As a new school year is just on the horizon here in the U.K. and has just begun in North America, I ask myself a question. Where does the excitement of the first few days, with students who care about their appearance and who try so hard to get their work done carefully, go by Christmas, by Springtime… by the end of the year when the beaches beckon and it all seems to have been a long haul?
A new year is often seen as a new start. Last year’s arguments, long discussions, misunderstandings are forgotten. There is maybe a new classroom, a new teacher and the student is a year older (well actually six weeks or so!) and may feel more responsible, more mature (whatever that may mean when you are seven rather than six years old).
School, for most children, is a very long term thing. In the experience of a seven year old the next seven years spent in various classrooms is the equivalent to all of the years that he has known so far. The night before the return to school is often a difficult one for children. They are bursting to tell their peers about where they have been and what they have done and also what they have learnt in those (seemingly) long endless weeks of exploration on beaches in far away places or the visit to some interesting museum or the chance to try rock climbing.
With a mixture of trepidation and excitement they go back to the familiar of the playground or worse still have to face the horrors of starting a new school which is probably bigger and has a new set of rules.
The word “rules” is an important one here. They know the score and they will settle down for the first few days to the routines of the school day. They will line up appropriately and march into class and maybe stand (if required) if the headteacher (Principal) comes into the class. They will write the date, make sure the title is underlined and then proceed to attempt to read the teacher’s mind on what the expectation of the lesson is. Most of them will play along at first.
But then the days become weeks and the months roll by. The seasons change and the school routines, which seemed O.K. in late August or early September, become a bind. This is when the excitement stops and the problems set in. I don’t know how many times I went into my staffroom after the first day or the second and was asked by a former teacher of a class how they were. I replied that they were just fine and getting on with the work really well….. “just you wait” was usually the reply.
There will be schools where this will not happen this year. There will be schools where no two days are ever the same. Where children feel excited throughout the year because they are given the freedom to learn have access to tools that will allow them to explore the massive amount of information that is available to them. In these schools textbooks are rarely found and the day is not based on set routines and a set timetable. This is not the “Factory Model” of education (to quote Sir Ken Robinson) but one where the school has moved into a problem, inquiry based, project-based approach. In these kind of schools I feel you will find that the excitement and enthusiasm of the start of the school year continues throughout the rest of the year so that the last day of the year feels much more like the first.