First-grader's diary: Expectation and reality

On Aug. 28, 7-year-old Timofei Korabelschikov still had no idea what surprises lay in store for him on Sept. 1, the day when the whole of Russia reopens its academic doors.

Visiting his home, we encountered a playful, happy-go-lucky lad completely unable to focus on reciting a poem that he would have to read on stage when lined up for the first time. He seemed slightly averse to letting his imagination run wild: whatever happens, happens.

Children rarely tie themselves up in knots on the eve of starting first grade, especially if they’ve already been to kindergarten and even more especially if it was a kindergarten run by the same school. It’s the parents who do all the worrying. Timofei’s mom Larisa Korabelschikova works in education, so she knows the system inside out. She says many parents experience major stress even a year before the start of school. Come springtime, they start patrolling the gates of their chosen school, interviewing parents, collecting feedback on teachers. “Despite the school rankings based on exam grades and college entrants, the most important thing in primary school is the first teacher. How long have they been working at the school, what do former pupils and parents say about them, have they got any professional awards?” - says Larisa.

We spent Timofei’s very first day of school in his company.

What this day usually looks like?

On this day, schools put on a special celebration to mark the start of the year – teachers and pupils assemble on the school yard to listen to songs and poetry; congratulatory and inspirational speeches are given by the schools’ head teachers and, sometimes, by members of the local administration.

Flowers and ribbons are an integral part of the celebrations, as well. Flowers are traditionally given to teachers, and white ribbons are either worn on clothing or fastened into the hair of schoolgirls of all ages.

We expected to see the usual crowd of children with flowers, but didn’t. Moscow’s Gymnasium №45 supports the “Children instead of flowers” charity campaign, which encourages parents not to spend money on bouquets for teachers (these bouquets are then placed in buckets in the classroom for a week), but to donate the money to orphanages, hospices, and charities. The campaign aims to teach children from day one not only to get up early and do long division, but to be thoughtful and generous.

At the end of the ceremony, a girl in the first grade will sit atop the shoulders of a boy in his senior year (aged 17-18). This little girl is then given a bell, which she will ring loudly as she is carried past a crowd of spectators. Ringing this bell officially starts the new school year.

But for now, the class is busy getting to know each other, eyeing each other critically, chatting about summer vacations and missing teeth, and trying to remember the teacher’s name. She’s also trying to remember their names, a far harder task since there are 30 of them. The first-graders are a mix of noise and shyness, yet all face an important task. The task of learning.

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