Ever since I was a little girl, it’s seemed to me that the New Year really started when school started in the late summer. The notebooks, calendar, and almanacs provide a visual reminder for me. 

When I was growing up, I don’t remember ever going back to school earlier than the Monday before Labor Day, nor later than the day after Labor Day. So for me, that’s my mental image of when the year begins.  I started first grade on Tuesday, September 3, 1963 at North Side Elementary in Johnson City, Tennessee.

For years, I have been so grateful to Galen Droke for providing comfort for me on that sunny September day. Galen and I grew up at First Christian Church and saw each other in Sunday School practically every Sunday.

As is traditional, the mothers take the children to the first day of school in elementary years, especially in first grade. That’s what my mother did, as well.  When she was ready to leave, I burst into sobs.  I don’t remember why I was crying, because I had long been looking forward to going to school.  Even at that early age, I loved to learn.  At any rate, I was absolutely sobbing.  I can’t imagine what my poor mother thought, nor how I must have made her feel.  What I well remember, though, is that Galen came over to me, put his arm around me and told me with 5-year-old wisdom, “Rebecca, I’m here.  I’ll take care of you.”  (As long as we were 6 by December 31, we started school when we were 5 years old.)  I don’t remember if Galen and I interacted any more that abbreviated day when school was dismissed before lunch.  What I do remember, however, is the comfort he provided to me, and the fact that it was suddenly ok for my mother to return home for a few hours, only to come back and get me when the bell rang. 

I have often wondered in the intervening decades what would have happened to me that day if Galen hadn’t stepped forward and comforted me.  I truly doubt that I would have loved school as much as I did.  So, Galen Droke, thank you for being a life-changer!

While we are on the subject of first grade, I want to share a letter to the editor that I wrote to the Johnson City Press in August, 2019 about Natalie Bailey.  Readers were invited to write about their best teachers. Thank you to Sam Watson, who is the Content Editor, and to Rick Thomason, who is the Publisher, for allowing me to reproduce it below.    

From kindergarten to graduate school, I had many fine teachers.   My good teachers far outweighed just a few teachers who were less than par.

Although not a teacher, a librarian, Natalie Bailey, influenced me to love learning in my early years.  I believe Mrs. Bailey’s first year out of college was when I was in first grade, but I’m not certain about that.  I know Mrs. Bailey was young in her career;  I recently saw her and she looks exactly the same today as she did that late summer date in 1963 when I entered the library at North Side School.

The library at North Side was a big room with lots of bookcases and even more books.  I was intimidated to be in such a large room!  Mrs. Bailey’s enthusiasm  made that cavernous room warm and inviting and perfect for young students to explore.  Initially I was a reluctant reader, but somehow Mrs. Bailey soon changed that. For that I am extremely thankful and blessed.  Indeed, I have often wondered through the years how my life would be different if I didn’t possess my love of reading and learning.

Thank you, Natalie Bailey, for teaching me to love to read and to learn!

Fast forward to college.  As I finance major, I took all of the classes that John Wachowicz, Ph.D., CPA, taught at the University of Tennessee.  John was a wonderful teacher, and in fact, was awarded numerous teaching awards over the course of his career.  Sadly for current students, John retired from UT.  At the time of his retirement, he was Regions Bank Endowed Chair.  I often read what Professor Emeritus Wachowicz is doing on Facebook.

I learned many things in John’s classes in Glocker Hall.  One of the things he consistently said on the first day of class went something like this:  “If you read the text before class, come to class, pay attention, take notes, do your homework and study a little bit, you’ll do well in my class.  I look at your grade as a grade of how effective I am as a teacher when you do those things.  Now if you only come to class today, show up for the exams, and do nothing in between,  I will more than likely need to fail you.  And that’s certainly not a reflection of me.  It’s a reflection of you.”  Indeed, and such is true of much of life.

Something that I learned in one of John’s classes that I use just about every day of my life is to ask myself this question, “Is this the best use of my time?”  Asking that question sure helps to seal my priorities!  It may such an impact on me that I included that question in my book, Serving with Significance.  Just prior to that question, I state, “Today’s currency is time;  people tend to quit attending meetings when they feel their time is wasted.” 

Let’s all go forth and serve with significance!

#Whenschoolstarts #1963 #almanac #GalenDroke #FirstChristianChurch #SundaySchool #firstgrade #JohnsonCityPress #SamWatson #RickThomason #NatalieBailey #JohnWachowicz #GlockerHall #RegionsBankEndowedChair #ServingwithSignificance

Copyright, September 3, 2020 by Rebecca Henderson

3 thoughts on “When the Year Really Starts

  1. Galen Droke was a life changer to his friends at North Side, North Junior High, Science Hill and to the students he encouraged as a teacher and coach. He is still that man who stood beside you all those years ago saying “I’m here!”
    Natalie Bailey captured all our hearts with her enthusiasm and excitement about reading.
    We were truly blessed to have wonderful friends and teachers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have the same thoughts about the real new year! You have just invoked memories of my first day in first grade in Mississippi, also in the early ’60s. My birthday was late in the year, and my parents were going to send me to kindergarten…at the last minute, they switched me to first grade since I met the requirements. I remember having to go stand by myself at the front of the auditorium while they tried to figure out what to do with me, then shipped me off in a line to a class with Mrs. Hughes. She was very old…but probably much younger than I am now! And I think I must have driven her crazy the first six weeks or so because I had never been in a classroom before. But she set me off on the right direction, teaching me to love writing. Am very thankful for that “new year beginning.” Great blog!!


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