It's been two weeks but it feels more like a month - being back at school already feels completely normal. There's homework to mark and lessons to plan and people are already talking about next year's exam results.
For families, it's all about new starts. The rather touching photos of Prince George arriving for his first day at nursery school are just one example of millions. Everywhere, people are taking photos of 'first days' - shiny-faced little three, four and five year olds off to nursery or primary; excited eleven or twelve year olds off to 'big school', their blazers halfway to their knees and their schoolbags so laden that they almost tip them backwards. Grown up sixth formers, proud of their new sixth form ties or smart-casual dress codes. In the school where I work, the sixth form senior prefects have been given high-vis vests to wear when doing their lunchtime duties: they laugh, say they're mortified, but you can tell they're secretly proud of their visibility as the brand-new most senior students in the school. It'll be their school formal this year, their leavers' day, their new paths to university and beyond. Their mixture of excitement and fear is palpable and contagious.
For teachers, the 1st September feels more significant than 1st January, except that there are staff training days beforehand rather than wild, prosecco-fuelled parties- yes, two quite different and unrelated things! As the students arrive on the first day of meteorological autumn, things start all over. The successes and disappointments of the year before fade; there's a lot of anticipation in the air. Sometimes it's that student who behaved badly at times last year, but has grown up a bit and is really trying to make a better start. Sometimes it's that new class who actually seem to appreciate your bad jokes (don't worry, they'll get tired of them by Halloween). Always, it's that mixture of fear (how will I do all that again, and try to do things even better), anticipation (that topic you always enjoy teaching, that A level class who just brighten your day) and purpose (that sense of taking your place in the workforce once more - no more scolding by the postman that you're still off!) that motivates teachers into the early morning rush hour or to stay in their classrooms until the caretaker chases them home.
And it's not just teachers. Most of us remember the whole 'back to school' feeling in September. The fashion magazines are writing about it: the desire for new shoes and a new bag even if school is the furthest thing from your life. The new autumn fashions in the shops look so fresh and enticing, now that the out-of-season summer outfits have grown stale. Winter coats, appealing to us before it's really cold enough; burnished leather brogues and boots making us want to stamp through piles of crunchy leaves; that leather handbag just the exact colour of a conker, making you think of woodsmoke and Halloween.
I feel like I should be making resolutions now, instead of waiting until January. I can barely remember what I promised myself I'd do in 2017, beyond being more patient and taking exercise every day. This school year, I'm going to be organised. I say it every year. Marking and planning will never be last minute or late. I'll work efficiently enough for a few hours after school that I'll get to bed at a reasonable time each night. No more waking at 1 or 2am, my reading glasses at an angle, my book or kindle lying to one side. No more being wide awake from 4 or 5am, my mind on a racetrack of all I need to do that day, wishing I could just get up, get started, then get back to sleep. Of course that pattern hasn't already started. Of course it hasn't.
Most of all, I'm thinking about retirement. Not because my own is imminent; I'm at that 'mid-career' stage, where I'm definitely not one of the young teachers any more but I'm not just ready for the retirement dinner yet. But quite a lot of my friends - in teaching and elsewhere - have retired recently or will be retiring soon, and their joy at the prospect of so much freedom (of course mixed with some sadness at what they're leaving behind) reminds me that I shouldn't really live the next ten or fifteen years as though I'm simply waiting in a queue. Yes: I will love the freedom of perpetual holiday when my turn for the retirement speech arrives. But I don't want to feel like a hamster on a treadmill wheel until then - not every day at least.
My greatest resolution for the new school year is to get through it: from waking up, to first period, to lunchtime, to hometime, to sleep (perchance to dream!). My second, though, is to find enjoyment in at least some of what happens between waking and sleeping again. Just like the sadness of the summer weather ending is tempered by the joys of those lovely new autumn and winter clothes, the sadness of the holidays being over is brightened by that purpose, that company, that feeling of learning and helping others to learn. It has to be.
Otherwise it simply couldn't be a happy new year.Suggest a correction