My eldest son just started his final year of primary school. He is 11, turning 12 in Year Six. The Year Sixes are the school seniors. There is an assembly next week at which they are all given their senior badge and asked to take an oath to be caring, responsible leaders at school. He is utterly beside himself with pride and resolved to be a good leader with the seriousness I have come to know in my 11 going on 45-year-old.
The first week of a new school year is filled with milestones for everyone. The Year Twos can now play on the oval for the first time and so the Year Sixes, fresh out of their lesson on kind and responsible leadership, were sent to welcome and watch over the children playing on the big field for the first time. They are also allocated buddies in the younger classes to watch over and encourage.
Nathan was telling his dad all about his first day over dinner the night of his first day back at school. His pride at being a school senior, the biggest, the oldest poured out of him at the dinner table in its novelty. To add to his excitement, he had received his senior shirt, another way he can show off his senior status as he struts around with his equally cool 11-year-old friends – acting like they own the whole school, especially the oval. He was showing it off with pride to his father.
When Nathan got to the part about the nervous year Two-ers he had encountered earlier in the day on the playground, this is the advice his father gave him.
“Did you ask them their names?”
“They were all wearing name tags, so we could see their names.”
“Try to remember their names Nathan, especially the names of the children who looked the most frightened, the most nervous. Whenever you see them around school, greet them by name. Say “Hi Jeff, how’re you doing today?” It will cost you nothing to do, but it will make them feel so special, so great. All their friends will see that a Year Sixer knows their name. You will make them feel less nervous about everything at school if they think a Year Sixer likes them.”
In that moment, I fell in love with my husband all over again. What a lovely man. He could have responded in so many ways to his son’s little power trip. He could have praised power for power’s sake, made it something automatic, something Nathan’s entitled to simply because he’s in Year Six. He could have told Nathan about his own memories of being the biggest at school, or encouraged him to one day be not only the senior of school, but a senior partner in a law firm or a senior director of a company.
But he didn’t. He reminded his son that it was not so long ago that he was the nervous one, the junior in awe of the seniors. He taught him humility, and true leadership in his simple suggestion that Nathan learn the names of the juniors he is expected to lead. It is a view of the world that will last much longer than this year.
Next year Nathan will be in Year Seven at a new High School. He will be the smallest and youngest at his new school, and I have no doubt he’ll be terrified. I hope that at least a few of the dads of the children going into Year 12 that year say the same thing to their 17 year olds. Wouldn’t the whole world be a nicer place if they did?