As the summer holidays draw their final breaths, I have been reading lots of posts about returning to school. I have dusted off my teacher’s hat (a beret, naturally) and thought I might offer some points I have noted during the last 13 years in a primary classroom and 5 years on the other side of the pedagogical fence, in the hope that there might be something of use for anyone approaching the new year with any sense of trepidation.
It can take a while for children to settle into the school year, whether they’re new to the education game, or have just been relishing summer homelife. Sadly for them, unless homeschooling is on the cards (and I doff my cap to you, if it is), they’ve got a number of uniform-clad years ahead, so we need to make the best of this; being positive for them, when they’re struggling to be seems to pay dividends.
I have had to leave one or other of my little badgers crying at the classroom door, on occasion, and I have felt wretched. Please be reassured though, that this emotional outpouring rarely lasts more than a few minutes. A judicious register monitor duty heals many ills if you’re under 7. If it’s prolonged and regular, your teacher will have spoken to you about it. These days, if we have a rare, wobbly morning, I give my little one a kiss for later, to be kept in her pocket until needed, and put a squirt of my perfume on her wrist. It seems to help.
If your little treasure comes home from school complaining of nobody to play with, it’s heartwrenching. A good cuddle and a bit of upbeat sympathy goes a long way, of course – everyone has a rough day sometimes and a love from someone who loves you most is often all that’s needed to take the edge off and get you back on course, but if it’s a regular thing, talk to the class teacher. We might not know how they’re feeling and we truly want your child to be happy. We might be able to put your mind at rest and reassure you that, in fact, your kiddo is the resident playground socialite and stringing you along – or we might be able to apply some light social engineering to help push things in the right direction if needed. (A well-judged play date can also work wonders in this situation, but your teacher probably won’t be up for hosting that.)
Whilst there probably are some teachers who undergo the rigorous and exhausting training to be able to take advantage of the glamour and big bucks commonly associated with the profession – as well as the unparalleled access to PVA glue and laminating resources – they are in the minority and I can truthfully say I’ve never known any. Teaching is a job requiring long hours, massive responsibility and endless patience and people who stick it out, do so, almost exclusively, because they love working with children and derive genuine pleasure from getting to know them and seeing them progress and develop. We worry when they’re sad, we revel in their successes, we spend literally hours thinking of ways to help them with things they find difficult. We want every single small person in our class to end their year with us happy and confident, having achieved everything they were capable of. Sometimes a new teacher can take a bit of getting used to – aggravatingly, we are all different – but keep up the positivity. Most children are very attached to their teachers by the end of the year – and vice versa – but the adjustment to each other’s foibles can take a little while.
Try to make reading every single night non-negotiable from the very start. In the early days it can be hard going. Biff and Chip’s adventuring with that wretched magic key can pall (as can listening to someone misread ‘the’ 14 different ways in the course of 4 pages) but grin and bear it because, honestly, there’s little you can do at home to help their education more than listening to them read and talking about the books. It’s also really important for little ones to hear you read aloud; partly because they actually get to listen to a story with a decent plot and partly because they need to hear you modelling expression and fluency and everything that’s going to make listening to them less of a chore in the future. I wrote about some ace picture books in a previous post, should you be looking for inspiration.
Bigger kids also need to be reading every night, ideally for twenty minutes or more. The benefit to the vocabulary and writing skills of children who regularly read good quality books can be immense. If they find reading hard going, choosing books at an appropriate level is obviously super important, but listening to a more advanced story – either read by an adult or from an audiobook (Audible is great) – will allow them to enjoy and benefit from something they might not yet be able to access themselves.
Honestly, I totally know what a trial it can be to get to school on time every day, but most children hate to be late into class and even if they don’t miss any lessons, getting in after the register can mean they miss some prime larking about time. The coat pegs are the primary school equivalent of the water cooler – if your child is a social butterfly, they’ll hate to miss the gossip; if they find it all a bit more tricky, this time can be ideal for some low-pressure interactions.
Everything gets lost.
Name absolutely everything. Everything. It’s hard to overstate how much time is wasted in looking for lost property and how much squandered money is represented in the sad hinterland of the lost property box. Quite often, children will assure me that their jumper (identical to everyone else in the school’s) is labelled – with a J, in faded biro, on the underside of the washing label. This is rather troublesome to reunite with its owner, if found by any other member of the school population. A big label in a prominent position will help everyone. (I recently bought some from here and they arrived the next day, if you need some in a hurry.) Key items will still unaccountably go missing, of course, but there is more chance of a mystifying and infuriating reappearance 8 months later this way.
Good luck, everyone, I hope the school year is kind to you all.
I have NO IDEA how we will get out of the house on time next week. I may experiment with going to bed in our clothes and having breakfast as supper. If you see us looking particularly dishevelled, please be gentle.