Commemorate the Joy of a New Semester

In the genre of self-help books which I readily consume and then promptly fail to follow, sometimes one or two pearls of wisdom enter my consciousness and reemerge in this column. One of these is Gretchen Rubin’s suggestion in her book The Happiness Project that we ought to cultivate the activities which brought us joy when we were children. When I was younger I loved getting ready for the first day of school. I loved the freedom of the summer, but as the end of August approached I liked getting my pencils in order and my binders and notebooks packed in my backpack.

Gretchen would have been proud that when I was in law school I was still getting ready for school in a way my ten-year-old self would have loved. Instead of merely purchasing a binder for each class, one semester I actually designed binder covers with the class name and some related photos or clipart. They looked like book covers for a low-budget self-published book where the author also made his own cover using only Microsoft Paint (although I had used Adobe Photoshop for my designs, no one looking at the result would have been able to guess that I had had access to proper software). I carefully printed each garish cover and slid them into the clear plastic front of each binder. Ultimately I discovered that only half of my classes really called for a binder, but that act of preparing for the semester with my tasteless attempt at creativity brought me joy.

Now that I teach law school classes, I prepare for the fall semester by rewriting my syllabi, purchasing new clothes, and color-coding my schedules on Outlook (for work) and Google Calendar (so that I can attempt to ensure I find enough time for sleeping, eating, and getting to work on time). While we can question the wisdom of so much consumerism and obsessive color-coding fueling my new-school-year dreams, I think the sentiments of new beginnings should be celebrated by teachers as much as by students. It might even help us with the ever-elusive goal of helping our students to relate to us, as we all share in the joy of a blank slate and new beginnings.

Here are some small suggestions to help you commemorate the start of the new school year, whether you’re a teacher, a student, or someone who remembers the simple childhood joy of preparing for a new school year:

  1. Color-code your binders, your notebooks, or your calendar. Bonus points if you use stickers in some way.
  2. Dress smartly and take a photo of yourself on the first day of school.
  3. Sharpen a new bunch of pencils, or get a whole rainbow pack of highlighters, markers, or sharpies.
  4. Pack yourself a lunch that you would have loved when you were a child.

Whether the fall means a new semester or just a new season, I wish you all the joys of new beginnings!


  1. What a nice post. Like you, I’ve always been fond of the back to school moments. New books, new clothes, new learnings; I loved every moment of it.
    Thank you for making me smile today!