26 years of high school education! Whew … so many students encountered! So, when I was asked to write about “back to school”, I thought, “No problem”. But how to tackle a subject that is on the front page of almost every newspaper each August? How not to fall into the known generalities or to quote studies often too far from the everyday reality? Back to school at the primary level is widely covered, but the same can not be said for high school. So, I contacted colleagues and asked them the following question: In your experience, what advice would you give to parents if they stood there in front of you? The answers quickly appeared on my screen.
The first year of secondary school is an important and anxiety filled step for the young person. So many things are changing: the building, the number of students and teachers, the number of subjects, the number of bells, in short EVERYTHING changes. Organization is the key to lowering this new stress. The child must learn to organize, to become autonomous.
Unfortunately, this cannot be learned between August 29 and September 1. Primary / secondary transition will be much smoother if new habits are introduced during the previous school year. A good thing to do would be to get an agenda or calendar to show your child how to manage his/her time. School, friends, family time, and time playing video games, everything must be accounted for. The child must understand that there must be balance in everything. And, from time to time, have fun having unplanned events to help your child learn how to handle change. With eight or nine subjects and a nine or ten-day schedule, it is certain that in high school the child will have to deal with change and the unexpected.
Then, comes the first day, the first steps into high school. Students walk through the large doors, the staff greets them with a smile, and direct them to different classrooms for explanations on how their school works. It sounds nice and simple said that way, but it can be more complicated than it seems. We see everything that day and those that follow: students lost in the building, or sitting in the wrong classroom, some crying in a corner, others looking for their locker and many are late to class because they are struggling with their padlock. Believe it or not, the padlock is an important stress factor at the beginning of high school. It seems that this thing never works! A good idea would be to invest in a padlock a few weeks before the beginning of the school year (it will be useful in physical education) to get the child to practice using the thing. It may seem trivial, but the idea is to allow the child to have some control over something in his new environment, to feel confident somewhere in the school.
In the evening, take time to listen to the story of the day and be sure to check the school schedule with your child. And most importantly, send him or her to bed early! The overdose of information and novelties is exhausting for the child. Give him a few days to adjust. Some even take weeks to get there. Every night discuss his good and bad moves but emphasize the progress of his adaptation to his new reality.
Students in the following levels live their back to school day differently. For many, that day is filled with emotions. First, there is the joy of reuniting with friends they have not seen during the summer. But, this joy can be short-lived when they realize by looking at their schedule, that they occasionally or never have classes with these same friends. Then there are the first meetings with the teachers. Even though we never have a second chance to make a good first impression, some students keep their first impression of some teachers very long. The child must be able to put things into perspective. Parents can help their child understand that he or she has the opportunity to make new friends and that it is as stressful for the teacher to meet his new students (yes, …even after 26 years!) than it is for them. The child must understand that in life we will have to socialize and work with all kinds of people. To help him deal with this situation is to help him prepare for adult life.
Do not forget to look at the agenda as regularly as possible. It’s no secret that young people tend to become disorganized quickly. Obviously, as the student matures, the stress related to the beginning of the school year disappears. However, it is not because your child is in Secondary 5 that you do not have to worry about anything, especially later during the school year when they become anxious about their grades. Stay alert.
Finally, some usual advice for all levels. A week or two before going back to class, it would be nice to go back to a family routine that looks more like the school year than the summer holidays, especially when it comes to sleeping time. If your child has a job, it would be good for him or her to reduce the number of hours at least for the last week of vacation, to rest a little before school starts and to get back in the school routine. Even though as a parent you are very happy that the kids are going back to school, be happy for them too! Show them what is positive for them, especially when they become worried or say they’d prefer to stay on vacation. Keep this positive attitude even when shopping for school supplies. Every family experiences this moment differently and the frustrations are very understandable. However, it is best not to make your child feel those frustrations because he or she might unconsciously feel guilty about going back to school. In short, your positivity will help your child have a great start.
At the end of the day, my colleagues had flooded me with ideas, all as interesting as the others. This is the proof that even during the summer vacations we care about the success of these hundreds of young people we meet at the beginning of each school year, and that your help to prepare your child is very much appreciated. I have to go now …I must prepare my 27th Back to School day!
Hope you get to enjoy what is left of the summer and good Back to School season!
Marc Provencher (and my colleagues)
Secondary 5 ESL teacher