School's open.

Well, maybe not for another week, but you get the point. Summer vacation is over. It's back to the books and the grind.

School doesn't have to be a chore, however. For the thousands of Fairfield students returning to the classroom on Aug. 29, the start of the new academic year is a time for new challenges. Many kindergartners leave home for the first time under the guidance of someone other than their parents. And high school seniors look forward to their last year before they embark on their next chapter, a majority of them preparing for college.

The basic ingredients for a good education are a willing student and an engaging teacher.

When I think back to my elementary school days I only vividly remember two teachers -- Miss Bilmeyer, the kindergarten teacher, and "Old Man Diller," the math teacher.

Miss Bilmeyer is a lasting impression because I was a scared kindergartner who had to leave the secure nest of home.

I cried most of that first day, but Miss Bilmeyer recognized my fear and comforted me as my mother left for home. I can still smell the paints and molding clay in the classroom, hear the sounds of the footsteps in the hall and see those tiny cubbyholes where we kept our belongings.

Mr. Diller was a different story. He was mean -- at least to a grade-schooler he was. He was a big man with a booming voice who never tolerated any nonsense.

When we sat down at our desks he expected us to pay attention and get to work. One day, I was flopping one of my loafers around under the desk as I worked on a particular math problem when he sauntered over, bent down and picked up my shoe. The room went silent as my classmates watched him walk over to the window, open it and toss the shoe.

After class, I had to retrieve it. Snow covered the ground, so I had to hop on one foot to the spot where he threw the loafer. Math isn't one of my strong suits, but I still remember my multiplication tables, thanks to Old Man Diller.

Later, in middle and high school, some teachers were so good at what they did they made wanting to go to class easy and stress-free. Others were boring and almost seemed as if they disliked children.

The best teachers were the ones who thought outside of the normal lesson plan. I remember a social studies teacher who brought in a Holocaust survivor as a guest speaker. The class was in awe of what this person had to endure.

We had a science teacher, Miss Burns, who had absolutely no control over her classroom.

The students regularly talked over her and amongst themselves. Mrs. Gage, an older math teacher who was in the adjacent classroom, consistently had to come in to shut us up. We were brutal.

Miss Burns was a meek woman who should have chosen another career. No one learned anything science-related that year.

In high school, some of the teachers stayed too long at their jobs, and it showed.

They seemed to just go through the motions, never deviating from the norm, and rarely showed us that they cared if we learned anything. Others made class, well, fun.

I am the youngest in my family, so by the time I got to high school, the teachers and administrators looked at me dubiously, wondering if I was like my popular, perky sister or my often-in-trouble brother. Well, I rarely got in trouble -- except for the 78 days I skipped Italian class -- and I wasn't popular.

I fell in the middle, and counted the days until I graduated. I was not overly enthusiastic about my high school days.

The girls' gym teachers were most curious about me when they discovered who my sister was -- the cheerleader, competitive swimmer and gymnast.

They were disappointed, I think, when they realized I was not nearly as athletic. I did give it my best, however.

And that's the key -- giving it your best shot, both students and teachers.

Students should remember that school opens up to them advantages they won't get anywhere else -- lessons about the world, themselves and other people.

And teachers should remember that they have the all-important task of opening up that world to their students.

Have a good year.

Patricia A. Hines is a Fairfield writer, and her "Hines Sight" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at She also can be followed @patricia_hines on Twitter.