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Olivia Newport Back to School suppliesBack to school!

Actually, back-to-school season does not affect me much. My college daughter who teaches preschool full time and lives at home tells me her class schedule and then gives me a dirty look when I ask her again what it will be three days later. I ask her to write it down. Her place of employment also has a back-to-school week, but it has nothing to do with me.

No more buying new binders, hunting for the specified calculator, or assessing how many clothes kids have grown out of over a summer of exposed knees and bare feet. Sales on pens and markers and sticky notes are tempting for a writer, though.

I once wrote a work-for-hire piece about the role Thomas Jefferson played in establishing public education in this country. He believed education was power. It still is. It still allows people to engage thoughtfully in public discourse and fosters leaders we’ve haven’t begun to imagine yet.

At this time of year I especially think of Mrs. Bendtsen in the third grade, Mr. Kaempfer in the fifth grade, Miss Murphy in the sixth grade, Mr. Ewert in seventh and eighth, and Mr. Bridenthal in tenth and eleventh.

I was just one kid among hundreds who passed through their classrooms over the years. But they stand out in my memory as teachers who let me know I had talent with words and who watered my thirst for knowledge and kept me brimming with ideas to write about.

When I was in high school my mom worked as the principal’s secretary. It was slightly creepy that my teachers had such easy access to my mother, but it all turned out for the good. Mr. Bridenthal stopped by one day and told my mother I would “go far.”

Well, I’m not sure how far I’ve gone, but here I am.

I had some less-than-stellar teachers, and so did my kids. But I also had some shining stars and so did they.

Here’s how you can get ready for back to school. If teachers are among your friends and acquaintances, this is a great time of year to offer some encouragement and gratitude for their commitment. If you have a school-age child, when you go in for that first open house or parent-teacher conference, express appreciation and acknowledge hard work.

Contribute to the back-to-school conversation and get your friends to do it too. You may be speaking to the teacher a child will remember with admiration 40 years from now.

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