Back to School

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Here in Texas, our children have returned to the classroom. My three kids were up early Monday morning, making lunches, packing backpacks, and rushing off to the first day of school. My oldest is starting her senior year of high school. Gasp! Not sure mom is quite ready for what that means. But whether mom is ready or not, it has begun.

In the American West, teachers were often little more than former students who had completed the 8th grade and gone on to pass a teacher’s examination. My youngest is starting 8th grade this year, and I can’t even imagine him having enough knowledge to turn around and teach.

As more settlers headed west and communities grew, so did the demand for teachers with a higher education. In the early 1800s, schoolmasters were men. They ruled their classrooms with discipline and authority. Yet in the 1830s when tax-supported common schools made education more widely available, the result was a teacher shortage that left the door open for women.

“God seems to have made woman peculiarly suited to guide and develop the infant mind, and it seems…very poor policy to pay a man 20 or 22 dollars a month, for teaching children the ABCs, when a female could do the work more successfully at one third of the price.” — Littleton School Committee, Littleton, Massachusetts, 1849

By the time of the Civil War, women dominated the teaching field. However, if a woman wanted to set herself apart, to establish herself as a professional, she required training that went beyond the rudimentary grammar schooling of her peers. She needed a diploma from a reputable Normal School.

Normal Schools were two-year academies designed to grant teachers a mastery of the subjects taught in the common schools as well as giving them a practical knowledge of teaching methodology. Normal Schools prided themselves on their thorough, cohesive, and “scientific” curriculum. They would provide a norm for all teachers (hence the term Normal School) that would assure a level of quality generally unavailable previously.

The Boston Normal School, for example, was established in 1872. According to a regulation manual published in 1888, a teacher studying there would have taken courses in the following areas:

  • Mental and Moral Science and Logic
  • Physiology and Hygiene
  • Natural Science
  • Study of Language
  • Elementary Studies
  • Principles of Education, School Economy, and Methods of Instruction
  • Vocal Music, Drawing, and Blackboard Illustration
  • Observation and Practice in the Training School
  • Observation and Practice in other public schools

Not so very different from our current teacher education programs, is it?

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The heroine in my latest release is a teacher of exceptional youths, or what we would call today – gifted children or child prodigies.

In honor of teachers across the country who are getting back into their classrooms, I’ll be giving away an autographed copy of A Worthy Pursuit to one reader who leaves a comment.

Tell me about you favorite first-day-of-school memory. What made you excited, what you dreaded. How long it took you to pick out the perfect outfit. Anything related to the first day – kindergarten through college. Or maybe your first day as a teacher, if that is your profession. Anything is fair game.

Have fun! πŸ™‚


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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at:

66 thoughts on “Back to School”

  1. For me, the first day of school was always welcomed. I loved school. When I was in elementary school my mom made all my clothes and that was always special. Then in high school we always had a special day where my mom would take me shopping and spend one on one time together buying me seven new outfits and school supplies. She still made me several new dresses as well. She also made me matching headbands and she knitted cardigan sweaters for me as well. Oh what memories.

    I would love to win a copy of your book Karen. πŸ™‚

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

    • What wonderful memories, Cindy! I grew up in a small town, so I remember my mom taking me 30 miles away to shop in an actual mall for school clothes. Ha! She made me a few things over the years as well, but nothing compared to what your mom did. I hope you still have a few of those items as treasured memories.

  2. Karen, I so enjoyed this post — partly because it gave us a look at what made a teacher a teacher in the early days of public education, and partly because I come from a long line of teachers. I think every woman on my mother’s side must’ve been a teacher since women were allowed to teach. Teaching always has been one of the most important jobs on the planet, IMO. More than imparting essential skills, school opens a child’s mind. The best teachers teach children to think, not merely regurgitate what is necessary to pass a test.

    **climbing off soapbox**

    The thing that most caught my attention in your post: the reason women were allowed to teach in the first place. Women today most likely find that notion offensive, but until the mid-20th Century, that was the prevailing attitude. Difficult to believe, isn’t it?

    Thanks for the education!

    • I loved running across that quote, Kathleen. The 1/3 pay part got my dander up but I really liked the part where he readily admitted that women could do the job more successfully. πŸ™‚ There is just something about the nurturing instinct that women have that translates so well to younger children. I’m thankful for all the teachers (like the women in your family) who have poured their hearts and souls into transforming young lives into intelligent, productive members of society.

  3. I recently retired from teaching. The first day was always the hardest. It never got better. Rules had to be discussed and expectations out lined. it was boring. I tried to do exciting things the firt day but then control became an issue. Bummer

    • I hear you, Debra. Not only is the content boring, but the kids are still grumpy about having to get up early and losing their summer freedom. Makes for a tough combination. I bet you found ways to make it fun, though. πŸ™‚

  4. Hi Karen! Great post! My favorite time of year is the fall, but definitely more so now that I am an adult and don’t have to go to school. I love learning–just at my own pace and with the subjects that I chose. I remember so many one page essays I had to write about “What I did on my summer vacation.” That seemed to be a regular “first day of school” event for many years.

    Having a senior in high school is an exciting year! It is also bittersweet. Embrace and enjoy it and make a few memories along the way.

    • Thanks, Kathryn. Both Bethany and I recognize that this is a turning point and while we are both excited, we are both a little sad about it as well. I know this will be an exciting year, though, and I look forward to all the memories we will make. And hey, she actually graduates on my 45th birthday. That will be one to remember. Ha!

  5. The worst first day by far was just after I graduated with my bachelor’s, when I did a month-long, intensive, post-grad certification for teaching English as a foreign language. After a long, two-day drive to Denver all alone, with one day to recoup and develop horrific nerves, I got next to no sleep and spent the time I should have been eating breakfast emptying my empty stomach. Thankfully, by the time I survived Denver traffic to reach the school, I at least LOOKED poised, even if inside I was a quivering mound of jelly. Then when I taught my first class TWO DAYS LATER, the whole awful morning repeated itself. Anxiety is an unpleasant thing.

  6. As a student, I loved the first day of school. It was fun wearing a new outfit, carrying new school supplies, and seeing my friends. As a teacher of kindergarten and first grade, the first day wasn’t quite as much fun. It really is a stressful day with little ones because we have to show them how to do everything – going through the lunch line, walking down the halls, getting on the school buses, etc. The worst is when you get a crier! Sometimes one crier will set off the others, and you have half the class crying. Our main goal the first day was get ’em fed and get ’em home! πŸ™‚

    • Love it, Cheryl. “Get ’em fed and get ’em home.” Sounds like a perfect first day goal. I bet it never ceases to amaze you to see the difference in those kiddos from first day to last in how they follow instructions, how much they’ve learned, and maybe even a few who cry because they are leaving their favorite teacher behind. πŸ™‚

  7. i know what you mean about not being ready to see your oldest start this big part in their lives. My oldest is only 6 but he is starting first grade and will be away for most of the day. I’m not sure if I’m ready for him to grow up yet. I think that all first days had there ups and downs but I always remember I wish my mom could go with me. When I was younger I always remembered the school having that new school smell mixed with cafeteria food haha. Or how my mom would put so much hairspray in my bangs that they would stay in one position all day haha. Or how I would love to have that first day of school outfit with a brand binder. But I remember the most was the day I started college. I was living in the women’s dorm at Bible college. I remember thinking oh my goodness this is a start of something new that will lead to my future. Great memories!

  8. I was actually sent home from my first day of kindergarten! My mom was called to pick me up early from my first 1/2 day of school. Apparently there was an issue with my immunizations. My mom worried that I would be traumatized for life. I was… I didn’t get to eat my rice krispy treat snack!! It was several days before I could go back. I ended up in a different class, but I think it was too my advantage. I think my poor mom still has nightmares about that!

    • Ha! Missing out on a Rice Krispy Treat is definitely traumatic. πŸ™‚ No crunchy sweet gooey goodness on your first day? That’s horrible! πŸ™‚ I feel the need to go home and make a batch to feed to my kids just to make sure they don’t suffer the same post-traumatic krispy disorder that you did. I’ll eat a few, too, just for good measure. πŸ™‚

  9. First day of school for me was great because it brought some normalcy to life. So school was not only important but it was were I felt the safest.

    • Interesting, Kim. I think there are a lot of kids who feel the same way. Whether it is an unstable home life or other factors – school does add a healthy dose of structure to children’s lives which can be a great blessing.

  10. For the first day of 5th grade my brother shows up to class late. When the teacher asked him why he was late he replies with “I had to walk”. We actually lived right across from the street from the school. So my brother should never have been late. Needless to say his teacher didn’t find out for weeks and he used that excuse for those few weeks until the teacher found out where we lived.

  11. I was homeschooled and I always dreaded the first day of school! On the first day my mom would go overboard trying to cram as much as she could into every second so we were going crazy by the end! Then there were the pictures (and with 9 kids that took forever!) Things would settle down after that first day and be normal and semi-enjoyable though!

  12. I always looked forward to school. Home life wasn’t so great although I did love reading all summer long. I’ve always enjoyed learning things and getting together with others. Of course there were always a few classes that were terribly hard but overall I enjoyed school, friends, teachers and activities.

    • I was a summer reader, too, Catslady. Homework cramped my reading style. πŸ™‚ My daughter is the same way. She still tries to make reading for pleasure time happen during the school year, but she is so involved in extra-curricular activities, time is a rare commodity for her.

  13. My 5th birthday was also my first day of kindergarten. I wore a red plaid dress and was the first pupil to arrive at the classroom door. Later that morning on the flannel board the teacher put a birthday cake with five candles and the class sang ‘happy birthday’ to me πŸ™‚ I remember looking at the puzzles hoping I’d be given the time to put them together–I still love puzzles! The teacher would play on the piano as the signal for us to move from one activity/lesson to the next. I still remember the bulletin boards the teacher had up that day. I was assigned a chair at Table 6 and other girls at the table were Barbara and Sheila. We were friends for the next 12 years. Remembering all this is making me smile, so even if I don’t win thank you for calling this to mind.

    In your blog the class on ‘blackboard illustration’ caught my eye. My third grade teacher especially made beautiful blackboard pictures (connected to our lessons) with colored chalk. I never realized there was a class for it!

  14. My first day of sixth grade was probably my favorite. My mom had taught me up to fith grade, but that year, she decided to start using video school.

    • A break from mom, huh? πŸ™‚ I think I would have driven my kids crazy (and myself, too) if I had tried to homeschool. I have so much respect for mom’s who do that and do it well. πŸ™‚

  15. I was always nervous when school started… it would take me a few days to feel comfortable… the best part for me was seeing if a good friend was in the class with me…

    • Yes. That always helps. My youngest is rather quiet, but when he learned that he had at least one friend in nearly all of his classes, he decided this was going to be a good year. πŸ™‚

  16. My siblings and I were all homeschooled. In fact, six out of the ten kids in my family are still in school…One of my favorite memories of starting back to school was taking a field trip to a local dairy farm. It was a lot of fun!! We got to visit with cows and calfs, my personal favorite, and then we were able to walk through the milk making process. I found it all to be really cool!

  17. as a school bus monitor I always enjoy the first day of school to see the students when they got on the bus with such excitement of the day and then at the end of school that first day and they got back on the bus I would talk with them as to how there day was some was good and others just wanted to get home. I also love to see some of the ones that had road the bus the year before to see they had grown. Being a school bus monitor was a joy to be able to help the children in many ways.

    • I still remember my bus driver. Fran. We all loved her. Such a down-to-earth lady but she knew how to keep the kids in line when we needed it. I’m thankful you take the time to visit with your kids as you transport them. I bet you make a difference in many of their lives. πŸ™‚

  18. I have so many first day memories, I think I’ve shared my first grade memory before where the teacher told us she was the cat, we were the mice, if we were naughty, she would eat us! Traumatized for months over that.
    I will share something different today. I remember so very well the first day of 6th grade, middle school. I came from a very small school to suddenly being in a school with over 1000 students. I was nervous. The assistant principal called me to her office the first day and told me she “would be watching me, she knew who I was related to” (Some of my cousins had been difficult) My classes were upstairs then downstairs, no two periods were on the same floor. My English teacher would not pronounce Andrea correctly she kept calling me “Hon-dray-ah” The lunch room experience was horrible, nobody I knew had the same lunch period I did. Finally in Art class near the end of my day, the teacher (who resembled Hagrid from Harry Potter movies) took me aside and gave me some little secrets to getting around in the school, which stairways to take to get to my classes on time. He was a lifesaver. I will never forget Mr. Scotty Ackerman very big guy, big bushy beard, big hair and a heart of pure gold. He also drove a VW Bug which was a sight to behold, how he managed to drive it I’ll never know.

    • What a colorful description, Andrea! I can picture that little girl so vividly in my mind. So thankful you had a Scotty Ackerman to give you tips and help you adjust to a new school. It’s amazing what a little kindness can do. You still remember him years later and feel his influence. Just goes to show, a kindness, no matter how small, can make a big impact in people’s lives. Thanks for sharing!

      • Yes, a small bit of kindness can make a big difference in this world where so many unkind things are said or done. I try to always be kind, even when I want to scream.

  19. I recently retired after 21 years as a para working with special education. I loved the first day of school. The teachers had to share the boring stuff, like rule, while I got hugs!

  20. Every year of school, for as long as I can remember, I had the same dream
    ..that I showed up for the first day of school unprepared-no pencils or crayons, paper or backpack. It was always a relief to wake up and realize it was just a dream…again!

    • I still have those panicky school dreams from time to time, Rebecca. For me it was usually not being able to find the classroom and not having my homework done. Shiver. Crazy how that can still make me break out in a cold sweat even after I’ve been out of school for 20 years.

  21. I also loved school! We lived right across the street from school so it wasn’t tough to get there! My mom was a teacher but she didn’t teach until my youngest brother was in junior high! She wanted to be home with us all the time until then! She has had a big influence on all her grandchildren though because my two daughters have become teachers (one a 3rd grade teacher and the other a high school history teacher) and then I have a niece who is a teacher. But, all of my parent’s grandchildren are either college graduates or are in college now – pretty amazing!!!

  22. I grew up in a small remote town in Colorado and attended a one-room schoolhouse for the first grade. I remember we had (real)blackboards and the 8 th grade boy got to clean the erasers! We were envious since he got to go outside to do it.
    One of the 5th grade boys rode his horse to school and he got to go out to the shed and feed his horse. Another envious moment
    Then my parents moved to Arizona where we got to go to a regular school that was such a treat!
    I must say that even thought the buildings were often not ideal, I learned a lot from some wonderful teachers. I thank Mrs Vivack who taught me to read. I would have been lost all of my life without that pure joy of reading!.

    • What a fabulous experience, Joye. A one-room schoolhouse. I write about those, but I’ve never truly experienced one. πŸ™‚ Next time I need some pointers, I’ll know who to ask. πŸ™‚

  23. My first day of my senior year in high school, 10 years ago, was also my sister’s first day of her freshman year. She was always so nervous on her first day of school. I showed her around the school. Then we went to eat breakfast. As we were putting our trays away and dumping our trash, a guy at the trash can is banging his tray against the side of the trash can. Trying to knock off and food into the can. He started drumming to a beat and saying, “I am an Indian! I am an Indian!” It made us laugh so hard that I think my sister forgot to be nervous! I week never forget the Indian and the trash can!

    • That’s funny! The Indian trash can beater. He was probably trying to make an impression on the two lovely girls walking his way. πŸ™‚ Not sure that “crazy Indian” would be the best impression to make on the young ladies, but hey – after all these years, you still remember him. πŸ™‚

  24. I came from a poor family. I was by no means popular, and I blossomed around my senior year. It was very difficult to “date” with the locals, so found a mate an hour away from the city. I loved it most when I brought him to high school dances-Great Memories-and everyone looked at me with envy (I think it was). After graduation, they guys that wouldn’t even give me the time of day, started to pay attention to who I was. A down to earth, country girl! I married that City boy and had 2 beautiful children πŸ™‚

    • Good for you, Alley. My daughter (17) has shown no interest in dating, and I can’t say that I’m too sad about that. I do hope she meets some smart, kind, godly man when she heads off to college, though. She’s just picky enough to be the type to only “look” until she finds the one worth keeping. πŸ™‚

  25. I remember wearing new school clothes on the 1st day when it was always the hottest day of the year. Thanks for the giveaway!

  26. I’d heard all my life that when I went to school I’d learn how to read. My first day of first grade was only half a day and as soon as I saw my Mama in the parking lot, I burst into tears because they didn’t teach me how to read!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  27. I’ve already read your fabulous book, Karen, so don’t put me in the drawing for it! I LOVED it, as you well know!!!!! Can’t wait for your next book!!!!

  28. The teaching gene is dominant in our family, so I’ve always enjoyed school. I’m a teacher as is my dad, mom, cousin, uncle, aunts(on both sides) and my great aunt. Looking forward to reading your book!

  29. I think my most memorable and scary first day as a student was starting 5th grade. It wasn’t the first day for everyone – I was a week late. We had just moved from suburban California to a tiny town in Georgia. I had culture shock and new student nerves!

    • Oh, it’s always hard when you are different. Being from a different place and starting on a different day would be hard for anyone. Especially in the small town south where everybody knew everybody. I feel for you, Glenda.

  30. My first days of school are so very long ago, I can’t really remember them. Teaching was a joy. One of the teaching experiences that stands out in my memory happened during student teaching. My advisor/supervisor from college had come to observe me about 3/4 of the way through my time at the school. I was teaching a class on the evolution of the Earth. We were just starting the unit and I was to cover the early stages of development – volcanoes, gases, water, the development of land masses and oceans. Good plan. I started the lesson, the kids started asking questions, and things took off. By the time the lesson finished, we had run through emerging life and evolution of life through to man. It wasn’t rushed and all student driven with good questions. I figured I would get a bad evaluation , I certainly didn’t follow my lesson plan. On the contrary, he was very pleased and impressed and never did come back to evaluate me again.
    If we encourage children to keep their minds open to think, explore, reason, and discover, they will get so much more out of their education.. They will be capable of learning throughout their lives and thinking for themselves.

  31. I remember getting ready for my first day of first grade, we had moved to a new house and so I was really excited to make new friends at school! I woke up 2 hours before I needed to and put on a pair of white tights, my cool designed biker shorts and what I was sure was a coordinating and very fashionable shirt, I felt FABULOUS! In other words more than likely I looked like an idiot. I went and knocked on my parents door to tell them I was ready to go and would be heading to the bus stop. (I even packed my backpack including a lunch) My father opened the door looked at me and was so put out by being awaken so early he just opened the door wider for my mom to see me, to which she said “you can not go to school looking like that!” I know I was in head to toe spandex, but I still felt great till that moment. I was crushed. I still remember feeling like I failed and being so disappointed. I went back to my room as I was instructed and just cried. (I was a bit of a tender child) I did make many good friends and learned that my name is apparently really difficult to remember to how to spell. (my teacher bless her heart never quite got it right.)

    • Sireena – I bet there are hundreds of young girls with the same crushed spirit every year. That whole fashion thing is a hard concept to grasp. Thankfully, my daughter has always been the t-shirt and jeans type, so we’ve never had to worry about her outfits. My boys are pretty good too, except they rarely actually try to match their clothing. Whatever shirt is on top gets paired with whatever shorts or pants are next in line. There have been one or two times I sent them back to change at least half of their outfit because I didn’t want my child walking around in red shorts with a bright orange shirt. Ha!

  32. I am surprised that any women became teachers in the that time. Tough conditions and low, low pay.

    I started first grade a couple of weeks late because my mother had moved us from Chicago to a small town in Indiana where she thought the schools would be better. I was rather shy and hadn’t gone to kindergarten so being left alone at school didn’t make me too happy. I remember the joy I felt when I looked up around lunchtime and saw my mom standing in the doorway with my lunch. (I did come to love school and learning, because that is where I learned to read!)

  33. This was our first “1st day of school” in our new house, and our kids are now within walking/bike riding distance from their new schools. My jr high age twin daughters both wanted to be driven, but my son (age 8) told me in no uncertain terms that he had “been waiting a whole year to be able to ride my bike to this school, mom!” He’d gone there on his bike all summer to play on the playground, but I guess in his mind it wasn’t officially his new school until that 1st day of school, lol! πŸ™‚ It was pretty cute seeing him ride down the sidewalk that day. πŸ™‚

  34. I think the “first day of school” memory that comes to mind is when my youngest child started kindergarten. I had very mixed feelings about it. On one hand I was very sad that my baby was going to be gone from me for half the day. On the other hand since I had given birth to 5 children in 7 1/2 years I was really looking forward to having time to myself.

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