First steps into ‘big’ school

Hello to the Advertiser readers in Westmeath, Mayo, and Galway.

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” 

- Anon

Politics and education are the big interests of my life and I love to share my ideas on these matters with everyone.

The excitement of the Leaving Certificate and the CAO offers are beginning to lessen. However, a far greater challenge awaits the young people of 12/13 years, who this week and next week will be entering ‘big’ school for the first time.  

I was musing over all this lately because this week two of my grandchildren, Luke in Athlone and Jennifer in Dublin, are embarking on their secondary school education.  

So far all they know of it is loads of lists of books and what they can do and what they cannot do.   

Jennifer (my oldest grandchild and daughter of Feargal and Maeve in Dublin ) is just 13 and is starting in a Loreto school near where they live. I was a Loreto pupil myself and I know she will be happy there.  

Luke (12 ½ - the eldest of four children of Aengus and Lisa O’Rourke in Athlone ) is going into the Marist College in Athlone and as I heard him telling a friend of his, his father went there, his uncle, Feargal went there, his grandfather (Enda, R.I.P. ) went there, his two granduncles, Uncle Brian and Uncle Paddy Lenihan went there and his grandcousin, Brian Lenihan, went there too, so he is surely going into an environment with good history for him.

I always feel a special burst of affection for those very young students going into second level for the first time.  

They are leaving the lovely cosy primary school, cosy and intimate and each child knows the teacher and all the teachers so well there. They are in an environment in which they are cared for and loved.  

To my mind, a primary teacher is the most wonderful person in our whole learning environment.

Imagine you take in a little child, hardly more than a baby between four and five. You take them in from their parents, you care for them, you educate them but above all you give them love.  What could be more noble that that? 

Now, come September they will be going into a much bigger college with maybe 20 to 30 teachers, 12 new subjects, shifting rooms every 35 minutes or so and a whole gaggle of new people, not just of teachers but students of all ages.  

It is an immense leap for many. Maybe my thoughts have gone that way now because of my own particular position as a grandmother with two setting off.

Now to offset that as well as new subjects, new games, new friends, new experiences, the young mind is expanding and wanting to take in all of that.  

They are usually going through puberty at this time as well with all of the attendant emotions that surround those experiences.  

I hope that for the Jennifers and Lukes all over Ireland that their essay into this unknown land is good and wonderful.  I know their minds will expand and that they will be open to all of the new people that they will meet and all of the new experiences that they will encounter. 

When I was teaching in Summerhill, we had a particular teacher who had the task of taking care of the new first years each year.   For about a year I was happy to undertake that position. Of course you had your teaching job as well.   It meant that if any young person felt a bit adrift and a bit astray, they could come to see me and I would talk through with them any difficulty they had.  We were usually able to iron out any bumps that had arisen and often in a very easy way.

One way or another, the world it is a changing for all young people now from this end-August on and I wish them the best of growing and the best of learning in the years ahead. 

I am looking forward to seeing my two take these giant steps. I know that sometimes I will ache for them for the hurts and slights they will surely experience, for the joys and elations I hope they will experience and above all to be there for them as a grandmother should they need me.

Slán go Fóill



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