Back to school is a time of mixed emotions – September has always held a special feeling for me – just as the seasons are transitioning, so too am I… the lazy, hazy days of summer are drawing to a close, there is a nip in the evening air, and a sense of waiting and watching.
I have always started new projects in September, usually because they involve learning new skills and enrolling on a course. It’s a sense of “extending” and “stretching” – pushing outside one’s comfort zone to learn something new, or take on a new challenge.
I think at some deep level, especially in the Northern hemisphere, we all feel this shift, but none more so than our children. So it is, perhaps with these elements of beginning a new cycle, that back to school anxiety can be so strongly felt.
Much depends, of course, on the experience of the previous academic year, the outcome of results, or even if children are “going back to school” at all. Perhaps half price September holidays for home-schooled children is the new back to school!
However, if we take our more traditional, institutionalised model of schooling, then certainly, as a teacher myself, I used to suffer with back to school anxiety.
Many people would exclaim, “But you’ve just had six weeks off!” – well, yes and no. During that time, it is, of course, crucial that teachers “switch off” and recharge – but they also have to “gear up”. So certainly in the primary sector, there are visits into school, where classrooms are re-arranged, re-painted, cleaned; displays are prepared, laminated and mounted; books and resources are ordered; seating plans and group dynamics are carefully thought out and so on… And of course there are meetings : INSET training days, handover days, SEN meetings which all happen “before school starts”. The school office staff are frantic – with new class lists, updating registers, rostas and so on and the school is a hub of activity even with no children in it!
So, with all of the thought, time, effort and energy that has gone into making the back-to-school transition and first-day-back seamless and as welcoming as possible, there is a lot of pressure.
For parents to feel confident they need to trust their children’s class teacher. And for the teacher to build that trust they need to be accessible and organised. “Back to school” doesn’t just happen overnight. Indeed, even on their holidays, you will find teachers often buying items for their class to compliment a certain project or supplement certain resources with their own limited, hard-earned money.
The most challenging and daunting task with a new class is remembering everyone’s names. There are certain “tricks of the trade” and games that can be played to help with this. Teachers are only too aware how devastating it can feel for a child to return home, proclaiming loudly that the teacher “forgot my name” or “didn’t say my name right!”.
The most exciting part of the start of term, is of course, the beginning of this new learning journey together. The whole big juicy “WHY” of teaching in the first place. The sense of navigating the students through unchartered waters, on a well-planned voyage of discovery; getting everyone on board and setting sail with a favourable wind – there’s nothing more exciting than this sense of anticipation.
The planning and preparation is done, the map is open, the rules and regulations are established (no smiling until Christmas!) and we’re off!