Dear Reception Teacher,
Let’s begin with applause. I mean really, I don’t know how you do it. I’ve taught every age from 4 to 16, and yours is the job that fills me with wonder (from a distance) and dread (when actually faced with the prospect of doing it). You are the one they will all remember as "My First Teacher".
You take these little bundles of pre-school energy and find a way of channelling that bounce into learning and, here’s the bit that really gets me, you make them think they’re playing the whole time. Hats off to you. Because when I want kids to do something, I just ask them. When I want them to learn something I explain all about it. But you turn the whole thing into an adventure and you don’t even shout. You’re the one that will take a troupe of children up to the art cupboard for A2 paper, all because one kid drew a giant and wants to make him a giant sized birthday card.
A Reception classroom is like a whole different world. It’s got a role play corner, for pete’s sake; a tiny, fascinating bit of the grown-up world, and about a gazillion times more fun. I’ve seen Postoffices, doctor’s surgeries, shops, animal hospitals, well-baby clinics and cafes, all in miniature and all acting like a magnet to anyone over the height of 4ft, despite our knowledge that our equivalent versions are like hell on legs. If you ask Junior children where in the school they would like to “help”, they always want to go to reception because there’s toys and games and dressing up and it feels safe and cosy to them. It’s fun, dammit.
Secretly, the rest of us teachers are all a little bit jealous. We wish our classrooms were like treasure chests, and that we could create that kind of comfort and security in our worlds. And, yes, we wish that our domains were as popular with the students.
That said, Reception teacher, I need to check that you realise just how little those freshly-uniformed bods actually are when they arrive in your class. Some of them still have lego hands, you know; the ones that look like they’ve just been added to the ends of the arm without any noticeable wrist? Some of them still have their chubby baby cheeks. They’ve all got adult sized emotions in pint-sized bodies, and that’s tough to handle when the world is suddenly new and confusing. I remember on my first day at school I put one of the chairs down when I wasn’t supposed to. I blushed purple and wanted to run straight home. It’s my first memory of the feeling I’ve come to know and loathe as “embarrassment”. I hope you remember your first day at school, because I don’t think you should teach Reception unless you do remember. Vividly.
Lastly, when you’re trying to create order on that first morning, and by the way good luck with that, take a look at those parents you’re trying to get rid of. I know you’re sizing them up. Who will fuss, who’s over-anxious, who looks like trouble, who will need lots of reminders, oh god there’s the mum known to the whole staff as “That Woman”…
They won’t all be angels, and by the end of the year, there will be some you would cheerfully send back to the hellpit from whence you’re certain they came. However, on this first day, just look at the fear in their eyes. They’re panicking more than the kids. Go easy on them, for some this is the first time they’ll do this. And worse than that, for some this is the last time. When they look at those overlong jumper sleeves, they’re seeing the overlarge babygro that first swamped that body. They’re checking the face they know so well for any signs of a wobble. They just want everything to go ok.
Which brings me back to the applause. Well done, Reception teacher. It’s your job to take 30 children and 30 sets of parents and welcome them to the wonderful world of education, to teach them how it all goes. Try not to feel disappointed when at the end of the year all the parents say,
“Oh, he’s soooo ready for Year 1 now. Ready for proper school.”
It means you’ve done your job.
Yours in awe,
PS My littlest baby starts school on Friday, do you think she’ll be alright?