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Cushman: Back to school
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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