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The early morning sun streamed through the open window of Ethan’s bedroom, illuminating a neat pile of brand new clothes and a shiny pair of shoes. Into the room, and onto the bed, bounded his pet dog, Squirts, with his tail wagging furiously. Ethan, however, had been awake for half an hour, just lying there, admiring those new clothes and thinking about the exciting day ahead. ‘Squirts,’ he announced, ‘This is the most important day of my life. What do you think happens today?’ Squirts licked his young master’s face; he could tell that something different was going to happen. ‘Today, Squirts, is my ﬁrst day at school and I can’t wait to get started. You won’t be able to come with me, but I’ll be home later to tell you all about it.’ ‘Time you were up and about,’ called Aunt Bessie, ‘You’ve got a big day ahead and need to get a good breakfast inside you.’ Ethan dressed quickly and then admired the school boy in his mirror. The school uniform was a dark green sweater and blue shorts, and he looked pretty smart in it. Squirts thought so too and scampered around him for a better view. At breakfast, he was so excited, he could hardly touch his favourite cereal, and kept looking at the kitchen clock to make sure he didn’t miss the school bus. Three children living further up the road were also joining the school bus for the ﬁrst time, so there was quite a crowd of parents and relatives waiting to wave them off. The driver ticked their names on a list and then suggested that they introduced
themselves to the other young passengers before he set off down the road. One or two of the others were a little shy at this request, but Ethan wasn’t and each newcomer got a small round of applause. He sat next to a boy called Randy who told him that this was his second year at school and he really liked it. He hoped that Ethan would like it too. Ethan and the other newcomers had been to the school already to have a look around and meet some of the teachers, but this journey was different. In their uniforms, they were now a part of this strange new world, and they all felt a little nervous at what lay ahead. So far, however, everyone had been really nice to them. In the main hall, all the children assembled in front of Miss Harmony, the head teacher. The newcomers sat in the ﬁrst row and the older students sat behind them. Miss Harmony welcomed everybody to another new term, and then warmly greeted the new boys and girls. She said how smart they all looked in their sweaters and shorts or skirts. She also said that everyone who starts school always ﬁnds that the ﬁrst day is the longest day of their life. After that, she assured them, each day gets shorter and shorter. This made the older students laugh and one or two shook their heads and said ‘No, Miss, they get longer!’ Then, Mrs Mendlessohn opened the piano and announced that they would all sing the school’s song. Some cards with the words printed on them were handed out to the new children in the front row Thank you, Thank you Thank you for the day that’s just begun Thank you for our work and thank you for our play and for teachers who make learning fun. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for our friends and classmates too Thank you for the best school in the world and for all our teachers, we thank you Thank you, Thank you Thank you for all those who really care Helping us to do the best we can Thank you for all teachers everywhere.
Miss Harmony said that Mrs Mendlessohn had written the words to the song and that they had all sung it very well. Hidden behind her music stand, Mrs Mendlessohn blushed and looked down at the piano keys. Ethan decided that the next time it was sung, he would know all the words by heart. After that, the older students went to their classes while Miss Harmony explained the ﬁre drill to the new ones. She told them that when the ﬁre alarm bell rang, they were always to go to the nearest ﬁre exit. With the help of another teacher she took them to each of the ﬁre exits around the school. To make it more interesting, she made them stand in different parts of the school, and when she blew her whistle, they had to make their way to the nearest exit. Ethan really enjoyed this, and when a few of the others got lost, he showed them where to go. For the rest of the morning, they were shown around different parts of the school, such as the gym, the library and their new classroom. The small desks were in groups of four and they were told that they could pick any desk they wanted. Ethan picked a desk that would be nearest the teacher. After lunch in the dining hall, they were told to rest before their ﬁrst lesson. Ethan borrowed a book from the library and sat in the sun reading it. A little later, a girl called Isabella joined him and they tested each other on the words of the school song. Then Ethan and his classmates sat at their desks for their ﬁrst real lesson in school. The teacher that afternoon was Mrs Symeou, a small cat-like lady with short dark hair, piercing brown eyes, and a large mole on her chin. ‘Good afternoon, children,’ she announced, ‘My name is Mrs Symeou and I shall be taking you for an art lesson.’ Upon hearing this, Ethan’s heart leapt with joy because he really enjoyed anything to do with drawing or painting. On each desk, the teacher placed a selection of colouring pencils and four large sheets of paper. ‘Now, listen up! You may draw anything that you like, and I have only two rules. The ﬁrst is that you use as much of the paper as possible, and the second is that you write your name at the top of your picture, like so.’
Mrs Symeou was very fond of saying ‘like so’, so Ethan decided he would use it occasionally with Squirts. ‘Squirts, close my bedroom door, like so!’ ‘You have thirty minutes on the classroom clock to complete your drawing. I do not want to hear any chitter chatter, and you can start to draw right now.’ Most of the children stared blankly at their sheets of paper and were left wondering what to draw. Ethan, however, knew exactly what he wanted to do. It was something he had drawn many times. He was going to draw a portrait of his beloved Squirts. When Isabella saw the outline of a dog appearing on the paper, she smiled and whispered that she was going to draw her pet cat. ‘I said no chitter chattering in my class. Is that understood?’ Ethan was too engrossed in his work to see what the others had decided to draw, and was surprised at how quickly the time passed. Mrs Symeou then went around the class collecting up the ﬁnished pieces of artwork. She ﬂicked through them quite quickly and seemed to place them in some kind of order. She then started to talk about each of the drawings in turn, and suggested how they might be improved. ‘Alice Carpenter. You have a nice drawing of some ﬂowers, but you haven’t made as much use of the paper as you could. Your drawing only covers the size of my ﬁst.’ Alice’s masterpiece got ﬂicked aside to another pile ‘Jack Harvey. The wheels on your father’s car are all different sizes. I would hate to go for a ride in a car like that.’ Jack’s automobile was ﬂicked aside to join Alice’s ﬂowers. It suddenly dawned on Ethan that Mrs Symeou had put the drawings in some order of merit and that his was very near the top of the pile. Eventually, there were only two drawings left. ‘Isabella Nicholson.’ purred Mrs Symeou, ‘Your cat is very well drawn and its head is the right size for its body. I particularly like its big dark brown eyes and its whiskers. Well done.’
Now, there was only Ethan’s drawing left, so his must be the best one in the class. He was shaking with excitement as Mrs Symeou held up the portrait of his beloved Squirts for everyone to admire. ‘Children,’ she said, ‘I want you all to watch very carefully at what I am going to do next.’ A row of young faces stared in admiration at Ethan’s drawing of his little dog. A row of young faces followed Mrs Symeou as she crossed to the other side of the classroom. A row of young faces stared wide-eyed in horror as she tore Ethan’s picture into shreds and threw it into the waste paper bin. ‘Today,’ she announced, ‘One of you has learnt a very important lesson which you will never forget. You have learnt what happens if you do not put your name on your work.’ Believe it or not, this is a true story. Of course, the appalling Mrs Symeou was taken to task by Aunt Bessie at a parent’s meeting, though it probably had little or no effect on her. Then, of course there is Ethan. He’s a man now and Squirts has long since departed, but he never forgot that ﬁrst day at school.
Tony Crowley (c) 2004
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