There are few things I love more than shopping for school supplies. Smooth, crisp notebook paper. The scent of freshly sharpened pencils. Animal-shaped erasers. New crayons.

Those 4-color pens with push buttons that were all the rage decades ago, and cycle back now and again.
Okay, I will stop! I remember my own back-to-school outings with surprising clarity. These signified not only an opportunity to shop—a rarity in our house!—but more importantly, a new beginning, a new chapter, new friends, endless possibilities. I was a child who loved school, adored my teachers, and could not wait for assignments. In other words—I was (and am) a bit of a nerd. Choosing unicorn folders and a new lunchbox was basically my personal Christmas.

This year, residents of my household will be starting grade 3, grade 8 and university, as we are hosting a teenaged foster son. He arrived from Afghanistan in May, and has been accepted to a one-year university program—his on-ramp, he hopes, to a four-year degree. The idea of attending college in Canada is almost magical in his eyes. His enthusiasm has buoyed my own, and one evening as I cooked dinner, I explained that I could take him back-to-school shopping. My fellow nerd quite immediately understood the significance of this outing. A family tradition carries on.

While I feel somewhat guilty for walking him right into one of Madison Avenue’s best annual marketing campaigns, I equally thrill to the idea of helping equip him for his first educational experience in Canada. In his home village, he was the top student in his graduating class, and president of the astronomy club. He has shared with pride that his winning essay in a nationwide contest came with the prize of a new telescope for his high school.

One evening, he told my sons about his earliest memory of school. He had become distracted by a bus passing outside the classroom window and stopped paying attention to the lecture. In response, his teacher smacked him sharply with a stick.

“I never let myself be distracted in school again,” he noted wryly.

Wherever we are, and wherever we go, we carry with us these memories of our early years. We remember that one teacher who just “got us.” Who loved us unconditionally. Comforted us, challenged us. Infuriated us. Believed in us.
As I write this, I am thinking of the teachers among our Exchange readers. At the start of this new school year, I am sending you joy, energy, and a minimum of frustration. May you meet a child who changes you in profound ways; may you invite your students to grow and create and play! For the directors among us, my wish is simple: may you always have a big enough metaphorical hat rack to contain the many hats you wear. So many people rely on your leadership. Your work is important and meaningful. Tackle it courageously! Teacher trainers—you have an opportunity and a responsibility to prepare the next generation of educators. I have no doubt you take this seriously, but do not forget to bring to your students the joy and heart that encircle our field and everyone involved in it.

Our Exchange community includes consultants, researchers, and writers, parents and grandparents, infant room substitute teachers, and center administrators. Poets and preschool jam band leaders, vibrant storytellers and good trouble-makers.

This fall, you are all in my heart. You are on the hearts and minds of our Exchange team. Keep on keeping on in this important work you do. We are here for you, and we believe in you.


Sara Gilliam

Sara Gilliam author and former editor of Exchange magazine.

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