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Back to School!

picture of back-to-school stuff

What do you / did you like best about starting back to school? When I was a child, I think that my favorites were the smell of new pencils and erasers, new paper in my notebook outfitted with dividers for that year's classes, putting book covers on that year's textbooks, and new back-to-school clothes. As a teacher I still love back to school, but for very different reasons. I love seeing my students from previous years who are still in the university — especially if they're in my classes. I love meeting my new students, looking forward to forging some friendships that will go into the future.

I woke up this morning at 5:05, awake as I am now, so I decided to get up and post a special first-day-of-classes iv. I'm sure I'll pay for this this evening when I struggle to stay awake till bedtime.... 🙂

This year it will be fun to watch the reactions of returning students to the new furniture in our classroom, generously provided by the school's alumni. It looks so fresh and roomy — we went from a crowded room with 59 desks to just 35 seats. Ah, room to move around! Here are two pictures of the classroom in which I teach French.

picture of classroom

picture of classroom

To the new students, though, it will likely be the thought, "Hmm ... so this is the French room, huh?" And that's ok, I guess — they have nothing to which to compare it.

picture of t-shirt

To keep things in perspective, I have to remind myself each year that for the new students, things have always been the way they know them. Part of our job as teachers is to widen their horizons beyond what they have always known and thought. And that will definitely happen in my French classes.

At this time of year I always think of the list put out by Beloit College that reminds teachers of the "mindset" of that year's incoming freshman class. If you want to feel old ... even some of you who may only be in your late 20's, check out the list on their website (link is below). Here are some of my favorite items from this year's list:


Most students entering college for the first time this fall—the Class of 2014—were born in 1992.

Few in the class know how to write in cursive.

E-mail is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.

“Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo.

With increasing numbers of ramps, Braille signs, and handicapped parking spaces, the world has always been trying harder to accommodate people with disabilities.

John McEnroe has never played professional tennis.

Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support for a cause.

DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed.

Unless they found one in their grandparents’ closet, they have never seen a carousel of Kodachrome slides. (ivman adds: In my office I just threw out three slide carousels — slides and all. When's the last time I showed those things?! Why are they still occupying real estate on my bookshelf?!)

Computers have never lacked a CD-ROM disk drive.

They’ve never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day.

Czechoslovakia has never existed.

Pizza jockeys from Domino’s have never killed themselves to get your pizza there in under 30 minutes.

The dominance of television news by the three networks passed while they were still in their cribs.

Toothpaste tubes have always stood up on their caps.

A purple dinosaur has always supplanted Barney Google and Barney Fife.

Beethoven has always been a good name for a dog.

Having hundreds of cable channels but nothing to watch has always been routine.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always sat on the Supreme Court.

They have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S.

The nation has never approved of the job Congress is doing.


I look forward to the comments on this post. Please pray for us as our university classes begin today.


"Prophecy is practical. It teaches us how to live today." - Mark Kittrell

=^..^= =^..^=

Pity the insomniac, philosophical, dyslexic atheist who lies awake at night wondering whether there really is a dog.

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18 Comments on “Back to School!”

  1. #1 Megan
    on Sep 1st, 2010 at 7:08 am

    Scary!!!! My mom’s agent said the other day that Macaulay Culkin turned 30. That made me feel seriously old and I’m younger than him. :O

    How can they not know cursive? I feel cheated. I was forced to learn so many things … I knew they wouldn’t be important 😉

    What does irk me, though, is that no one knows the Dewey Decimal system any more. All the libraries here are arranged into categories like “Novels” and “Information Books” (even though the numbers still appear on the spines.)

    Rob adds: Home Alone was made long enough ago that Macaulay is 30?! This is getting too weird! I have former high school students who are 53 years old, though, so I guess I shouldn’t be shocked. That’s amazing about the library you mentioned. The ones I’ve been too lately all still use the Dewey Decimal system … albeit it sometimes with signs indicating the type of books found in that section.

  2. #2 Ann
    on Sep 1st, 2010 at 8:28 am

    I had been curious about the new seating for students. Thanks for the pictures! Nice!! Have a wonderful first day!!

    Rob adds: I thought people would like to see what things look like now in some of the classrooms. It’s really nice. And so far, so good on the first day…. 😀

  3. #3 H McKee
    on Sep 1st, 2010 at 8:35 am

    I’m only 22, but my computer doesn’t have a CD drive. I wanted one that was not so heavy, so that’s what ended up being ditched, lol. Oh, and I know that pointing to one’s wrist means asking for the time. 😛 But then, for this list, I guess I’m kind of in between generations… Very strange…

    Rob adds: I’m sure some of the Netbooks don’t have CD drives. I personally need CD, DVD, and USB on our computer. Enough things still come in CD and DVD format that I couldn’t do what I needed to do with just USB alone. It is interesting to see how few students wear watches.

  4. #4 Chris H.
    on Sep 1st, 2010 at 9:20 am

    CD-ROMs being on computers may already be something that today’s freshman understand as a “thing of the past.” Fewer and fewer computers are being built with them now that USB sticks and wireless broadband internet are becoming more pervasive. And who buys CDs anymore? They just download the 3 or 4 songs they want from a “CD” to their iPods. 🙂

    Rob adds: As I said in my comment to H McKee, I still have to have a CD for software installations and data that comes from publishers by CD. I’m not sure they’ll go away completely any time soon. What I need to figure out is how to get my old 33.3 LP’s into mp3 format easily and cheaply, especially since our turntable doesn’t work any more. Not sure it would be worth it actually. We might need to clear that stuff out so the kids don’t have to after our demise some day.

  5. #5 Michael
    on Sep 1st, 2010 at 9:40 am

    As a teacher I really enjoy the first days of school as well. Like you said it’s great to renew acquaintance with former students and to make good relationships with new ones. I believe teachers are like students in many ways. We both enjoy the social aspects of school and, therefore, hate to see it end and are excited to see it begin. We also aren’t fans of the work school involves.

    Always an interesting list about the incoming freshmen. I found the one about never worrying about a Russian missile strike to be the most poignant. That used to be so much a part of our thinking here in the U.S. Now, it truly is the past.

    I teach freshmen in high school so most of my students were born in 1996. So, that’s after the OJ trial, after the Oklahoma City bombing, and during the Atlanta Olympics. It also means that they barely remember Bill Clinton as president. They also probably have a bare memory of 9/11. I’m anticipating in a few years having students who were not alive for 9/11. Scary stuff.

    Rob adds: I’m with you, Michael. I love the social aspect of teaching.

  6. #6 Donna Lawrence
    on Sep 1st, 2010 at 10:34 am

    I commented on the new desks in my classroom this morning–most of the students had never seen the old ones, so they didn’t know what they were (not) missing!

    Just think, on 9/11 these students were in 4th grade … in no time we’ll have students who weren’t born yet….

    Rob adds: You know, I remember when you were a student here. I was thinking that if I teach another 8 years, which is not out of the realm of the possible, my freshman students and I will have been born in two different millennia. Not *that* is not a comforting thought! 🙂

  7. #7 Megan
    on Sep 1st, 2010 at 11:07 am

    The French room looks so nice! It was always packed with chairs before! I hope your year gets off to a good start today!

    Dad adds: Thanks, Meg. It’s been so nice today, and the returning students really like it a lot. Thanks for the good wishes for the school year. Hope we get to see y’all soon.

  8. #8 Vikki
    on Sep 1st, 2010 at 11:23 am

    They may not worry about a Russian missile strike, but we didn’t worry about terrorists on our soil either.

    I always looked forward to school starting again. My favorite part about returning to school was that everything was new and clean – clothes, notebook, paper, pens, pencils, eraser. It just made me feel fresh and free. I also looked forward to seeing my friends again and finding out who my teachers were and who was in my classes. Then I was assigned homework and the whole illusion burst and it suddenly felt like I was back in school again – my paper was now written on, books opened and read, pencils and erasers used. ** sigh ** But it was fun while it lasted.

    Rob adds: Thanks for sharing your memories, Vikki. I’m personally glad that we are not having to deal with both a Russian threat *and* terrorist threats! Crazy world … for now.

  9. #9 Kristi Rathjen
    on Sep 1st, 2010 at 11:37 am

    I cringed when I heard that you threw away those Kodachrome slides. = ) I hope you scanned them first so that you didn’t lose those precious pictures! I have negatives floating around my house and I’m saving to buy the special scanner for pictures that turns slides and negatives into digital photos that you can then print or do whatever with. They’ve come down a lot in price. I think it’s about $100 – $150. But because I do scrapbooking, I hate for anyone to lose that piece of their history!

    Rob adds: Sorry to make you cringe, Kristi. The pictures were, for the most part, already replaced by what were probably better pictures found online. Something had to give here in the office, and I didn’t have the time or resources to convert the pictures which probably weren’t worth salvaging. Since I have scrapbookers in the family, I know that that causes pain … believe me.

  10. #10 bj
    on Sep 1st, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    My favorite memory of back to school is new school supplies! My mom and I still have a really hard time going to the store at this time of year and not leaving with at least a new pen… couple pencils…a notepad…or, who can resist crayons, or better yet, colored pencils? I don’t think I will ever grow up.

    I am 34 (yikes, just turned … boy I’m getting old) and work with one college girl, and three high school girls. It never ceases to amaze me what they do not know. I really wonder what they ever learn in school anymore? The Amish were just as naive when I worked with them, but they have a good excuse. These girls are in mainstream schools! Though in a small town. One of them (18 yrs old) told me “I don’t know why they still make such a big deal about 9/11. I mean, I feel bad for all those people who lost family and all, but it happened so long ago! Why do we still have to talk about it every year?” Wow. Sad.

    Rob adds: Ah yes, school supplies. When I was at Walmart a week or so ago, that section of the store had lots of parents and school kids looking for just the right supplies. You’ve mentioned a downside of being with younger people who don’t have the same background as you, but don’t lose sight of one of the upsides of spending time with them — it’s helps keep you and your outlook younger. Thanks for you comment, bj.

  11. #11 Phil
    on Sep 1st, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    I am happy you chose to show pictures of the new desks, since I was one of those alumni who contributed to their purchase. They look great!

    Rob adds: Thanks for your contribution, Phil. I could tell on day one that it will greatly enhance the learning environment. One returning student said, “Wow, I’ve got room to spread out my textbook and workbook!”

  12. #12 Kristin
    on Sep 1st, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    Wow. Now I feel old, and I’m only 31. (My husband didn’t appreciate my reading the list to him and then pointing out that these people were BORN in the year that he graduated from high school. I love that he has a few years on me.)

    I’m with Megan on her Dewey Decimal System gripe too. One of the joys of homeschooling — both of my girls will know it well before I’m finished with them. 🙂

    Rob adds: The first part of your comment brought a smile to my face, Kristin. Good for you on teaching your girls well! Keep up the good work.

  13. #13 Heather
    on Sep 2nd, 2010 at 6:30 am

    I was one of those geeky kids who couldn’t cope with a regular classroom environment but was loved extensive research on favorite subjects when I could do so on my own terms. I hated school until my family started homeschooling. I did love my university years though; my favorite part of starting a new semester was the anticipation of a fresh prospect to “nerd out” on my favorite topics. 🙂

    Rob, you might talk to the BJU music library about how to convert LPs to MP3s. I do remember using the record player on occasion, but I’m pretty sure I listened to some digitalized conversions as well.

    Rob adds: Thanks for the suggestion about talking to someone at the music library, Heather. I’m thinking, though, that the university has all kinds of electronics equipment available to the folks in the music library for doing those conversions. I’m thinking that that probably wouldn’t be available to me for personal projects. They might have other suggestions, though, so thanks for the tip.

  14. #14 Vikki
    on Sep 2nd, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Talking about the 18 year old who is wondering what all the fuss is about 9/11 because it happened so long ago. Not to down play the magnitude of what happened, but, for her it is a long time. If you think about it, for us it may only be a few years since it happened and we remember it happening in our adult years. But for her, she was only 9 and that was half a lifetime ago!

    When I was 18, I remember wondering why all the fuss over the anniversary assassination of President Kennedy because it happened so long ago – I was about her age when it happened. To me, it was ancient history, but I’m sure it was fairly recent to my parents. I’m sure Pearl Harbor was ancient history to my mother a decade after the fact, but a fairly recent event to her parents too.

    All that to say that historic events and their relevance to the here and now is perceived differently depending on when during your lifetime it happened.

    On a different note, my sister and her 2 kids (late teens and early 20’s) were visiting us a couple of weeks ago and we were trying to explain to them what 8-track tapes were. . . . Was that really that long ago?!?

    Rob adds: Good points, Vikki. It seems as just about every generations has some defining moment that doesn’t mean the same thing to people who didn’t go through it. I remember exactly where I was when I heard that JFK had been shot. It was not a pretty scene with a bunch of 7th grade boys crying in the gym locker room! 8-track tapes … I’d rather forget them. It seemed so “hi tech” at the time, but I was delighted when cassettes came along.

  15. #15 Carrie
    on Sep 3rd, 2010 at 12:11 am

    New crayons are my favorite back-to-school smell — now that I’m homeschoooling I get to smell them a lot! 🙂 Cursive writing? I can’t believe what they don’t teach kids these days. My third grader is just thrilled to be learning it.

    I was 20 years old when the freshmen were born. Wow. No wonder the list sounds crazy. I remember when my dad got one of the first home computers. It recorded information on a cassette tape!

    Rob adds: Yep, Carrie, I’ve gotta add the smell of new crayons to my list … although that was only in elementary school. I remember not being able to wait until we were allowed to write in cursive, like grown ups did! We were surprised to learn from one of my cousins in France that in pre-school (she was a teacher in the maternelle) that they started kids off with cursive and didn’t really teach them printing. She said that would pick that up on their own. There’s an interesting article on cursive handwriting on Wikipedia.

  16. #16 Bonnie
    on Sep 6th, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Hi, Rob,

    I enjoyed this, since our oldest went to college this fall, and was born in 1992! Yes, the little girl for whom you once knitted a sweater. (We still have it!) I also forwarded your pun blog to her, because her roommate likes puns.

    Crayons are definitely my favorite back-to-school purchase. I still seem to buy them, although my youngest is in 4th grade and rarely uses them. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your time!

    Rob adds: Bonnie! You have a child in college?! Das ist nicht moeglich! I was glad when our children were coloring because then daddy could “help” them. Now it’s my grandson who needs my “help.”

  17. #17 Laura
    on Sep 7th, 2010 at 8:57 am

    I like the new desks in the French room . . . good for lefties, if anyone bothers to take up pencil & pen anymore!

    Rob adds: Pencils and pens are very much still common objects in our classroom.

  18. #18 Lana
    on Sep 18th, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    I like the new french room but I have to say the only problem I have is that the chairs don’t slide. You actually have to pick them up to move them.

    Rob adds: We’re far enough into the semester now that I can see not only nice advantages of the new set up, but also some disadvantages — from the teacher side, that is. It’s interesting to hear something from the student side of things. Merci, Lana! 🙂