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  • Mike Ogden

The First Day of School

First published in 2017

As I lay here on the sofa, with the warm glow of the wood burning stove dimming into the dark night, I am reminded that yet another school year is embarking on our future generations.

Only today I described to a friend how, even as an adult, this time of year ignites a feeling of tightening in the abdomen as fading memories of my school days are brought to the forefront.

As a child, I dreaded the first day back to school. The build-up of anxiety would start earlier with the obligatory shopping of the new crisp white shirt, finding trousers that fitted properly, new black shoes. The part I did find exciting was the buying of stationary, this is something that still excites me in my 30’s.

The dreaded day would arrive, where we would have to stand in the school yard to be controlled again like sheep waiting for the master to give the collie dogs its instructions. The new timetable would be announced and you would count how many of the most frightening teachers you had, and how many times you would see them in a week.

Looking back, yes, I can say there were some fond memories of school, but not many. I still remember how ill I could feel through my school days.

As an adult, a professional, who has worked in schools for over 20 years, I could still get a remnant of these feelings when starting back on the mandatory inset days. I would hate these days, all quiet with no pupils to distract me.

As a pastoral manager, I would look at the new intake of year 7s, I would try to catch their eyes and use my intuition to get of sense of whether they ‘just’ had healthy nerves, or they had that heavy dark feeling in the pit of their stomach and they just wanted the ground to open up and swallow them.

This year I have embarked on a change of role. I will not be there at the beginning of the year to help these pupils through their firsts days’, weeks and months in a new school, a secondary school.

I would urge anybody working in a school to take a step back, a deep breath. To watch the pupils who arrive, new and old, and see if there is a pupil who needs that gentle encouragement of a smile, and helping hand to ease them into a new school year. Think about your anxiety at the beginning of the year as a teacher, teaching assistant or another role in the school. Think, that for some pupils, this anxiety will be multiplied. Are we not here to guide, help, reassure and nurture young people, pupils, into adulthood.

Pupils, children, are not here for us to control and manipulate. They are human who need the guidance to manage their own feelings. Please remember this at the beginning of yet another academic year, for this academic year could set the foundations for a child’s future.

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