Trauma of first day back at school stays with you forever

Date Published: {J}

There are some moments in life you will never forget – no matter how much you wish you could. Strangely most of them involve school – and with all due respects to the start the Leaving Cert, nothing beats the pain of that first day back at school.

This week another 60,000 innocent five year olds started down that path that will end for them with the Leaving Cert in 2022 or 2023.

That’s a wake-up call for the rest of us, but for them, for the moment, it’s about ensuring you get a good spot in the sand pit so you can make castles and wreak havoc on the best efforts of others.

Indeed whatever trauma they’re going through is dwarfed by the tears of the Mammies with their faces pressed up against the glass of the classroom window, utterly convinced of the end of the world as we know it.

While the new arrivals may have been lured into a false sense of security, for the more seasoned veterans of the education system, the first day back at school brings with it the dread of knowing what it is really like because you’d been down this road before.

The summer holidays were over, the long nights were drawing in and you were stuck in classrooms and study halls – albeit with breaks for mid-term, Christmas, mid-term, Easter and innumerable ‘staff service’ days – until the evenings started to stretch again the following May.

Of course the teachers felt the same way but at least they were paid to be there – and they only had to be proficient in one or two subjects as opposed to having a daily inquisition on the whole bloody lot of them.

Not that school was all bad – in fact I remember my days in St Mary’s College with particular fondness even now – but it was that sinking feeling as you walked through the gates that this was your life for the next nine or ten months.

As a boarder, that pain was multiplied because we returned for duty on a Sunday night . . . under cover of darkness in a car packed with blankets, bed linen and enough clothes to do you until you next saw the washing machine at home.

The height of luxury was a packet of Kimberleys which you’d have to eat late at night under the blankets for fear of having to share them out with the rest of the dormitory, leaving you with about one of the bickies if you were lucky.

Even now those dark winter evenings are as vivid as if they happened this week – although within an hour, once you hooked up with your old friends, you were back in the old routine.

Then there was the smell of the place – an indescribable aroma of chalk, books and decades of schoolboys’ socks – along with the names from the past etched onto desks and classroom walls with compasses.

We had the added ‘benefit’ of a school diet with consisted of everything and anything once it included baked beans, a food form I am unable to countenance to this day because it will forever be associated with those large silver trays that had enough food for ten normal boys . . . or about five boarders.


For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.