When we were dragons by Genghis McCann (aged 11)

25th August 2000 at 01:00
New teachers, new subjects, unfamiliar buildings and a different routine. It's exciting and a little bit confusing for pupils on their first day at secondary school



This is my first day at the Big School with 120 new pupils in my year. I wasn't late but I had to see the headteacher before she took me into First Year Assembly. She is Mrs Docherty but the older pupils in the corridor just say "Hello, Mrs D". But I don't know her well enough to call her that.

Our school is called St Thomas of Aquin in Edinburgh and our motto is Sit nobiscum deus. That's Latin for "May God be with us". I hope so.



At Assembly we are told that at St Thomas's we have to achieve everything we can and be the complete person God wants us to be. Scarey biscuits!

We say prayers and get told about being ambassadors for the school and we try to remember the teachers' names from when we visited in June. An assistant head called Mrs Durkin says no one will tell us off "if we are dead organised", and if older ones try to get us into bad behaviour we are to "keep cool". It's funny to hear old people use words like "cool". Maybe she was a hippy.



My class is 1Q. Mr McCormick - he's Guidance - takes us to our first lesson. He has a LOUD voice and makes first years jump in the corridor.

Our first lesson is double English with Mrs Barrie. She says her husband is related to Peter Pan. She's funny. We get a reggie check. Some names are not here, or nobody knows except one boy who seems to know everyone.

We do an ice-breaker and go round to find out things like someone has a pet dog or went to St Peter's Primary or supports Hibs, and fill out our sheets. Maybe there are a lot of Hibbies but glory be that there is another Celtic supporter in my group.

Mrs Barrie reads a story called How the Camel Got his Hump by Kipling. She says he is "a master storyteller". I thought he was a master baker. It was quite a funny story the way she read it and the way the animals talk and repeat things and used funny words like "punchayet" and "pow-wow".

We talk about the story and then we have to plan our own about how an animal gets its appearance. We always have to plan, says Mrs Barrie. We plan the idea, setting and character.

I am going to do a story about how the elephant got its trunk to steal buns at the zoo. But some clever girls are doing how the peacock got its tail, the snake got its skin and the ladybird got her spots. Mr Burnett comes in. He is another assistant head. He tells us to go to G6 after break for our form class every day. G means Ground.

We will write our stories at double English tomorrow. Mrs Barrie puts on an overhead about clear language, clear events and clear characters like mine. This is "5 to 14 writing", it says.



At break time I have to see Mr McCormick and after we go to G6. Mrs Hourigan is our reggie teacher. People have got lost and are late. I don't get a bus pass because I walk to school.



We go to double drama where we are 1Q and 1P2. Weird. People are dead confused now about where they are going. Mrs Dalgliesh is the drama teacher and she is talking about costumes. What is a prop? New people have arrived. They must be 1P2 but not 1Q.

Drama is about imagination. There are no right and wrong answers. Good. I like drama. We will be videoed to improve, says Mrs Dalgliesh. Make ourselves improve. Not right and wrong.

More pupils come in. The teacher with them calls them "stragglers". We will "evaluate" - an important word in drama, says the teacher. We are not here to be actors but to learn about things by acting out.

Another straggler. Now we are 22 which is two too many for practical classes. Two boys who are in the wrong group go away.

You are not allowed just to act with your pals because that would get boring and you wouldn't make new friends. One girl says it's about learning to "socialise" and the teacher and everybody goes "Oooooh!" We have to run round everyone and tell them three things about ourselves in a minute. Mrs Dalgliesh drives a car, she has a husband called Lawrence and she supports Hearts which is a shame because she is nice.

We have to run into different groups like the month we were born and the team we support. Most of the boys support Celtic. There are five girls in a "support nothing" group and there are two Rangers who are girls!

We have to look at situations and stories and we all have to be part of the same statue. This is called a "tablow". We do "tablows" like a Spooky Forest, a Bridge, a Princess in a Castle, a Cuckoo Clock and a Dragon. The Dragon is best. We join them into a story. Mrs Dalgliesh is the "narrator". We do them silent and then with sounds. It's called "sound tracking". Our "tablows" are all "appropriate" and Mrs Dalgliesh says we are "fandabbiedozie".

We work on our own stories using our "tablows" and tomorrow we have to "present". That means we act them out with our own narrators - you can have more than one - and soundtracking.

We have to calm down at the end of drama classes and not go out "high as kites". We have to line up like at English and we go out for the early lunch.



The school dinner is pants because the machine is broken and there are no chips. I have stringy stew, watery tatties and beans. The beans are OK. A lot of people bring their own packed lunch. A good idea.

We are not allowed out of the playground because of traffic until October when we will know things better. I haven't seen anyone crying and there are no fights. No one gets their head pushed down the toilet like people say.

1.15 pm


After lunch break we get double Geography but not today because Mr Pixton is here. He is Learning Support and he is giving us some tests. These are to help the teachers find out what we are good at. But they are still tests.

He does the reggie with the same mistakes in it. Latecomers who don't apologise and say why they are late are sent back out to come in again properly. Mr Pixton is dead strict.

Then the phone rings to find two pupils who've gone missing. We can see one of them in the class opposite, probably the wrong one, but we have to do our test.

We have to spell 47 different words. Mr Pixton says: "It's a funny number but that's just the way it is." He tells us not to worry because he has been to the dentist and he wasn't worried. He says he is 104 years old, but I don't think he's really much over 70.

The test words are easy to start with but get more difficult like "who's" meaning "who's gloves are these?" A boy comes in halfway through the first test. Probably a straggler. Then two girls come looking for the missing boys. We tell them one is in the class opposite.

Then we do a "group reading test" in a booklet called Sentence Completion, where you have to mark the right word to complete the sentence. Like the spelling words it gets harder too. When you finish you write half a page about your first day at St Thomas's. I write that I like drama and English but not tests and that school dinner was pants.

Mr Pixton makes jokes but he is still scarey biscuits if you talk during the tests.

Then the Geography teacher Mrs Rochford comes in to help collect the tests which are for social subjects like History, Geography and Economics. By Friday we will be put in social subjects classes by our results and our primary school records. It's called a "combined score" and we will stay in those groups for two years, though some might go up or down.

On Friday, when we go to our new classes, I think there will be more stragglers. I haven't straggled yet because I ask the teachers where to go, even Mr McCormick with the LOUD voice.

Mrs Rochford asks us questions about brothers and sisters and school but we are dead tired. She says she should have done a juggling act to entertain us and not try to get us to talk because we are so tired. She is nice but I don't think she can juggle. Not really.



We line up like before and go down to French when the bell goes. Nobody is sure where we are going. The corridor is busy - like at a football match at half-time when you get bumped into if you are wee - but you don't get crushed.

French is our last class because this is Wednesday and school finishes at 3.15 instead of 3.55. The teacher speaks in French. She is called Madame Wright. Then she speaks in English to do the reggie with the same mistakes and the same questions. In French it is called deja vu.

Then she says to come here to G5 every Wednesday but on Tuesdays and Thursdays to go to 1.7. There will be stragglers, I think, but we are always in our form class 1Q for French.

We say what we are called in French and count to 11 and 12 so that we can say our ages. Last year we only learned to count to 10. Madame Wright made us look at Unit One called Route Nationale. It has "devoirs", maps, crosswords, word searches and we can fill out our own French passports.

We look at French words in English like "omelette", "cinema" and "cafe". It is good fun until we come to the Homework Monitor bit in the unit, which says we have to do 10 minutes of vocabulary every night INCLUDING FRIDAY, SATURDAY AND SUNDAY!

Quite a few people go "Eh!?" It fair wakes you up for a minute.

Then Madame Wright says: "I think you're getting tired, poor things."

She is toute correct. Nous sommes dead fatigue. The bell rings. Au revoir, Madame.

3.15 pm


The first day is over and tomorrow will be one period longer. I hope I remember where the classrooms are and can find the new ones. I hope Mr McCormick doesn't SHOUT in my sleep and that Mr Pixton has done all his tests. I will bring a packed lunch so I don't have a pants dinner again. Still, I'll get to write my elephant story and be a DRAGON again.

It is a nice school. But it makes you tired. I hope it won't make me too sleepy to play football. I will ask Mrs Barrie if she ever met Peter Pan because I don't think he ever went to the Big School.

* Raymond Ross would like to thank the headteacher and staff of St Thomas of Aquin High, Edinburgh for putting up with the boy at the back

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