Tick-Tock, School Clock

BATT - School Clock

Is there any tick of the clock more predictably sobering each year than the one which moves us from August 31st to September 1st? From the August of hot days, U-Pick berries, lake docks, family picnics, sand castles, country fairs, campfires, s’mores, and sitting around doing absolutely nothing, to the September of school hallways, bells, classrooms, rows of desks, blackboards, textbooks, math problems, vocabulary lists, lunch lines, tests, rules…? Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely loved school when I was a kid. But I felt the solemnity of the calendar page turning from the last month of summer to the first month of autumn. It seemed like a moment of radical transformation: you go to bed wild and free and wake up…changed…that is, you go from this:

BATT - Kids Picnic

to this:

BATT - Michigan -

from this:

Batt - Kids Beach 1

to this:

BATT - Serious Students - Michigan

 from this:

BATT- Marshmallows

and this:

BATT - S'Mores

to this:

BATT - school lunch

and this:

BATT - School Lunch 2

from this:

BATT - Water Slide

to this:

Batt - Child at Desk

and from this:

BATT - Ferris Wheel

to  –  aaaaacccckkkkkk! – it makes me shudder –  this:

BATT - School Clock

I was a happy kid, loved school. I was a good reader, interested, eager to please, well-behaved, teachers liked me, I liked learning things, and I loved school supplies: pencils, erasers, notebooks, Peechee folders, lined paper, glue, staplers, binders, loved it all. Loved getting new saddle shoes every year. Loved looking forward to school picture day. My school pictures looked almost exactly like the one below – lots of stripes, lots of plaids, boys in rolled dungarees, girls with sweet collars or their dresses and barrettes in their hair (and by the way, this teacher had thirty-six students in her class – they look to be first- or second-graders – that is WAY too many students for one primary teacher – I hope she survived the school year):

BATT - River Oaks 1951

I didn’t like chalk, math, or cafeteria food, and I would have preferred wearing dungarees, too, but that’s about it for the negative side of all things academic. Despite being quite happy in the classroom, I loved recess best, and my memories of the playground – jump rope, hopscotch, tether ball, jacks, tag  – are vivid.

My mom was a teacher. My dad was a teacher. My aunt was a teacher. My husband was a teacher. My sister became a teacher. I ended up teaching for several years. And, as I say, I loved school. So why can I still remember staring at a clock exactly like the one pictured above, seeing the minute hand move backward for one second, then jerk ahead to the next minute? I’ve got that double-tick of the clock imprinted on my muscles and bones and brain. The hands on that clock moved SO S-L-O-W-L-Y. When the bell rang for recess, I was out the door running like a banshee, screaming with delight all the way to the playground.

I salute all of the wonderful teachers now who are, without doubt, much like the teachers I knew and loved when I was in elementary school – Miss Nelson, Mrs. Frizzi, Mr. Threewit, Mr. Bloyd. Teachers still hang wonderful bulletin boards with bright pictures, just like this:

BATT - Bulletin Board

They keep their classrooms cheerful and organized, and they manage to create quiet little nooks and crannies for some of their quieter little people:

BATT - Bulletin Board 2

They read to their students, they encourage the kids who struggle, they correct endless papers, they wake their students up to the wonders of the world, they do work that is vitally important in terms of producing good citizens for a democracy, kids who learn to listen, kids who learn to ask the right questions.  Good teachers open metaphorical doors, the hardest kind to open.

And every September, teachers deal with a classroom full of kids whose families have just turned the page of the calendar from August to September. These teachers still have – and the kids in their classrooms still have  – sunburns that have not faded. The scent of hot dogs and s’mores cooked over a campfire linger somewhere just outside the doors next to the attendance office. Even the principal dreams about his August paddle board lessons while he tells students to slow down, no running in the hallways.

I wish all the teachers reading this a wonderful, satisfying, bump-free school year, full of unexpected pleasures. When you’re reading the list of class rules, just remember that many of your students are still thinking about what it felt like to somersault off the dock down at the lake into the icy cold water. They are still going from this:

BATT - Camping

to this:


and from this:

BATT - Dock

to this:

BATT - kids-school-bus

It takes awhile to get into the groove of school. Sitting at a desk can be hard after running through sprinklers for three months. It’s even hard for the kids who love school. And for their teachers.

But you all know that. So chin-up, have some fun, take your students outside once in awhile, let them run around and go crazy. You run around and go crazy once in awhile, too, whether in front of the students or once you’re home.

Tick-tock until next summer.


[Visit The Drift Record to see my post for Poetry Friday: “Sentimental Education” by Mary Ruefle.]


16 responses to “Tick-Tock, School Clock

  1. Karen Lee Schmidt

    Thank you for this, Julie…I smiled all the way through. Even at the memory of that clock’s backward then forward click! I wonder if those clocks still hang. They were so ubiquitous to growing up, and the source of playfully mean jokes on our poor teachers (notes passed around, “at the click of 11:33, everyone drop a pencil.”🙃)

    • Oh, I remember those clock-related practical jokes. It’s a wonder some of our teachers survived with good humor intact!

  2. I wonder–do they have digital wall clocks in classrooms now? Even with no school to report to, I’m already feeling the sad transition from summer to fall. This was a good summer.

    • Bonny, I wonder if I’m feeling the Goodbye-Summer moment even more this year because the weather in The Pacific Northwest felt like the weather of my childhood in California? Months without rain…..And re: those clocks, I think they’ve come down. Are they for sale anywhere? I might look around.

  3. Thanks, those are wonderful photos. I collect class photos like those. You’re so right about the tick of that clock.

    My mom was a teacher. Remember, teachers are making a change too – going from the summer off, or teaching summer school, to working full time again. My mom always spent a lot of the summer planning lessons and making posters for her classroom. I remember the squeak of her felt tip markers and the way they smelled.

    • Hangtown – my brother, sister and I always got to help my mom put up the bulletin boards for the first day of school – trace the needed letters to construction paper, cut them out, pin them up in some cute or jaunty way, add pictures or lists…we thought it was great fun!

  4. What a great post and a timely reminder that this is a time of startling transition. Your photos are a delightful visual of that. I love the idea that our sunburns linger along with a smell of woodsmoke while we walk through freshly waxed school hallways.

    • Thanks, mbhmaine! My husband took a one- year job as a night janitor at a middle school to pay his graduate school tuition, so he knows all about those freshly waxed hallways! 🙂 It takes a village to keep a school alive, that’s for sure.

  5. I had the granddaughters today because they had the day off, started last week. And though they too say they’ve had a good start, they played and played today as if they couldn’t get enough. That clock is in my memory too, but no more. None of their classrooms seem to have one. I love this Julie, a sweet remembrance and tribute to teachers.

  6. Fall and the beginning of school was always the new year for me to celebrate. Even though I’m no longer tied to the school calendar, I still feel a rush at the turn of the calendar this time of year.

  7. That last tick before summer was the one I remember taking the longest. And the first tick of the first day back. Resignation and memory carry us through. And I liked school, too.

    • Brenda, I know what you mean. That first tick of the first day back – wow, Of course, I was always in the front row of desks, waving my hand, asking questions. I bet I drove my teachers CRAZY.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s