By Sophie Becker
Last First Day
I never thought I’d have another “first day at school”. Historically, they haven’t gone too well for me.
There’s a pressure to go leaping and bounding into your new life without so much as a look to where you’ve come from. Each first day of term, you have to be different, better – a new version of yourself. If you muck it up, you may as well go and hibernate for the rest of the year and wait for your next chance to change.
At least that’s what I always felt.
Problem was – I was never a ‘new me’. I was always bog standard me. The me I’d been my entire life.
Somehow this came as a shock every year.
This has been on my mind recently as I’ve watched an influx of self-congratulatory ‘first day’ photos appear on our family WhatsApp group. Children stood awkwardly on door steps in ill fitting blazers. Perhaps it’s my own projection here – but they all seem to be smiling through pain. Maybe it’s just the pain of having their photograph taken by their overly emotional parents, yet I can’t help but wince whilst my various relatives exclaim how exciting it is.
Change is tough. Even when it’s the ‘good’ kind. Sometimes it’s even worse when the change is positive – as feeling anxious or uncomfortable is immediately dubbed as invalid. Maybe I respond particularly badly to change, but I can’t be alone in suffering every time I’m faced with a period of adjustment – however good or bad.
Thankfully I’ve come to recognise this pain as an insignificant side effect. Something you have to sit with for a short while to get to the good bits. Kind of like getting a piercing or tattoo.
I remember my first days of both my schools vividly – as hard as I’ve tried to forget them. I absolutely did not slide seamlessly into the schooling system. It’s been a struggle since day one. I just didn’t ‘get’ it. I didn’t get the structure, I didn’t get why I had to do boring and pointless tasks when I didn’t want to.
Worst of all I didn’t get why I had to stop playing. Aged 4, I left my first first day distraught and broken. No one had warned me that I’d have to stop having fun – silly as it may sound.
Initially I was impressed with my new classroom. It had a giant toy tiger and one of those fake shops where you could dole out the plastic fruit and veg in exchange for equally plastic coins. Does life getting better than that? I certainly didn’t think so.
After our first lesson we had a short break. I had no interest in the biscuits on offer (rare for me) – I was fixated on that shop. It was finally time. And what a glorious shop it was. You’ve never seen anyone hand out fruit and veg quite like I did that day. I was the best darn shopkeeper in the world.
For all of twenty minutes. Until playtime was over and I was told to leave the shop. It was in that moment I realised school meant the end of fun. It shouldn’t, but it did. And I couldn’t leave the shop.
If I left, I felt like it would mean leaving fun behind forever. Instantly I was labelled by my teacher as ‘difficult’ and sent to the head mistress’ office. In hindsight I don’t see myself as difficult (perhaps a wee bit stubborn). I see the school system as difficult. I honestly believe children learn far more through play than in any lesson.
This set the scene for my school career. I was forever in trouble – not for anything actually destructive – for my failure to focus on the task in hand and for “being disruptive”. Examples – starting a pencil-sharpening business, orchestrating several next-level Mexican waves and acing countless rounds of ‘Bogies’ (if you don’t know, you need to know). The only thing I could get serious about were the games I’d made up while the teacher was talking or doodles I did instead of Maths problems.
I was given a classic ADHD diagnosis but I resist that to this day. Given a project that fascinated me, I’d obsessively and single-mindedly focus on it until the cows came home. School led me to label myself as ‘bad’. And not the cool kind of bad.
Every year I’d start the first day of school telling myself I had to be good this year. I had to be different. But, unsurprisingly, I was always the same.
By the time I started secondary school, at that awkward prepubescent phase, the fear of the ‘first day of school’ became too much. As I sat in the first assembly and starred at a sea of anonymous faces, I ran out of the hall and hid in the bathroom. I spent my first ever three hours at secondary school in that bathroom until my terrifying yet inspiring Russian form teacher rescued me and told me that this wouldn’t have gone down well in the Soviet Union (seriously).
She continued to tell me, pretty much every day for the next seven years, about how I, in general, wouldn’t have gone down well in the Soviet Union.
Weirdly I wasn’t your classic angsty teen that loathed school. Almost the opposite. I had a love-hate relationship with education. It became more of the former and less of the latter as I worked out how to adapt my… “style of learning”, let’s call it, to the schooling system. I was lucky that my secondary school embraced weirdness and individuality. In personal life at least. Academic life? Not so much. We had to petition for them to run the A-Level art class.
But my first days still never went well. One year our class was given the supposed ‘scariest teacher in the school’. Determined not to make a single mistake, I walked in angelic AF, sitting down without a word. She instantly stands up, points at me and yells “YOU!” “You and I are not going to get along.”
She was wrong. We ended up good pals.
After thinking I’d survived my last ever first day at school, here I am. Night before, terrified. The difference? I’m excited too. Every day in the student calendar sounds more like fun than school – meaning I’ll actually learn something. Here’s hoping I make as many mistakes as possible.
Gooooooood luck Marc