When the first yellow leaf shows itself, we are both saddened and pleased--saddened because we are not certain we are ready for summer to be over, and pleased because we love autumn, the change of colors, and the changes in our lives that autumn brings. September has always been my special month, partly because it is my birthday month and, like a child with a pair of new shoes, we all feel just a bit special when people honor us for our birthday. September is the month of two great songs full of nostalgia and special meaning: September Song, and September in the Rain.
When we were children, we lived twelve miles from town on an isolated farm in the Penrose Valley of northwest Wyoming. With two sisters near my age, two younger sisters, and a younger brother born not too long before I left home, we were left to improvise our own play time and adventures. Play time and adventures became a thing of the past when we got a bit older because then play time became sugar beet hoeing time, haying time, wheat shocking time, chore time with the pigs, chickens, and helping to milk the cows. I think that, mostly, we loved being out of doors in the countryside with the smells of newly cut alfalfa, the aroma of the Shoshone River near our home drifting over the night air, the noisy crickets, and the peacefulness of our little valley. But while our classmates were going to the Saturday afternoon matinees at the Teton Theater in Powell, we were sweating in the summer sun in the beet and hayfields.
But then, when September came, we were glad to be back in school. School meant that, for five days a week, we rode a cold and freezing school bus for nearly an hour each way to school. But at least we were in town with other children and teachers and our isolation was over. In the early grades, school meant a brand new box of Crayolas, new shoes, maybe other new clothes, rarely purchased and often sewn on mother's treadle sewing machine. So for nine months out of the year, our isolation was over and we were left on our own to see what we could learn and how well we could do in school.
I never got out of school until my 70th birthday with two exceptions: I spent about two and a half years as research director for the Wyoming Legislature in Cheyenne Wyoming, and nearly a year as an economist in the Office of Tax Analysis in the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, D. C. Other than those two lapses, I either was going to school or teaching school for over sixty years, forty-five of them teaching in the classroom. Some former teachers I talk to are thankful not to be teaching any more. I still miss the classroom--I miss the students, I miss the challenge of developing material for new classes, I miss the interchange in lecture rooms of 400 students, I miss reading books in my field, I miss the general atmosphere of school and books and classes and students and faculty.
I do not miss faculty meetings, most of which over 45 years were an utter waste of time. I do not miss office politics. I do not miss whiny and crybaby students who are absolutely certain they should have received an A in my class when their average was about 65% and then some even had their daddy and mommy come in to complain. What I do miss is the energy and shining light that bright students bring to school and to the classroom and to their learning efforts and their performance in and out of the classroom. But then, inevitably comes the first exam. And I do not miss preparing, administering, or grading it or any of the following exams. There is nothing glorious in monitoring an exam of 400 students in a classroom with the odor of nervous perspiration wafting over a room full of fidgeting, stressed-out students.
So then this fall is the 14th autumn I have been away from school. I watch the colors change on Lone Peak, a massive sentinel mountain that guards the south Salt Lake Valley, and the foggy clouds that enshroud Mt. Timpanogos, a seven-mile behemoth of a mountain I could see from my sixth floor office in the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young in Provo. I watch the colors change along the Jordan River, the yellows more yellow every day, the bright yellow aspen patches on the high reaches of Lone Peak fade and disappear, and then the leaves start to fall and soon the bony branches of formerly leaf-clad trees are waving hopelessly in the wind. And I think, where are they all? Where are all the thousands and thousands of students who sat through my classes as I tortured them with the fine points of economic analysis? Where do they live? Are they doctors, or lawyers, or CPAs, or truck drivers or computer specialists or raising families? What do they remember? Do they remember the word egregious which I taught to thousands of students?
And then I think of the next generation of pre-schoolers, trained to learn letters and words and numbers on their iPads before they ever start preschool or kindergarten. Will this jump in early learning give them a running start in learning and will they become better problem solvers and learn to make intelligent decisions? As for me, just give me the super-duper large box of new Crayolas, which I never was able to afford, and I will be happy to start school with my shiny new shoes and my new pair of bib overalls and my long blond bangs hanging down in my face. And then I will begin to learn.