It's that magical time on the school calendar where, for about a week, you can actually find the glue sticks
There’s something special about those first days in September back in school. The staffroom buzzes with stories of summer holidays, and caffeine consumption is at an all time high to cope with the shock of the alarm having gone off in the morning.
Classrooms soon become piled high with crisp new exercise books – and, for about a week, you can actually find the glue sticks.
Training day starts with a review of the summer’s exam results and sets out the priorities for the coming year. New staff are welcomed and bombarded with everything we think they need to know before the students arrive, while returning staff wonder what’s changed since July.
Enthusiasm is high; although what everyone really wants is to go and sort out their own room and the first few lessons of the new term, as they secretly wonder if they can still remember how to command the attention of a 30 students after a break of six weeks.
And then, the next day, the students arrive. Year 7s turn up in gleaming white shirts with blazer sleeves so long they appear to have no hands. Year 8s, no longer the youngest, try to look big and tough, talking loudly about how they don’t want to be back at school whilst barely masking their excitement at returning to a world of structure and boundaries.
Then there’s the older ones. The girls, hoping the hours they’ve spent on making their make up look like they are not wearing any haven’t been wasted as the heads of year have make-up wipes at the ready; and the boys, comparing trainers, hoping the footwear rules have miraculously changed over the holidays.
All will take painstaking care to ensure the first page of work in every new book is meticulously presented.
Yes, there’s definitely a special something about those early September days. They are what keep me returning to the classroom year after year and, even more importantly, keep me going in November when the nights start drawing in, the Christmas holidays seem an eternity away and the mock exam papers start to pile up to be marked.
Those first days in September are full of hope, full of promise. New teachers are excited and optimistic about having their own classes and making a difference in their students’ lives.
Opening cupboards full of new stationery and deciding the room layout creates anticipation of a great year. Returning staff make secret promises to themselves that this will be the year they will keep their classroom tidy and have amazing displays, put their photocopying in a week in advance, and give students their test results back the next lesson.
In fact, everyone comes back with a renewed optimism; this will also be the year students will do their homework, remember their PE kit and not end up in detention. Our young people get a clean slate; an opportunity to start again and make this year their most successful yet.
It’s all too easy, though, for the positivity and energy of those first few days to wane as the term passes by.
Things start to get trying and patience gets tested as students push the boundaries of the behaviour system and the initial pride over their work fades. Teachers’ resolutions of planning ahead start to be broken as evenings for parents and carers appear on the calendar.
The inevitable coughs and colds hit new members of staff who are yet to build up their resistance to students’ germs. Teaching feels increasingly tough and any idea of work-life balance or wellbeing seems to fly out of the window; while the students can begin to believe those target grades are always just out of reach no matter what they do.
It’s at this point we all need to take ourselves back to those opening days and treat the next week, next day, next lesson as if it’s the first one of the year again. Because that’s the great thing about teaching: we can have continual fresh starts every time we walk into the classroom - the resolutions, the optimism, the positivity and the belief in success needn’t disappear with September.