When I was little, the gloomiest day of the year was Labour Day. You might think that on the last day of summer we boys would make the most of our last fleeting moments of freedom. But somehow we couldn’t manage it. After breakfast we’d all gather on the curb and speak in anguished tones about essays, mean teachers and tests.
My parents had a different outlook. For them the first day of school was a day to rejoice. As Edgar W. Howe once said: “If there were no schools to take the children away from home part of the time, the insane asylums would be filled with mothers.” While we lamented our fate, they were quietly celebrating the return of daytime tranquility.
Of course, even worse than our parents’ happiness was the attitude of the turncoats: the teacher’s pets. The worst offender on my street was a girl who looked remarkably like Margaret on Dennis the Menace. Each Labour Day she’d smugly inform us that she was “happy to go back to school.” The traitor! She was one grade ahead of me and always shook her head sadly when I asked what my new grade would be like. “You’ll never pass, Ray. You’re just not smart enough.” That would send me into paroxysms of panic that proved her point.
Until I was nine, we lived in a pretty tough neighbourhood in Toronto. I often wondered if they sold bully franchises. I’m pretty sure the kid who stole my lunch money had to pay a royalty fee.
The first day of school was always hard. I remember in Grade 7 the teacher gave us a quick rundown on what we’d be learning. When he asked if there were any questions, one of the girls raised her hand and inquired, “When’s the first day of Christmas vacation?” The teacher was duly annoyed but she was our hero. She was the only eleven-year old brave enough to say what we are all thinking. That same year there was a big change in our routine. Instead of having one teacher all day long we had different teachers for different subjects. The history teacher was especially intimidating. He should have taught religion because he had a penchant for surprise tests and most of us prayed, trying to answer questions without having studied. Still I didn’t feel too bad about messing up. As Aunt Bee once said on the Andy Griffith Show, “History is hard. There’s so much more of it these days!”
This year the teachers are on strike. Now, I don’t know about today’s kids, but when our teachers went on strike in 1974 we were delighted. Extra days off!
There were just two flies in the ointment. Firstly, our English teacher would phone regularly with essays for us to do while he was away. He was a daunting character so nobody dared ask him how come we had to work while he was on the picket line. Secondly, after about a month, one of the teacher’s pets started her own picket line demanding that we go back to school. She was on the front page of the local paper as an example to the rest of us. A few days later a deal was done and our freedom ended. I’m sure she believed that she’d singlehandedly ended the strike.
The worst thing about going back to school is being reminded of it by adults who seem to take pleasure in rubbing it in. I must admit sometimes I’m tempted to ask my friends’ kids if they’re happy to be going back to school. Maybe that’s unkind. But as Will Rogers once said, “Everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody else.”
Ray Smit is the author of The Trouble With Tapioca now avaiable at Amazon.com. His columns appear every other Thursday.
He can be contacted at Raymondsmit@shaw.ca