First week of school: sass in the library and being a friendly face

First of all, I’m sorry for the dramatic change in my frequency of posts this week.  Unfortunately, since I am back at school, I have less time to write. Rest assured, however, that I am going to keep blogging, just not as much as I have been doing over the summer. I hope to at least post twice a week, once at the weekend, and once in the middle of the week, if not more often. And I promise I will make up for it during the holidays!

On Monday I went back to school. It really wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and it wasn’t really a proper day anyway. It was one of those days where you spend most of the time hanging about chatting to people, doing online dyslexia and dyspraxia testing, and receive lots of lectures from all sorts of members of staff who all have a different job title, (most of which sound very similar anyway: ‘Director of Education,’ ‘Head of Sixth Form,’ ‘Head of Learning,’ and ‘Deputy Head Academic’) but who all say exactly the same thing. I guess I can’t complain that they didn’t drill in their message enough…And if you can’t guess what that message was, it was basically ‘WORK HARD’ said in various different ways, tones of voices, and with differing amounts of flowery pretence shrouding it.

The rest of the week has been spent getting back into the swing of things. No more of the lie ins, the snacking whenever you feel hungry, or the escape to the woods or local town when someone in your house is getting on your nerves. No. It was time to face up to the reality of 8 lessons a day, eating only at lunch time (definitely good for me anyway), getting to class on time (and being in the right place), attending sports, choir practice and activities, managing homework so everything gets done for the right teacher at the right time, and ignoring those people (mainly the boys in my case, I have to say) who seem incapable of behaving and slowly encroach on your ability to keep calm while working (something one particular girl had mastered by day 4).

A scene in the library yesterday went something like this:

Boy (let’s call him George in this story): sauntering up to the group of girls at the other end of the library: in the manner of a teenage boy, confident verging on cocky, a gym addict who thinks he’s incredibly good looking and all the girls should fancy him (they don’t).

Girl 1 (for the sake of dramatisation we’ll call her Deidre): whispering so neither George, nor the library study supervisor will hear “Oh look, George is coming. I can’t be bothered to face him again today, he’s such a ****.”

Girl 2 (she can be Phyllis): “Don’t you think his new hairstyle is stupid? I don’t know why the boys think that’s fit…” she rolls her eyes and dips her head behind her huge pile of French revolution textbooks (which she has to lug around every time she has a History lesson *insert second eye roll here*) to avoid his stare as he approaches.

George: he searches for something to say to the girls as a justification for coming over to the table, (other than to prove to the other boys how cool he is by talking to the girls)“Heyyyy what you guys up to?”

Girl 3 (for argument’s sake she’ll take the name Arabella): laughing and in a joking tone of voice “I am working and you are disturbing me.” She looks back down at her notes on the Enlightenment, smiling at her comeback, and George laughs and walks back to his cronies, no doubt to receive the £5 wager that he wouldn’t be brave enough to go over to the girls’ table.

The ‘sassiness’ was real. This girl had come back to school with the mindset that she was going to work her absolute hardest in her A levels, and a boy who thought the world revolved around him was not going to stop her. I wonder how long that will last…

The first week is always exciting – full of speculation about who will be your new teachers, seeing all the improvements that the school undertook during the school holidays (and all the ones they did not), playing Bingo with what the Headmaster and Chaplain will say in their first school addresses, meeting new teachers, new pupils and going to new sports and activities, seeing which teachers cannot cope without their PowerPoint presentations when the whole school IT network collapses on day 1. It is a new year, one that is full of promise and opportunity. Underneath the moaning and wishing that the summer was longer, there is very much a sense that the right order of the world has been restored. Everyone is happy to settle back into routines (and catch up with their friends).

But beneath the happy smiles, the sense of routine and the excitement lurks a sadder side to the beginning of school. An absence among certain friendship groups where pupils failed to achieve the grades necessary to get back into the school. The new boarders who struggle to adjust to new surroundings and miss the company of their family, and their own bed. The new pupils who have come from a different school to everyone else for whom it will take longer to fully integrate and make new friends. The several sixth formers who are sat down on the first day and told that they have one month to prove that they can take Chemistry and Biology A level because they only got a B at GCSE, and who feel the pressure every second of every lesson. The one older pupil who thinks it’s funny to send a new pupil to the wrong classroom when they’re lost. The new members of a club who nobody welcomes or introduces, left standing at the door, not quite sure or not whether to come in. The rumours of who ‘got off’ with who during the summer, the end of teenage summer romances and break ups in the first week of term. The 11 year old, coming from a parish school of 150 aged 3-11 who bursts into tears when he finds himself lost in a sea of nearly 700, and can see only sixth former’s knees. Adapting to people who have seemed to grow up suddenly in the holidays, and the changes in social dynamics.

For these people it is not always easy or exciting to go back to school. They feel nervous, home-sick, isolated, different, changed. Whatever it is, it takes them longer to settle in. They are not surrounded by what they know best. They struggle to cope with new things. For these people, a friendly word or a smile can be what they need to know that everything will be OK. For us ‘oldies’ at the school, it is our duty to seek out these people and do everything we can to help them to be themselves.

I am in L6, I am nearly 17, and I am part the penultimate oldest year in the school. I mentor three L3 pupils who are just 11 and for whom a school like ours seems incredibly intimidating. My role with them is to be a fraternal/sibling-esque figure, to help and guide them as best I can, and to bring them chocolate and biscuits (trust me it helps in the first week…!). They have already come to me and asked me questions about the things they are worried about. It makes me feel better to know that they have someone to come to when they need it.

But our job in society is not just to look after those people to whom we have been assigned. We must be observers, and seek out those who stand on the sidelines, those who fear, those who are new, and be a friendly figure toward them. It’s these people to whom a friendly conversation, a smile or a hug can mean the most. Trust me, I’ve been there. When you’re new, afraid, lonely or just generally down, the smallest thing can brighten your day. Along with my L3 pupils, this week I have talked to each new member of the Chapel Choir, and got to know them better. Some people in the choir, even after 3 days of singing together, still don’t know their names. Listening to people and being there are some of the greatest assets we have as human beings, yet we don’t always use them as best we can. Sometimes people annoy us and we want to get rid of them, like the girl in the library. But sometimes people need us, even if they don’t verbally say so.

Being the person who they can talk to may just make their day to day lives a little easier, at school or work or Church. During my life, when I have had down moments, at school and outside of school, there have been several people who I have talked to and have lighten my day, helped me to carry on and guided me. It may not seem much tp us, but even a smile can make someone’s day. So my challenge to anyone who reads this is to seek out someone who seems a little disconnected, a little afraid, nervous, shy, upset or is just feeling a little down. Show them love, and help them to see the joy of friendship.

And to Kennedy, Catilin, Lily, Georgie, Tommy, George, Ben, Alistair, Jemina, Sophia, Olivia, Kirsty, Ishmael, Isabella, Poppy, Matthew, Jacob, and Jamie, my L3 mentees, new House members, and new Choir members, and to everyone else new or feeling a little uncomfortable this week, I welcome you, wish you every success at our school and I am thinking about you and praying for you. We are not scary sixth formers, we were just like you and know exactly what you’re going through. I hope you know that you are always welcome to come and find me if you need a friendly face 🙂

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