Back to school
Terry Hunt recalls that sinking September feeling
SEPTEMBER always sends shivers down my spine. Not because everything suddenly turns chilly and autumnal – in fact, recently it seems September often brings better weather than July and August. No, the shivers come from memories of starting back at school.
After weeks of carefree summer days, spent playing with friends, voraciously reading books, or simply ‘chilling out’ (not that we used that phrase back then), there was the sudden realisation that the arrival of September meant only one thing . . . back to school.
I don’t want to give the impression that I hated school. I quite enjoyed it most of the time. But the start of the new academic year always brought fresh hurdles to cross. For me, four times it meant starting at a brand new school, with new friends to make, new rules to learn, new teachers to get to know. Even if I wasn’t changing schools, each academic year meant different lessons, different teachers, and – horror of horrors – almost certainly tough and important exams.
Once I was back in the swing of things it was fine. In fact, being with lots of other young people, playing sport and, oh yes, learning, was actually enjoyable. But it didn’t stop that ‘September feeling’ arriving every year. So, as September arrives, my thoughts are with the many thousands of young people across Suffolk who are getting ready to go back to the classroom. I’m sure the vast majority will be looking forward to it, but there’s bound to be a little trepidation for some. Make sure you enjoy yourselves, but work hard as well!
Suffolk’s army of teachers will also be mobilising ready for the new school year. Decades ago, there was a widely held view that teaching was a bit of an easy option. Short working days, long holidays, a bit of a cushy number, lots of people seemed to think. I haven’t heard a single person express that view in the last few years. It seems we have realised that teaching is a tough job. I certainly couldn’t do it. I’ve stood in front of classes of children as editor of the EADT, and I find it tough. It’s the huge variations in levels of interest that always throw me – ultra-keen youngsters, who appear to hang on your every word, whose hands shoot into the air when you ask a question. Then the less engaged, who make it obvious you’re the most boring person on earth.
How professional teachers deal with that, and get the best out of pupils, day after day, I have no idea. My daughter is a primary school teacher in quite a deprived London borough, and, risking a Proud Dad Moment, I’m sure she’s really good at her job. She knew she wanted to teach from when she was about 13, and she loves it.
As I mentioned, teaching isn’t a cushy number, and politicians don’t help. Over the years, successive governments have been unable to resist tinkering with our education system. Moving the goalposts? More like turning the whole pitch around.
I couldn’t resist an ironic smile when I saw that GCSE grades have been changed back from letters to numbers. A case of back to the future. When I took my O-Levels, grades one to six were passes, and seven to nine were fails. I got a seven in general science (science for dunces) and a crashing nine in art, which I was supposed to excel in.
So, on behalf of all teachers and school pupils, I would ask the politicians to leave well alone. Let good teachers get on with their vitally important jobs. In Suffolk, things are looking up. After sleepwalking into a pretty poor place five or six years ago, the county’s education set-up is getting its act together, and results are steadily improving. Still a long way to go, though.
To all our school pupils and teachers returning for the start of the new academic year, I wish you every success. Work hard – and enjoy it!
‘So, as September arrives, my thoughts are with the many thousands of young people across Suffolk who are getting ready to go back to the classroom’
Above: Trust me . . . the hard work will be work it. Pupils at Debenham High School celebrate their GCSE results in 2016.