September was the cruelest month?

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The poet TS Eliot once said April is the cruelest month. Can I meekly put my hand up and register September as taking that honour, or if not winning a close second?

Does anyone love September? You put up with it, we might go for coffee with it, but you don’t actively seek out a date with September.

Ok, admittedly, the weather is beautiful, the ochres of autumn and all that, but it also signifies the new term.

If September was a person, it would be the younger, better looking sister of January. Auburn haired perhaps, mostly affable, sometimes moody. Less harsh than January.  If you ever went on holiday with September, it would be the kind of person- we all know the ones – who are the first up, making plans, planning the route for the next day trip to Camino de Torres in the Camino, while you sit luxuriating and slumbering on the bottom bunk of some hostel bed.

September for many is about beginnings. The beginning of a new routine, one which we are all sent hurtling into whether we like it our not into. Tumbling like the autumn leaves in the park, despite ourselves and with little control, we are carried along into a new path.

It is comforting to know that there are common fears everyone experiences when embarking on those new beginnings. For many starting a new group, the thoughts are the same– will I fit in? Will I be able for it? Will I be asked to do something I can’t do?  Will I be in the oldest/youngest in the group? Will people think I’m crazy if I express an opinion? (And that’s just the teachers/tutors in the staff room!)

One of Seamus Heaney’s most well-known quotes – So walk on air against your better judgement – is something I am trying for September.  It is about giving things a go and not thinking too much.  Who wants to come into the deep end with me? What’s the worst that can happen? Ok, you may not emerge dignified but I say,  we embrace our inner deep sea diver. You know it is there. It may need a little coaxing to the diving board, but it is there.

Most new groups form in September – the new adult learning group, the evening palates group, the children starting in Junior Infants for the first time or even starting a new year. We’ve heard of the stages of the group, the memorable rhyming Tuckman’s theory, the storming, norming, forming thingamajig. A new group is like the birth of a new living thing. In some ways a blank slate, in others a life and personality of it’s own –  or it is subject to its environment? The people in the group? The teacher? Dumb luck?

It is true that every new group takes a while to get going.  We are in the group, we are there – that is the most important thing for now. The work will get done in time.  I call it group survival mode. Choose your battles wisely.  You’re in the forest, camped out, but you’re not at the Bear Grylls stages yet of actually being so at home that to feel comfortable enough to kill a deer and cook it on the fire.  In September, if I’d successfully worked out how to open and pitch my tent, my job is done!

We might look at the map, we might think about our next move (our next move could be planning the next class, addressing that issue that arose in week two but you noted it, or something else you intelligently put on the long finger as at the time you thought to yourself – too soon). As an educator, teacher and quite frankly, as a human being – we must lower the bar in September.  We are here. That is all.

Let’s see where October takes us, shall we?

Interesting links on group dynamics in the classroom: