Maiden Voyage (originally published in September 2015)
The first week of September can stir a range of feelings. Excitement, anxiety and the reminder that the alarm clock must be obeyed again after a period where time constraints are few and far between. Sadness about spending less time with your loved ones. These are all fairly common (for teachers and parents). For thousands of parents up and down the country this week it has been a week of firsts. The first day of a new year, the first pieces of homework for the year or the first ironing of school uniforms (ever popular!).
Words of Wisdom:
This September marks my tenth year as a teacher (it is quite frightening to think of the things that have happened in those ten years – the world has certainly changed). Every September for the last ten years I have given parents the same advice: “They’ll be fine when they’re in”, “Don’t worry, just see them in and go – don’t hang around” and other such gems of wisdom. Every year I have thought that this advice has been sound and good. Today, as I sit writing my blog, my perspective has changed as this week my son started school and the roles were reversed. Instead of giving advice I was receiving it.
Preparation, preparation, preparation:
I’m sure like many parents the last couple of days have been spent reminding my son of the routines of school. “When you have lunch you’ll do this.” “Don’t forget to go to the toilet that’s in your classroom.” “You’re going to learn all about letters and numbers.”
Before too long, and especially as I spoke with him this morning, I realised that I had assumed the role of a coach. Advice and information streamed out of me and on to my 4 year old who continued nonchalantly with the task he was completing. I’d like to think he hung on my every word but, if I’m honest, I think he would just rather I would have stopped talking. I am 100% certain that when he set foot in his classroom this morning the last thing he was thinking about was anything that I had told him. It was probably more along the lines of ‘Ooh – that looks fun” or “When’s it my turn to play on the pirate ship?” For the record – he reliably informed me that he got a turn on the Pirate Ship (so the first day was a success).
As the day progressed it dawned on me. The advice, the revisiting of the routines was not for my son at all. Quite the opposite. Actually it was all for me. Reminding him of the routines helped me feel like I was part of his day. Like I would be there with him watching the first day of his educational adventure unfold. The things I told him this morning didn’t make him feel better, they made me feel better.
This reminds me of something which I often comment on with children here at Coupals. Children are far more resilient than we give them credit for. We worry that they will not cope with change when in most cases they are better equipped to deal with change than we are. We worry that they might find things difficult but in many cases enjoy the challenge of finding something difficult or mastering something new.
A long term commitment:
There is no doubt that lots of other parents have felt the same way as me today. My perspective is relatively unique in that, as a Head, I understand the commitment both parents and schools make to one another.
As a parent you commit to the school (you make sure your child attends, help with home learning, attend parent’s evenings and events etc) and it is a commitment that lasts 7 years. That’s a long term commitment in any sense. Longer than you might commit to a gym membership, job or even time living in a particular house.
The commitment as a school is equally big. We commit to delivering the best education that we can for your child for 7 years. Teachers inevitably move on in that time but one of the things that makes Coupals special is that every member of staff works as hard as they can because of their commitment to our pupils. Our teachers are passionate about education but are more passionate about improving the lives of the children they teach. I know that this is the case for the vast majority of teachers (so when you hear the negative teachers on TV or radio phone ins please remember they are very much the minority and they don’t work in our school) and it makes me feel better knowing that my son’s teacher is also a passionate teacher who wants to improve his future. As a parent I can’t ask for anything more. As Head the same rule applies.
Grateful for the opportunities:
It would be hard to write a blog this week as a teacher and a parent without thinking of the awful images in the news of children who drowned trying to find refuge from Syria. A Head’s blog isn’t the place to dive in to politics but it stirred in me the understanding of how lucky my son is. To be in a country where he can access an education that gives him the best start in life is one thing. But to be in a country which is safer to stay in than risk his life leaving makes him so incredibly lucky. There are currently 13 million children who are not accessing education in the Middle East because of conflict (and 121 million around the world not receiving an education – yes 121 million). The first week of school seems a good time to take stock of how fortunate our children/pupils are.
The dawn of a new era:
That range of emotions I described at the beginning are still true. But the more I think about it most of them are all tinged with sadness. With the first day out of the way I can see things slightly differently. Today is a bit daunting. It is a new time and a new way of living. But at the same time it is the start of new opportunities and experiences that will shape lives forever and leave an indelible mark.
For who though? My son? Me as a Head? Me as a parent?
The answer: All three!
Here’s to an exciting year of firsts.
(What does Herbie Hancock’s album Maiden Voyage have to do with this blog? He wrote it to mark his son’s first day of school. You can see him playing the piece here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3vYV8gSnVc)