My new, young, eager students have now been in school for a week. I had all their parents in last night to brief them on what they and their sons could expect over the next few weeks, months and even years. Before I put together my speech, I thought I'd conduct a little bit of research and ask the lads what it was they were enjoying about school. The response wasn't quite what I expected...
I asked my Year 7 maths class to pop down their pens and answer a couple of questions for me. I explained that I wanted to know what they liked so far about school so we can keep doing it, and what they don't like so that maybe we could change it. But I thought we'd start with the good stuff. And so I put it to them: what bits of school are making you really happy at the moment?
Understandable: these subjects are always popular, especially as they are new to lots of the students.
"Oooh, Miss! Getting lost!"
I sauntered over to this particular student, commenting "We're talking about what we like at the moment; we'll talk about the difficult things in a moment."
His face fell. "But miss, I like getting lost".
I was somewhat surprised. "Why?"
"Because I keep discovering new bits of school! It's exciting!"
Apparently either our students believe they're attending a consantly-changing Hogwarts-style castle, or they just aren't familiar with the use of a map, which we've given them all a copy of. But if they're happy that's the main thing, and it seemed mean to point out that I thought this was a bit silly. Especially as several of his classmates agreed with him.
"OK lads, that means we're enjoying swimming, tech, and getting lost. Anything else you think your parents should know?"
"Yes miss, the custard"
"Yep. We like the custard at lunch".
"Um...good? Didn't you get custard at primary school?"
"Nah, we did miss, but it's not as good as here."
Slightly taken aback, I decided to pursue this line of enquiry. "So what didn't you like about the custard at your old school?"
"It was cold."
Another chimed in with his opinions. "Yeah, and it was too thick miss, you couldn't pour it"
"Right. OK. Well..."
"But you don't want it too runny miss! Otherwise you have to drink it. I don't like drinking things"
I was completely overwhelmed by this point. "Why don't you like drinking things?"
"Oh I don't mind drinking drinks, but I don't like drinking food"
I still felt like I was missing something. "So what's so good about the custard here?" I'll be honest, there's nothing wrong with the school custard, but I don't think it would win any awards.
"It's hot miss! And it's sweeter. I have a sweet tooth"
"And it's not too thick!"
"And I like the slushies!"
This was an about-turn in the conversation. However, I was already aware of the slushy machine's popularity. The students get to crank out their own frozen drinks in frankly garish colours, and pulling the lever to dispense your own slushy seems to be most of the fun.
"Miss, why aren't there custard slushies?"
I turned to him wisely. "Slushies are cold".
He blinked at me blankly.
"You just told me you like the school custard hot"
There was no recognition from any student that this was a contradiction, so I decided to move on with a sweeping generalisation.
"Y'know Year 7, you lot are a bit weird"
A sage-looking youngster at the front nodded and put up his hand. I indicated that he could speak.
"It's just a period we're going through."
"We're going through a period of liking custard and getting lost"
The whole class were nodding in agreement as though this somehow explained everything. Am I the only one who thinks it doesn't? I had to abandon the conversation there.
When I made my speech to the parents at the briefing evening, it was with no small amount of pride in my brand new yeargroup that I was able to say that they were settling in well, had confidently grasped the new routines, were doing their best to take on a whole new way of school life, and that they enjoyed swimming, technology and custard. I bet it didn't say in the school prospectus that our custard is top-notch, but it seems these things are important to know.
P.S. In case you were wondering, one of the main concerns the lads had when I asked them about what they didn't like was something I can do nothing about. They're cross because the school cat won't play football with them at break. It just stands next to the ball and doesn't do anything. If this is their biggest concern, I think they'll do OK.