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No back-to-school for me

Aug 26, 2012 - By Randy Tucker

For the first time in 50 years, I won't be in the classroom this fall.

The surprising bestseller skyrocketed to the top of the charts a quarter century ago. Robert Fulghum's instant classic "All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten" hit No. 3 on the New York Times Best Seller list for non-fiction hardback books in 1988.

The 50 essays it contained were gleaned from Fulghum's Unitarian sermons. The bits of wisdom within are simple yet have value that will guide a person through a lifetime's myriad challenges.

A few of them are as follows: share everything, play fair, put things back where you found them, clean up your own mess, don't hit, wash your hands before you eat, and perhaps the best advice, once again, play fair.

Not that I disagree with Fulghum's tenets at all, but I didn't go to kindergarten. Until the mid-1960s many states started a student's academic career in first grade. Kindergarten, if it existed at all, usually was a private business, not part of the public schools.

Whether you began in kindergarten or first grade doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. What you learned in that initial year of formal education can be the foundation for the next three score and ten.

For the first time since I walked into the horror chamber disguised as Mrs. White's first-grade classroom in September of 1963, I'm not going back to school this fall.

After just a year shy of half a century, I'm not taking part in the annual American rite of autumn.

For a dozen years, grade school, junior high and high school filled my life. Another few years at the University of Wyoming were among the best anyone could ever hope for, and the ensuing 32 years saw challenge after challenge as my career ebbed and flowed with the shifting winds of academia.

In the mental maelstrom of those 49 beginnings, some stand out clearer than others.

Everyone experiences some years that are more memorable. We all share the commonality of the first day of elementary school, the first uncomfortable day of those horrible junior high years, the opening day of high school as a freshman, and the closing of the chapter as a senior.

Those years may blend into one stream of consciousness but high points stand alone in the faded light of memory.

Do you remember your favorite elementary teacher? My wife's favorite teachers came in her second-grade teacher Mrs. Judy Hamaker and her husband, Dave, the Lusk High School chemistry and physics instructor.

As a kid growing up on Air Force bases, change was sometimes the only constant as we moved every three years. My dad was reassigned to Strategic Air Command bases from Puerto Rico to California, and I attended five different schools before graduating from Wind River. All that change created an attitude among my fellow students that you don't find anywhere else.

By sixth grade it was customary to question everyone in class to see if we'd attended school together somewhere else. I found a couple of kids in that 1968 math class survived Mrs. White with me back at Gosnell Elementary in Blytheville, Ark.

Elementary school can be the best experience for some students. My wife's experience is one of those. Others, like myself, did not enjoy the elementary years. Maybe it was the unfair beatings the boys took in first grade, or perhaps it was the hostility that Ms. Munoz showed towards boys in fourth grade at David A Weir in Fairfield, California. While I didn't understand it at the time, in retrospect it was obvious that Ms. Munoz was a militant lesbian in an era when no one mentioned such things in public. She was a vicious witch, on her best day.

At the end of those two years I longed for another classroom, any room devoid of those two women.

It is good to remember bad times as well as good if you dedicate your life to teaching children, they do deserve your best effort.

For nearly half-a-century I traversed the fads and foibles of the often insane world of education. Those of us unlucky enough to experience new math, open classrooms, outcome based education, the self-esteem movement and the general guinea pig style of public education offered up to the American academic table since the Soviets beat us into space with Sputnik back in 1956 are lucky to have survived at all. As Paul Simon sang in his hit Kodachrome; "When I think back to all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all."

So, for the first time since those endless days of early childhood, I'm not preparing for the upcoming year. No classroom to set up, no computers to configure, no information system or schedule to build, just a slide from summer to autumn without the distractions of the classroom.

Still, while I don't mess the cluelessness forced upon me in the final years of my career, I will miss the students.

There is something special about teaching, and something even more profound in coaching young people.

You develop a bond with the future that no other profession can offer.

Children are the future and your work with them takes at least a quarter-century to bear any fruit. Here's to those returning to the educational trenches again. As Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang "Teach the children well."

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