming but I know it will only come one day at a time and then… Be gone before I know it. Right now everything is dramatic either peaceful or crying and not much in between. I long to be bored and perhaps have a class room to fall asleep in… Because I’m sleep deprived but let’s face it… I probably get the same amount of sleep as I used to when I was staying up late watching whatever late night show passes as comedy now days.

    • You have no idea how happy it makes me, Rusty, to think of you as a mother, and raising your children. It’s quite a job. And I remember, when I had little children, it seemed at times, like it would never end. But it doesn’t surprise me that you have a very good sense of perspective. And the truth is, that we’re always going through stages… and one stage is replaced by the next. My best wishes to both you and your man, that you’ll have the great pleasure of watching your children mature and be a blessing to all who know them.

  10. Your post took me right back to those days in elementary school where I found my mind wandering all over the place, Shimon. I loved your description of the light refracting off the girl’s nose – a true photographer’s observation and one which I often caught myself doing. Perhaps we were both destined to pursue that particular art form from an early age?

    • Actually, when I was a child, my circumstances were very unusual. And it seemed to me then that I would never know a normal life. But thankfully, things got much better, and I had the joy of seeing children and grandchildren going through all the normal stages of schooling and growing up… and enjoyed their accomplishments vicariously. I can imagine that there are some young students who find a life’s calling in the classroom, and that sounds great to me. Thanks for your comment, Cathy.

  11. A wonderfully evocative post thank you Shimon – cultural differences aplenty what with your holidays but still so much in common. A great read, with great shots!

  12. Funny post, Shimon! Great start to my day! 🙂

  13. Kudos, Kitty. You ‘nailed’ it! Shimon, so did you, in the gloriously informative and humorous way that only you can provide….with wonderful photos to boot.

    • Thank you very much for your comment, Myra… and I do hope you’ll check out my answer to Kitty. I do have great admiration for the patience and wisdom of teachers. And though I always side with the students… I do have a few years of teaching, myself.

  14. An amusing look at an every year occurrence. Amazing how most of us, the world over, are able to relate.

    • There is so much to say about learning and schooling, that every attempt is no more than a hint regarding the subject. In my country, a lot of people get quite sentimental. So I thought I’d approach it with humor. Thanks so much for your comment, Judy.

  15. WOW. I found this post to be really bizarre. Things I rarely consider. Didn’t know about all the holidays falling in such a manner as you describe, as it isn’t this way in a gentile society. My history is a little unusual, as I was born on Jan 31, which meant that at age 5 I was able to go to school. It was literally right across the street from my home, Barely 200 ft. It was a one room school house with 3 grades. First two rows first grade, next two rows second grade and third two was 3rd grade. I learned the first three grades in the first year of school. Hence, I’ve been the youngest in any class/school ever since. Only when you mentioned it did I consider boredom. The worst was a college professor of sociology, who Literally read directly from his book for a full hour every class. I have almost always enjoyed learning, tho because I went into medicine, I read mostly medical things and surgical procedures etc. I have read less than a dozen books of “other than medicine” nature. I’m sure that has negatively affected me, but it doesn’t seem to matter as much as I thought it might. I wonder how does one know when he has reached a certain grade level so that he/she is acceptable to proceed to the next level. Here they use testing but I wonder if that is sufficient.
    Good post Shimon.
    Be well.

    • Thank you for sharing with us, Bob, your start out in school. You had good luck that the circumstances allowed you to progress at a faster rhythm than that prescribed by the school board. The problem of boredom is definitely connected to the fact that students are either committed to hearing something they’ve already heard… sometimes a number of times… or something they don’t understand. A normal healthy person does not suffer much from boredom, because he can usually find something to interest him or her. It is when we’re imprisoned, or forced to pay attention to something that doesn’t interest us, that boredom appears. I remember a teacher that I loved very much, but sitting in his lectures, I was exposed to material I had already learned well, and at times, I was bored. But because I loved him so, I didn’t pull out another text so as not to waste my time.

  16. For us here, another two days to go… and well, yes, my husband and I we are excited as well!
    Have a lovely post Shimon… take care” 🙂 claudine

    • Thanks Claudine. Having been a teacher myself for many years, I know that we learn as we teach, and that it really is an exciting experience. My best wishes to the both of you.

  17. And what would your drone-fly record, looking down at all of those students humdrumming, doodling, and drooling? Your modern image of the fly, along with your humorous decision to include a picture of rhinos at a drinking hole, made this post fresh and alive (unlike the teacher’s drone and the students’ ennui.

    • Very glad you enjoyed the post, Cheri. Of course, it was all in fun. At this stage of my life, I can let my mind wander… and hope that my friends will enjoy it.

  18. I think we Christians could find it possible to adapt this principle, as long as we could find enough Feasts. Perhaps we could borrow some of yours! The only trouble for me is that at the age of 70, it would make very little difference to my way of life!

    • From the relatively few meetings I have had with Christians, Harry, I get the impression that the religion is rather flexible and able to adapt to many different environments. Moreover, I discovered that there’s a saint to be lauded almost every day. Now, if you were just to celebrate a few of those saints with more enthusiasm, you might have a school schedule with as many holes in it as ours… and produce still more smiling faces among the young. Good to hear from you.

  19. Enjoyed reading, Mr. Shimon. Enjoyed your sense of humor. I wonder how element teachers are teaching, when little kids love to use iPad and other tablets to learn on their own.

  20. This post made me smile a lot and when I read the big about National Bicycle Day – I laughed out loud,

    I remember one of my teachers from many years ago, saying that if she could teach us ‘how to learn and study’ she would feel that her job was well done. As the years have gone by, I agree with her. All my real learning has come from life’s journey, but without that vital foundation of knowing how to learn….I wonder how different things might have been for me.

    Enjoy these last days of summer….here it is the big bank holiday weekend, when people in their millions get in cars, etc. and go away for a final summer break…..before getting down to the business of life again. I am so glad I am not one of them:) Janet. xx

    • Yes, my dear Janet. There’s no question about it… that’s the best way. I also attended a school in which they told us, we’re not here to teach you information, but to teach you how to learn. And it was the best experience of my life. Aside from that, as you know… if there’s one thing I like more than bringing a smile to your face, it’s giving you reason to laugh. So I can now say that this post was successful! I heard about this bank holiday, but have no idea what it’s about. In any case, I join you in celebrating the freedom to work as we please. How wonderful. Wishing you a very good week, with lots of fun, xxx

  21. Most enlightening! We are all so different, yet we are expected to learn in the same way! So wrong!

    • I agree with you completely, Fatima. If we just look around us, we see that people do a great variety of work, and have a great variety of interests. If school was limited to a couple of hours a week, it would be okay to teach kids the very basics, like cleaning the mud off their boots before they come into the house, and how to use a credit card. But teaching them for hours each day has got to be punishment for some. Thanks for your comment.

  22. Ha ha ha ha – I hugely enjoyed your sense of humour! Thank you for putting a smile on my face!

  23. Hi Shimon ….this post is filled with delight and knowledge of which I very much enjoyed reading …blessings and love from your friend across the sea …megxxx

    • Thanks so much, Meg, for your very sweet comment. It is fun to share with my friends. And thanks for your blessings. How wonderful that modern technology has allowed us to get to know one another despite the great distances.

  24. I found myself surprised to be getting quite nostalgic as I’ve been watching my facebook feed fill up with “first day of school” photos of everyone’s children, all shiny and sparkling clean and neat and tidy, carrying big smiles and bigger backpacks, (all undoubtedly filled up with brand new school supplies). It had me careening across so many memories; my own children in their crisp and colorful new school year clothes, with haircuts and happy smiles; my own long-forgotten wisps of memory of how excited I would get when it was time for new crayons and notebooks, and protractors, and that ever-so-slightly-dangerous metal compass, with its pointy end, (quite frightening in the hands of rowdy boys). These days it’s safety scissors and boxes of Kleenex tissue, but the thrill is still there. New. Fresh. Anticipation. A new school year begins.

    P.S. Of course, I always enjoy your photos. I love seeing what captures your eye, or what you choose to share with the world. This week, my absolute favorite is the “weed worth looking at”. Strong, and Delicate. Fragile, yet Sturdy. Asymmetry, and Balance. Proud, but Humble. Definitely worth looking at.

    • You know, Nancy… this post was mostly in fun. But it’s good that you recall some of the realities of school, and the tools that are learned there. It gives me an opportunity to mention one of the major advantages. Sending children to function together on the school grounds, and to get to know other people and how to deal with them is very important. Especially these days, when many families include only one child. It can be painful too, but it is an education in how to get along with other human beings. And we can only hope that the teachers insure that there isn’t too much cruelty there. Thank you very much for your comment, and for your kind words regarding my photos.

  25. When I saw your header I didn’t associate it with the first day at school. I thought you were talking about going back. I went back in my late forties and did a writing course. It’ was more exhilarating than boring returning as an adult.
    I enjoyed your post, Shimon. It took me back in a way that my generally faulty memory could not. And I loved the lyrical tone of your writing that you generally express through your marvellous photos.

    • I served as a lecturer and professor on the college level for about thirty years. And after you’ve finished with that, there’s no real going back. But I’ve seen myself as a student for life… and that still keeps going on. Thank you very much for your comment, Mary. Glad you enjoyed the post, and always a real pleasure to hear from you.

  26. This was very funny, Shimon, and certainly took me back to those awful days! Now, we have PowerPoint, where someone can put you to sleep while they read every word on every single slide that is portrayed right before your eyes. Zzz-zzz….

    • You know, Loisa, we cats are blessed with a body quality that gives us a great advantage, compared to human beings. We have a double set of eyelids on both eyes, all the better to disconnect (if we’re in a safe environment). Those poor monkeys… sometimes, they’re just too aware. Thanks for your comment.

  27. Very amusing Shimon! Reminds me of being in New York, where the Jewish holidays in September really have an impact. Out here int he Pacific Northwest, you don’t even know they’re happening. I used to like just being around people who celebrated them because many of the ideas – atonement, etc. are such great food for thought. So I miss that, and it’s nice to remember, in such a funny context.

    • Yes, from what I’ve heard, bluebrightly, living in New York can be a bit of a Jewish experience even if you’re not Jewish. I’m very glad to hear that you have good memories of your time there. And for me… well you know, I like to let go once in a while, and look at life around me from a humorous point of view. It’s good for the perspective. Thanks so much for your comment.

  28. Teachers definitely need courses in entertainment procedures. If they don’t keep the students interested, they have trouble on their hands.

    • We had a great teacher once, who wouldn’t agree to teaching more than ten students at a time. He claimed that he wanted to relate to each on a one to one basis, and that ten was the maximum that he could relate at one time. I think that if we all had a little more respect for teachers, it would be easier for them, and much better for the students as well. Thanks for your comment, Bev.

      • Here in the United States, I can see why teachers are now having problems with respect. When I taught, even though it was first grade, I always wore a dress or skirt with a pretty necklace. Today I see the teachers at school and they have on shorts, tank tops, and flip flops. And they wonder why they don’t get respect! I’m not for fancy clothes, but I think that teachers should dress is a more professional manner.Do they dress like that in other countries?

        • In our country, teachers usually dress quite formally. But I think it’s much more complicated than the standard of dress. If the teacher tries to present himself or herself as just one of the gang, he won’t get the respect that is necessary to maintain authority. After all, if all are equal, he might find himself in the minority. School doesn’t work as a society of equals.

  29. It sounds like one long siesta Shimon – for the kids that is, with some fiesta thrown in just for good measure.

    I’ll bet by the time the kids are back in school without stops, (well, not too many anyway) some of the happy median are catching up with the others whose boredom has reigned them back. Then it’s time to watch out for the sizzling competition.

    A lovely tongue-in-cheek piece.

    • Honestly, I have a lot of criticism of the school system. I think it’s quite indifferent to the needs of the students and the needs of the teachers both. And that the only way it could be repaired would entail devoting a lot more money to the education system. I don’t believe that all children should be treated the same way, or should be pushed to learn the same things. That we should have a lot of diversity in our primary schools. But it might take a while for society to realize that children can be a precious resource to the society as a whole. Thanks for your comment, menhir

  30. When I got to the students’ prayer, I laughed aloud, and was with you all the way though. We’re a little short on religious holidays in this country, religions of most sorts being non grata at this point, but we do worship at the altar of standarized testing, and teacher workshops can be counted on to break up the monotony from time to time.

    There had to have been times of boredom during my schooling, but I can’t remember them now. I remember being perplexed, and frustrated by some courses that didn’t come easily, but that’s different from boredom. I didn’t experience boredom until I hit university level education. Looking back on it now, I wonder if part of that wasn’t due to some new ideas about pedagogy that just were coming into their own during the 1960s. I did learn to play bridge during one course that had two hundred students enrolled, and three televisions in the front of the room, so that wasn’t a total waste.

    In any event, my bachelor’s level courses were abysmal: something to be gotten through in order to (as they say) punch my ticket. After working in Liberia and coming back for master’s level classes, I rediscovered what I’d forgotten: the power of a real teacher to stir curiosity. I had some wonderful professors, and some of what I learned from them endures — to my great benefit.

    • What I can’t seem to learn is to close my html tags. No one’s perfect, as they say!

      • One of the frustrations of blogging, is that we can’t edit what we’ve written as a comment. But I think that most readers are very forgiving regarding those little mistakes and typing errors.

    • I remember an English anthropologist by the name of Desmond Morris, who had some great explanations for human behavior. He pointed out that when it comes to ceremony, if we reject the traditional, we’re very likely to invent an alternative. I myself had the pleasure of teaching many years at the university level, and found the students eager to learn, industrious, and brave. It was a pleasure to be in their company. And I continued to study as much as I taught, at least. One of the nice things about higher education is that most of the students choose to study there, and they are not forced to. Mandatory education is problematic. I do have some ideas about how we could improve the system, but it would be quite expensive. Nowadays, I fear that many young students come to school with some very bad habits that just make things harder. But eventually, society will have to rethink its attitude. So glad you were able to enjoy the humor with me. It’s good to laugh now and then. Thanks for the comment, Linda.

  31. Oh you DO make me laugh!! Brilliantly written as always, what a marvelous prayer, mumbled into mustaches or not! And as for the odd ambulance for those who fall off their bikes…..priceless!!!
    I hope your reader students enjoyed this! I was always bored stiff in school, but remember two mighty fine characters, the first was our classical studies teacher, she looked as old as her subject matter and she was an utter ice-queen until it came to teaching her specialist subject…..how she captured our attention when she removed her broach and stabbed it into the table with passion when talking of the spartan warrior women!
    Then there was the crazy history teacher whose lipstick was always a little skewiff…again, her accounts had us spellbound, she would holler and yell with passion! We always learnt first time round with those two!
    You do have a busy month coming up, I shall look forward to hearing all about your holidays!xxx

    • So glad you enjoyed the post, Dina. The way I look at the situation, children are not treated that well from the moment they come into this world. If they’re not crying on arrival, they get spanked. Then, the first disaster that befalls children is that have absolutely no choice about who’s going to parent them. That, of course, leads to unequal and dissimilar conditions. The least we could do, would be to offer them a wide choice of different schools, so they could choose freely. And when one doesn’t work out, they should have the freedom to choose another. If children get grades in school, I think they should have the opportunity to grade their teachers as well, and the grades should be made public. I would include preparatory courses which would include a majority of the pursuits of mankind. For instance, just as some might choose music, others could choose war. That way they could get a taste of what attracts them, and decide if they really want to continue that pursuit. I’ve got a lot more ideas on the subject, but I don’t know if the world is ready for them yet. So it’s good that I’m allowed to just ramble on, on this blog… and I’m grateful to find a few friends who’ll listen to me. Very happy to hear that you had a few good teachers. Sometimes just one is enough to keep us from going crazy. xxx

  32. Hi, Shimon. This certainly takes us back… it has been a very looong time since elementary (er, even high school) for us. J&A

    • Usually, we leave the past behind, and just remember a few episodes… till we have children. Then we see the same situation from a different perspective. And by the time we have grandchildren, we see it from still a different perspective. So much has changed in our lifetimes… I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to reevaluate the function of schools. Thanks so much for your comment.

  33. Hello, Dear Shimon!
    Thanks for visiting my place! I was just thinking of you yesterday and there I found you! 🙂
    I delight in this post. You’ve made me think of my favorite teacher, one who was not boring.
    Mrs. Higgins was our pre-algebra teacher, a lovely soul in charge of forcing us to think about math in a linear direction. Her aged arms would flail about energetically, as she animated her every concept at the front of her enormous classroom, completely lined with chalkboards on two entire walls.
    And sometimes all those chalkboards were necessary to her teaching method.
    Mrs. Higgins was Irish and taught her beloved math with a lovely brogue, softened with a craggy tinge of 60 or so years of use. Everything about her was nothing but lovely. She loved us in our adolescent unloveliness and we loved her. Oh, don’t get me wrong–we were the normal set of very young teens, smelly, botchy-faced, with plenty of the wicked boys and love-sickened girls. Still: We would do anything for her. We sensed her anxiety that we learn all the math she wanted to give us; we even shared her strong anticipation that we could learn it, feared failing her, and knew she was our only true friend in the whole school. And especially in all the world of math.
    To this day, if I happen to marvel at some mathematical concept, or feel thankful about living in an age when math can take us to the moon or through a CAT scanner, etc., that feeling of marvel always makes me remember old Mrs. Higgins.
    And her love.

    • I recently read a research paper which showed that that those students who graduated with high grades in mathematics earned much higher wages than their fellow students who did not succeed, or chose other subjects in high school, regardless of the work they eventually chose for themselves. This might be motivation for some students to take math a bit more seriously. My favorite teacher was not very popular, because he was judgmental and sparing in words and emotions. But I found him brilliant, and learned a lot for him. I believe that the more choice students (of all ages) have, the more successful the system will be. We’re all interested in different things, and inspired by different people. Thanks so much for coming by and sharing some of your thoughts and memories, Katharine. I’ve read some of the advice you give on your blog, and I think it’s good.

  34. Shimon, your evocative writing brought back a flood of wonderful ‘back to school’ memories! And what a lovely way to introduce us to your fascinating holiday rituals. Love your photo of the weed 🙂

    • So glad that you enjoyed this post, Madhu. And equally glad that it brought back good memories. There are many things that all people and peoples have in common, though each of us are different as individuals, and in the same way, different societies have different customs.

  35. I am just now getting to read this as I have not been keeping up with any blogging. Too many short trips getting squeezed in before the start of school. My grandson just left for his first day of kindergarten about an hour ago! It’s like you say…he will go for a half day today (Tuesday) and then won’t go back until next Monday for a full day. Then has a holiday in about four weeks then another one four weeks after that (Thanksgiving) then four weeks later Christmas and they don’t return until after the New Year. Then they are off for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in January then for Presidents’ Day in February then in late March they get a Spring break then they are finished in May! Lots of holidays. Lots of time to play. Yet I’m somewhat melancholy today because it’s the end of the times when he will come to my house and stay all day and play and then go for walks with me and play games with me. But I suppose it’s the beginning of the times when he can come here after school so I can help him get his homework done then maybe go for a short walk before he goes home to bathe and get to bed early!
    In any case, I suppose I was supposed to read this post today, so it’s just as well that I was too busy to read any posts before now!

    • Congratulations, Corina, on having a grandchild who started the whole process of schooling. I am sure that you will discover a lot of wonderful opportunities as you follow his progress. As for holidays, I’m all for them. It is hard for some parents. But I think kids need a lot of breaks. Your grandchildren are lucky to have a grandmother who is willing to give them a lot of her time and energy. Enjoy!

  36. This is a lovely topic to read about. Almost everyone can relate, wherever they may live. It’s easy to say this in retrospect, but if I could start over with my children I would educate them at home. School just seems a place of torture!

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