Monday, September 3, 2012

Going back to school (10 things)

This week's Monday Listicles is 10 things about school. So here, in random order (like my brain works), are my thoughts about going back to school:

With my brother and sister at my high school
 graduation, 1982
1. Education is a gift. I feel fortunate that my parents believed in the importance of education. They sent all three of us to private preschool and kindergarten in the 1960s-1970s, when it was not compulsory. Given the fact that my parents lived on one income and were paying for my dad's graduate school tuition, it must have been quite a sacrifice. I remember my dad taking on summer jobs (working in the cannery or at the Clackamas County Fair) to bring in extra income when I was young. They continued to make sacrifices to send Nadine and me to Pacific Lutheran University (where they also went), and they continue to help my brother with his tuition, as he has returned to school (and is earning As!). From the time I was born, I learned that education and learning were absolutely critical, not just for success but also for enjoyment of life!

My poor fourth grader got a bit of a lecture the other day when he was complaining about going back to school. I told him about kids in undeveloped countries whose parents cannot afford to send them to school. Many of them desire education above all else but are not able to receive it. Perhaps a bit of overkill for the poor kid, but I want him to appreciate that he has certain privileges growing up in a developed country.

2. Excellent teachers can change lives. My favorite years were third grade and fifth grade. This is an excerpt of a post I wrote last year in praise of teachers:

Mr. Sposito (third grade): Stan Sposito was, by far, the coolest teacher I had. It was his first year of teaching his own class (after student teaching in my sister's class the previous year) and the years were 1972-73, toward the end of the flower child era. He looked like he walked right out of Haight Ashbury into the classroom. Tall, suave, and hip. He encouraged us to call him Stan and allowed us to come up with our own names. (I was "Renee" half of the year, and "Maria" for the second half.) We had various "stations" throughout the classroom (like a library corner with rugs and pillows), which was revolutionary back then. For the school talent show, he divided us into girl and boy bands...and taught the boys sang "Go Away Little Girl" and the girls to sing "Beautiful Sunday." I LOVED third grade. We even had a class bunny.

Mrs. Pressman (fifth grade): Mrs. Pressman was young, classy, kind, and beautiful, with short blonde hair. Fifth grade was even better than third grade because I adored Mrs. Pressman. She encouraged my burgeoning feminism (by applauding the way I added "and women" to a handwriting exercise that spoke about the accomplishments of men). We had a Taiwanese student in our class that year, Phillip, who spoke not a word of English. I was touched by the way Mrs. Pressman went out of her way to include Phillip and encourage all of us to do the same. That year we had exchange students visit from Barrow, Alaska, and I had an eskimo girl come stay with me for a week. I remember doing lots of projects and events that year--such as a career fair (I was in the group of kids who wanted to be teachers for the deaf). Mrs. Pressman had beautiful handwriting. She selected the four of us who had the best handwriting (all girls, of course!) and sent us off with her student teacher to learn calligraphy. That was the start of my fondness for the art of lettering. I kept in constant touch with Mrs. Pressman until many years ago--I wrote to her regularly after she moved to Ketchum, Idaho (and stopped teaching to start a family), but sadly one day she stopped writing...I'm not sure why. The other day I came across a copy of On the Day You Were Born, which she had sent and inscribed to Christopher when he was a baby. I feel sad that I fell out of touch with her, and I do not know why. She was my inspiration to become a teacher.

Kieran and Nicholas with Renay Schaeffer,
who came to watch Kieran dance in August
 (she continues to be one of his #1 fans!)
And then my own sons have had wonderful teachers (as I've written about in the past), who I know they will remember for the rest of their lives as I remember my own favorites. We are lucky that all of our children enjoy reading and stories...especially as we both majored in English. I think if one of them did not enjoy books, they might feel like an oddball in our family!

3. If I could live my life over again, I'd study more. I'm reading an interesting book right now, Naoko, a Japanese paranormal-type novel about a man whose wife and daughter are in a horrible ski bus accident. His wife dies, and his daughter survives...however, his wife's soul and personality have taken over his daughter's body. As they come to adapt to their new circumstances, she (Naoko) decides she wants to take her life much more seriously and applies herself to her studies like she never did the first time she experienced childhood. She strives to get into medical school and transcend the limits placed on females in Japanese society. Heisuke, the husband, has to cope with his sadness, realizing that his wife felt unfulfilled as a housewife...and also grieving the loss of both his wife and his daughter.

Nadine's graduation from med school
(we were all so proud of her!)
Reading this book has made me wish I had applied myself more to my academic work as well. What would I do if I had to relive my adolescence? (Not that I would wish for that in a million years!) School came easily to me in grade school and junior high, and I never had to study much. When I got to high school and the classes got much harder (Algebra 2 and Physics were my downfalls!), my lack of study habits hit me hard. I applied myself much more in college, fortunately. But I sometimes compare myself to my sister, who was a studying fiend! I don't think I could have made it into or through medical school, residency, MCATs, Boards, etc. I greatly admire her studiousness and tenacity, and I'm so proud of what she has accomplished!

Nicholas' first day of school (he started at Fulton Park Preschool
  because he missed the cut-off by 3 days)
4. September always reminds me of starting over. Even during the period between graduating from college and when Christopher entered school, and no one in our family was going back to school, September always reminds me of buying new school supplies and clothes, and starting the year afresh. Now I have three sons, so back-to-school shopping is very low key (I placed an online Old Navy order for new jeans and a few new shirts, and we need to buy dress slacks for Chris--that's about it!). I'm sure we save a lot of money having sons!

5. Fall also reminds me of the NICU. Chris was born on August 23, 16 years ago, and he stayed until December 21 (117 days). We spent the entire fall going back and forth to the hospital a few times a day. The fresh, fall air...the falling leaves...they all bring back memories of those days in the hospital, fearing for our son's life...and we realize how blessed we are to have survived it all!

6. It saddens me to see how some parents place so much pressure on their children. I've never had much patience for parents who are competitive about their children's abilities or push them to achieve early (like the tiger mother and others like her). Like the parents who shun the play-oriented preschools because they want their kids learning Mandarin in preschool...or want them to be able to read and write by the time they are four...or build their child's bridge or diorama for them. Or the ones who have them in six activities at once and exhaust their poor kids. I know I would not fit in well on the east coast or in an ultra-competitive parenting environment. As much as I wish I had studied more as a young person, I know that this is not something I can push my children really hard to do (beyond the encouraging and support we provide). All we ask of them is that they do their best and work hard.

Chris receiving an award from his math teacher last spring
7. One advantage of the American school system is that we produce more well-rounded students. Mike has often commented that he did not have to take mathematics after he was 15. Recently he mentioned that he's glad that grades are not solely contingent on the final exams. (Chris had all As in his last semester of his freshman year, until finals...test taking is not his strongest suit. Consequently, some of his grades fell to A-s and Bs after finals.) In the United Kingdom, you are expected to know which subjects you want to focus in by the age of 16, when you take your final exams for school (A levels). And at that point, your final exams determine your entire grade. Both in the later years of secondary school and in college, you focus primarily on your major subjects and do not need to take a wide variety of core subjects like we do here in the United States. Considering the fact that I changed my major in college (like many students do) and could be a lazy student (I always did better in the classes I enjoyed), I'm glad that I was exposed to a wide variety of subjects. I'm also glad Chris doesn't have to make any monumental decisions at this age, because he has even less of an idea of what he wants to do with his life than I did at his age.

Mom in my dorm room
(first day of PLU, fall 1982)
8. College should be accessible to all who are interested. That's where Mike had a huge advantage...his university degree and M.Phil. were completely paid for by the British government. He could even go on the "dole" (collect unemployment) during the summer! I worked all the way through school (both summers in high school and college, and 10 hours a week all through college). When we left Japan and got married, I was still paying off my college loans--for the 10 years after I got my B.A. Although students in the UK do not still get a full ride, the universities are still highly subsidized and much more affordable than they are here in the United States. On the other hand, I also had way more work experience and marketable skills than Mike and was more employable as a result. I don't have any regrets, but I know I was lucky to have my parents' support, too.

Kieran's first day of kindy
When I was in high school, my best friend was a guy named Ken, who was raised by a single mom--I think she might have been an alcoholic. When I went off to college, we grew apart, and sadly, we have lost touch. I always wonder how Ken's life might have turned out differently had he been able to go to college. But in the U.S., unless you have family to help you or the tenacity to figure out a way to pay for college yourself, it is out of reach. I greatly admire those people who work their way through college (like my friends Catherine and Brad)...and here's the socialist in me: I've always felt it to be unfair that college is actually cheaper for wealthy families who do not have to take out college loans than for middle-class families and students who have to take on crippling debt once they graduate.

Chris' first day of kindergarten
 (with his preschool friend, James)
9. My littlest one is starting kindergarten! I suppose I will probably cry some, even though I'm excited for him. He's the first of our children to be in all-day kindergarten. We didn't do full day with our older two, but Nicholas will be six a few days before school starts, and academically he is very ready. Socially is another story! He relishes being the baby in the family and is feeling ambivalent about starting big-kid school. I am confident he will really enjoy it once he gets used to it. His teacher is wonderful!

10. Mike is highly anticipating next Friday. Chris started school already last week, Kieran starts on Wednesday, and kindergarten starts on Friday. This will be the first time in 16 years that Mike has had five days a week to himself. Kieran was born when Chris was in kindergarten, and Nicholas was born a few days before Kieran started preschool. He is so ready for this! Here he is, doing a little dance:

Thanks to Monday Listicles (organized by Stasha at for the inspiration. Check out some more!


  1. I graduated in 1982 too! Nice list and SO glad your son survived all that. Scary!

  2. What a fabulous list! I do believe you encompassed so much in this list of ten, I can't even wrap my mind around it all. My last undergraduate loan payment is in December...when kid 3 will come, nearly five years AFTER I've stopped working! Ah, American colleges & their tuitions!

  3. Thanks, Stacie and Jackie! I was also lucky that when I graduated, I only owed $10,000 in loans. Nowadays the bill is much higher!

  4. I wish I applied myself more in school too. Since getting Bs was so easy imagine how little work it would take to get As. Hope I convey that to my boy the right way when the times comes. Love your list Marie.

  5. I loved this list. My baby started kindergarten today too. Wow, the time flies. There is so much Truth in this list. Great job. Erin

  6. Thanks, Stasha and Erin. Time does definitely fly!!