In the South Africa, most children who were born in 2006 started the first year of their formal education on Wednesday. There must have been great excitement and enormous anticipation for this big day. At my school they arrived at 9:00 a.m. They’d been up since 6, fully dressed in their crisp new uniforms and right from my house I am sure I heard them nagging – When are we going? Please Mom and Dad, I want to go to school!
Of course their parents had prepared them for this big occasion and of course they couldn’t wait to get there and for most the whole rah rah welcome was fun and there was no problem separating from their parents. But for one or two, the reality was daunting. Suddenly they found themselves in an unfamiliar environment, noisy parents, teachers and children surrounded them and the butterflies in their tummies took over and there was great reluctance to let go of Mom or Dad’s hand. The hardest thing for a parent to do is leave a screaming, terrified child. I had one who clung so tightly I had to prize open her fingers and unwind her from her mom. I saw the despair in Mommy’s eyes but I had to insist – “Go quickly – I promise she will be okay.” Reluctantly she left and my heart went more out to her than to her little girl.
When a child is in a complete state like this, you cannot reason with them. They are not listening. They are functioning in survival mode and need to be made to feel safe and loved. I hugged the little girl tightly and said, Mommy loves you and she will come back. I love you and I am going to look after you till then. We are going to have fun and do lovely things at school. I am going to leave you here on the mat now and you can tell me when you’re ready to go to your place. I then assigned my GAP student to keep an eye on her. It took a while and a few more hugs and reassurance about what time school would end, and that the first few days were going to be short and she would have time to settle in. Once she knew the facts and had her reassurance she stopped crying. I told her that it was now up to her to decide to enjoy the rest of the day. When she was ready, she went to her place, put a big smile on her face and settled down to enjoy all the activities with the other girls. Today she came into class and I asked, “Where’s Mommy?” “Gone,” she told me with a big grin.
It takes me a while to learn 30 new names. I put labels on my girls on Day 1 and asked them to cover them with their hands to see how many I could remember. Some were quite patient with their old teacher and gave her clues or helped her guess. Others said, No – you must try again till you get it right! With such strict pupils I learned fast and am proud to say that today I got them all right!