My first born has started school. The eve and morning of the first day was a tear filled affair with agonizing pleas of staying home with Mommy and my son was no better off. I was a complete wreck desperate to tell him he didn’t have to go. The pregnancy hormones were not helping (baby number 3 due February 2011). My husband, the northern epitome of British ‘keep calm and carry on’ sensibility, insisted on telling me over and over that he was going to be fine. Shockingly, this did not help. However, by the time we got to the gates of the school, Joseph was fine. He saw a couple of friends from preschool and was happy. The teacher’s report at the end day was positive and he’s been fine since. So why am I still a bit uneasy?
Feeling stress over this big event is not uncommon I know. I’m hardly alone yet I seem to have the added stress of feeling a bit like I’m throwing my child into an unknown abyss. The school system over here is completely different. Not having a clue what’s ahead for my child is causing me some anxiety. I’ll be learning to ropes right along with him.
Most children start school over here at four years old even though you are not legally obliged to send them until they are five. The later seems a more reasonable age but in the end I decided against that road. Sending him into a classroom full of peers who have already been in school a year felt an unfair thing to do. So here we are. School. And it’s not all bad. In fact it’s quite nice. It’s a lovely community school where I either know or recognize many of the parents. The classrooms are lively, colourful rooms filled with loads of toys. The teacher is a serious but caring individual who doesn’t play favorites and who Joseph already highly respects. He’s obsessed with tidying everything up because at ‘big school’, as he calls it, Mrs. Brown says he must. Thank you Mrs. Brown.
Among the best of the differences between The UK and US school systems is that no matter what school you go to, private or state, everyone wears a uniform. No fights in the morning about what he’s going to wear. It’s decided.
My immediate worries are easing but I know that there will be more in store for all of us down the road. The testing the children go through over here is intense. The names of the tests alone is enough to send my dyslexic brain into a frenzy. GCSE, A levels, G levels (Not sure, but the last one may be made up). I only vaguely know what they mean and when they occur. These tests are a long way off but apparently there are other tests, with other confusing initials no doubt, along the way to prepare for the big ones. It’s like the SAT’s that never end. This is my idea of hell. Makes me shudder.
This seems to be where the debate between Private and Public or Sate schools gets underway. This is a regular topic of conversation among parents with school age children. I suppose it is in the States as well, although as someone who went to both I can’t really remember. The small class size in the private school was nice but I felt the world it showed us was small. However, the American state school I attended was far too big, making it too easy to get lost in the crowd.
Many people feel that sending their children to a Private school ensures a University education will follow. You see, there is no University over here that takes anyone who wants to go like there is in the US. You have to make the grades, hence all the heavy testing. There are some average to pretty good students out there not being awarded places at University depending on the number of students applying that year and how stiff the competition is. It’s high stakes stuff. It’s miles off and at the moment Joseph seems more predisposed to be a farmer rather than a doctor but you never know and the system over here forces you to think about these things early. Too early if you ask me. Sixteen year olds are asked to ‘specialize’ in their chosen field so they can choose the degree they will go after. In effect you are expected to know what you want to be when you grow up at sixteen. Madness.
For now, I’m following my gut. The schools in our area are very good and at this point sending him anywhere else seems silly. What we love about where we live is the community and sending our children to the private school in the neighboring town effectively takes them, and us, out of that community. And then there’s the money. Expensive stuff private school and I’m not yet at all convinced it’s better.
So, for the moment I’m happy, or as happy as a mother who’s first born has started school can be. I feel like I’m embarking on a journey that I’ve been on before but this time in a foreign land where anything is possible and where it’s not about me. It’s nerve wracking but for now picking up my son and seeing his smiling face and his wore hard, bunched up school uniform is enough to calm me. He loves it. So far so good…