I was talking on the phone with my daughter yesterday evening when I noticed that one of the trees that I can see from my kitchen window was beginning to turn an autumnal shade of yellow. When I mentioned this, my daughter was a bit depressed by it, ‘I’m still waiting for summer’ she said. But, although it had taken me by surprise, seeing this first sign of Autumn when we are still in August, was welcome and, well, almost exciting.
Maybe I’m peculiar, but this time of year, when the last days of Summer melt into Autumn, is my favourite. I can rationalise it by claiming that it’s because it’s easier to work when I’m not wishing I could be outside in the sunshine – or away on holiday. But in fact it goes back a long way and is rooted in my classroom teaching days.
Here in the UK, the Autumn term begins some time in the first week of September and for me, as an erstwhile teacher, that’s a time filled with hope and excitement about what the new school year will bring. The tiredness and often frustration of the end of the previous school year that ended in July, are forgotten. Those dreadful, exhausting Parents’ Evenings at the end of the Summer term, when the reports that I’d laboured over all weekend were handed out. And the embarrassment of being utterly unable to recall the face of the child whose fond parents are waiting nervously to hear my verdict on their offspring’s progress! The Sports’ Days, the Prize-givings, the School plays, the discos and the disaffected pupils who can’t wait for the term to end. Now all well and truly forgotten.
Forgotten for now and replaced by the optimism of a fresh start with, for once, a well-polished classroom, filled with eager, shiny-faced, neatly coiffed pupils, proudly clutching new pencil-cases – with bobbles, all of them as filled with hope and expectation as I am, the feelings that we usually associate with the coming of Spring or maybe at the start of a new year! For once the Nature Table looks inviting, with its display of acorns and conkers, berries and colourful leaves and pictures of squirrels and birds gathering on the telephone wires for their pre-migration briefing...
It doesn’t last long, of course, the class villain soon begins to make his presence felt (and yes, the first one is invariably a ‘he’), the leaves on the Nature table dry up, the fresh white backing paper becomes torn and grubby as it becomes a repository for pencil sharpenings, chewing gum and all the other odds and ends that nobody can be bothered to put away.
And so the magic fades, to be replaced by the humdrum life of the classroom, punctuated by the occasional uproar when the above-mentioned villain decides to trash the stock cupboard in break-time. Or the even less frequent, almost tear-jerking, moment of exhilaration when a struggling pupil makes an unexpected breakthrough in their learning and makes the whole thing more than worthwhile!
But each year without fail, as the days grow noticeably shorter, and the ‘New Series for Autumn’ begin to be announced on the television, that excitement returns, that 'beginning-of-the-new-school-year feeling', that triumph of optimism over experience, and for me, there's nothing quite like it!