“Why Is it so important for you to take her on her first day?” asked Mr Brighouse. “It’s not like there won’t be other days when you can do it.”
I didn’t have an answer. I hadn’t thought I was that bothered about our eldest starting school. She had outgrown nursery and was excited about her new adventure. Over the summer, I started to have vague misgivings about putting her in an institution for the next 14 years and subjecting her to endless testing. And now that the day was upon us, it seemed vital that I be the one to formally deliver her into the system.
Walking towards the school gates on that first morning, as she skipped alongside me in her brand-new uniform, I had a sudden urge to turn back. She is too little for all this. She’s used to having adults on hand to meet her every need, deal with problems and shower her with affection. From now on, she’ll have to share one teacher and a teaching assistant with 29 others, and fend for herself in a playground. She still struggles to put her clothes on the right way and is still learning to drink from a cup without a straw. How will she cope with PE lessons and lunchtimes?
There was too much potential for disaster. Why couldn’t we just carry on as we were? Her first four years had been a happy, carefree existence of nursery, toddler groups, parks, cafes and (honesty compels) a lot of pub lunches. All this would stop. Her self-confidence – the result of four years of unconditional love – would begin to be eroded. She would face criticism, injustice, meanness from other children. She would drop her lunch tray and lock herself in the toilet.
As we neared the school gate, the potential catastrophes were multiplying in my mind.
Parents going into emotional overdrive on their child’s first day is something Reception teachers take in their stride. I imagine they’ve seen it all. Dealing with parents’ first-day nerves is probably in their job description, although, from what I’ve heard, some schools take it too far. I know of one that issued parents with a first-day “survival pack” containing a teabag and a tissue wrapped in a mawkish poem of dubious rhyme scheme. Fortunately, my daughter’s school didn’t do this. It obviously understands that some of us have maths lessons to teach and don’t have time to spend sobbing into a mug of Earl Grey.
I’m now revising the “keep her at home” plan because it’s all going remarkably well (the first wobble was salvaged by the chips-on-Friday phenomenon). I still hold my breath as I wait for her to come out of school, but I’ve learned to stop bombarding her with questions about her day. She even reeled off a string of phonics in the bath the other night, which took me by surprise; I’d been so preoccupied by the issue of her happiness that I’d forgotten they might actually teach her something too.
Thankfully, her teacher had remembered. This young, calm, smiling teacher, who my daughter fell in love with on sight, is capable of detaching distressed children from even more distressed parents and returning them at the end of the day happy.
Teachers: aren’t they brilliant?
Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands