Back to school


Maybe it’s the fact that both my par­ents were teach­ers when I was grow­ing up, or that I was a stu­dious, se­ri­ous child, but I’ve al­ways loved go­ing back to school in the fall.

My mother was a high school math teacher, and my fa­ther taught at West Ge­or­gia Col­lege, now called the Univer­sity of West Ge­or­gia. Go­ing back to school meant a chance to start over, to get or­ga­nized, to get into a rou­tine and to cre­ate a plan to be suc­cess­ful in the year ahead.

My ear­li­est mem­ory of school is be­ing dropped off in front of Car­roll­ton Kin­der­garten un­der the metal awning on the cir­cu­lar drive­way. Chil­dren’s foot­prints had been painted on the ground where stu­dents were to be dropped off. Look­ing down at the foot­prints and step­ping out onto the as­phalt, match­ing my feet to the painted prints pro­vided me with a feel­ing of ac­com­plish­ment.

One day, a neigh­bor missed the mark, drop­ping me off a bit be­fore or a bit af­ter the foot­prints — I can’t re­mem­ber which — and tak­ing away the feel­ing of ac­com­plish­ment I had got­ten by land­ing on the feet. I was ter­ri­bly up­set that day with not be­ing dropped off at the proper lo­ca­tion.

The start of school not only meant a fresh start for aca­demic achieve­ment, but also sig­ni­fied the begin­ning of the so­cial sea­son in the small town where I grew up: Car­roll­ton, Ge­or­gia. This boom­ing town, which to­day houses many com­muters from At­lanta, was a smaller com­mu­nity when I was young. So­cial ac­tiv­i­ties were cre­ated around high school foot­ball and church. Foot­ball games were not only at­tended at home but also on the road. We of­ten trav­elled for hours to watch our team, the Tro­jans, play.

Dur­ing my col­lege years, fall meant the re­turn to cam­pus, catch­ing up with friends and join­ing in the whirl­wind of so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties (rush, any­one?). From an aca­demic per­spec­tive, the start of a new se­mes­ter pro­vided a chance at a new begin­ning. No grades had been earned, no first im­pres­sions made; there was a clean slate, and any­thing was pos­si­ble.

Books and sup­plies, pur­chased with high hopes, were or­ga­nized and laid out care­fully in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the work to come. The first day of classes pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity to make a first im­pres­sion, not only with teacher, but with other stu­dents.

The fresh start was put into mo­tion once a copy of the teacher’s syl­labus was in hand. This marked the path from the start of the term to where I would be at the end. It in­cluded the topics to be cov­ered, the ob­jec­tives of the class, the home­work that would be as­signed, the tests that would be taken and the weight of each in the cal­cu­la­tion of the fi­nal grades.

The in­di­vid­ual teach­ers’ pref­er­ences and plans for grad­ing would weigh heav­ily in my plan­ning for the term ahead. Should I fo­cus on class par­tic­i­pa­tion, tests, projects or ex­ams? Was there a way to earn ex­tra credit? I marked the test dates on the cal­en­dar and they, as well as projects, gave me a sense of struc­ture for the com­ing term.

Af­ter grad­u­ate school, I moved into the work­force in cor­po­rate fi­nan­cial plan­ning, which pro­vided me with a sim­i­lar struc­ture. I cre­ated an­nual bud­gets through a clear plan­ning process, with spe­cific due dates. Monthly re­ports pro­vided me with on­go­ing feed­back to mea­sure how I was pro­gress­ing to­ward my goals. Ev­ery year pro­vided a new op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a new plan to be mea­sured against.

And the cy­cle con­tin­ues. This com­ing week marks the begin­ning of the school year for our chil­dren and re­minds me that plans are im­por­tant to pro­vide struc­ture and fo­cus in our lives. All their school sup­plies are pur­chased and ready; their school­books are on their desks; their cal­en­dars are begin­ning to fill up with games and other ac­tiv­i­ties.

And while we know that plans al­ways change as they ma­te­ri­al­ize into re­al­ity, the plan­ning process it­self al­lows us to re­con­sider and re­view to en­sure that what is most im­por­tant in our lives — fam­ily, com­mu­nity, ca­reer and faith — are re­flected in where our time is spent.

The lessons I learned in pre­par­ing for school are ones I ex­pect to carry through life. This fall, dear reader, you too may wish to set aside a bit of time for your­self to con­sider your pri­or­i­ties, re­flect them in your plan and cre­ate a struc­ture of time that will set your­self up for suc­cess.

To find out more about Jackie Gin­grich Cush­man, and read fea­tures by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit www. cre­

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