Last week the school year finally started, and children from Prep to Year 12 reluctantly put on pressed uniforms and shiny new shoes, forsaking the T-shirts, shorts and thongs of their summer holidays.
This new year of learning and lessons is beginning to shape up, with its academic discipline, its sports days, the spectre of exams, the annual music concert, the tyranny of the timetable and the friendly push-and-shove of the canteen queue.
Prep students line up for a photo before their first day of school in Keilor this week.Credit:Jason South
School is where friendships are made, character built and the future sown. Schools are the nurseries for the citizenry of any country. What happens in the class and school community is imprinted for life. The lessons received at school, not just the measurable progress in literacy and numeracy but the lessons received about who you are and how you are valued, can inform much that happens in later life.
Known, named and encouraged, the student is likely to flourish. We might not remember the periodic table or all the words to Clancy of the Overflow, but we definitely remember how a teacher made us feel. We carry these feelings with us forever.
See that wonderful Prep teacher who is welcoming little boys and girls into her colourful classroom with its posters and picture books? Listen to the tone of her voice: warm, inviting, comforting for those who are teary or nervous. Watch the teacher as over the first term she settles the little ones into the small routines of the school day, as she educates them into becoming mini-citizens of the wide world of school.
We all start school with a blank slate. Our lives are still to be played out. But as the days add up into years, all the experiences, interactions, attitudes, and behaviours that affect us are brewed in a pot out of which our identity emerges. Somewhere in those long-ago years there was a teacher who offered us the stars, who pushed us because they saw potential, who helped us to become, as the poet John O’Donohue writes, the person we were dreamed to be.
Each year a new journey begins. For the Preps it is a few small steps as they begin school. For the Year 12s it is one giant leap as they ready themselves to leave. In the middle years there is sometimes one step forward and two steps back, as each individual begins to plot the course of their life.
After the disruptions and anxiety of the last three years, we, as the adults in the lives of our youth, are aware that we provide that certainty and stability and daily routine which marks the world as well. We work through challenges and persist in offering a template of optimism and gratitude.
As our children settle into the school year, let us witness what it is to have grit and grace and goodwill, so that they, too, have faith in the future they are building lesson by lesson, day by day.
Ann Rennie is a Melbourne writer, and teaches at Genazzano FCJ College, Kew.
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