Back to School

Back to School

Posted on September 5 by Robert Priest
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My birthday is in July so going back to school was one way I kind of felt in sync with the outer world. Beginning each new grade I had a new age, a new season, new clothes   (or at least different hand-me-downs) and a new shot at something. Summer holidays were long enough that, come late August I was usually, if only secretly, beginning to make the equivalent of New Year's resolutions to myself about how studious and on time I would be. Not that I was a bad student. In fact I was always top of my grade so this meant that another enjoyable aspect of going back to school was a renewal of the thrill of feeling prized and somewhat doted on by my teachers. (Side note, my friend Billie Cunning, in grade 3 after hearing me brag about how smart I was told me I was conceited. I'd never heard the word before but it sounded like a compliment to me. So I said thanks.)

I haven't mentioned learning much so far. I think that's because it was my habit to know everything already. (See previous Billie cunning remark) As a voracious reader I had gotten into the habit of reading my older brother's textbooks. This meant that I was basically 2 years ahead of most of my fellows. As a result I was usually the first to have my work finished and most often quite bored. So I was often sent to the school library to read. Here, (again these are the facts) I became the darling of the parent volunteer librarians all of whom took great delight in leading me to any exciting new books that had come in. That was where in about 1961 or 2 I first encountered The Hobbit. But that's another story. (Pun intended)

In high school the emphasis of course shifted. Suddenly for me there was a focus on the opposite sex and the thought of all sorts of new girls  being herded into the same school system as me filled me with romantic fantasies, daydreams, sudden social anxieties of what might happen, and even poetry… all of this despite the fact that in the first 2 years of high school I was a prepubescent lad 5 foot one and 87 pounds (I have a wrestling trophy from grade 9 to prove this) who looked, on average, about 5 to 6 years younger than girls his own age. Which brings me to the dreaded part of going back to school. Especially grade 9. The whole crop of new bullies—all of them larger than me, some of them twice as large. But an upside of experiencing humiliation at such hands I should add was that it sharpened my tendency to be witty, even cutting sometimes. And so it became a significant part of my education. 

In my twenties I had a job for 2 seasons writing topical songs on the CBC radio show Is Anybody Home. One of the topics was going back to school. Here is the poem I wrote and which Eric Rosser put to music and the two of us sang as The Boinks.





Holidays are over for chalk

the desk and the pen and the rule

Holidays are over for lazy paper

Tomorrow is the first day of school


And so the chalk has one last night

the paper has one last chance

to rise up with the fountain pen

and in the moonlight dance


The chalk it whirls and writes great things

with lead and pen in the air

while papers fly like winged things

on winds that are not there

And all do dance with whirling glee

Sweet nonsense is their song

And the words they write shine in the night

but in the morning are gone


'Cause holidays are over for chalk

the desk and the pen and the rule

Holidays are over for lazy paper

tomorrow is the first day of school


Now up from the hills and the mountain streams

the winds have one last chance

to pick up all the summer dreams

and let them quickly dance

the children whirl and write in sand

the dance goes on and on

while all the summer flags and waves

sing this little song -


O holidays are over for chalk

the desk and the pen and the rule

Vacations are over for lazy paper

Tomorrow is the first day of school.


Robert Priest

Posted by Kendra on October 30, 2014

Robert Priest

Robert Priest has written plays, songs, picture books, and poetry for young readers. His critically acclaimed fantasy novel Knights of the Endless Day was compared to the Narnia Chronicles. The first two novels in the Spell Crossed series are The Paper Sword and Second Kiss. He lives in Toronto.