The 'don't panic guide' to the new year of high school

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"Being a mother of teenage boys and a high school principal has taught me a few lessons about the start of a school year." Photo: Marion Kohler
"Being a mother of teenage boys and a high school principal has taught me a few lessons about the start of a school year." Photo: Marion Kohler

As a mom and school principal at Abbotts College Johannesburg South, Marion Kohler knows a thing or two about starting a new school year. Here she shares her unique insights and provides invaluable advice for nervous parents and pupils. 

Being a mother of teenage boys and a high school principal has taught me a few lessons about the start of a school year. The first is that my expectation of perfectly seamless dawn to the year is just not possible!

One would like to imagine that the principal's sons are highly organised and efficient, excited, and ready to walk through the school gates on the first day of the new year.

Books are covered, stationery is packed, school attire is ready and waiting, grocery shopping is done for the menu you've prepared for lunches.

Yes! Organised and feeling good as a mom! Unfortunately, this is often the wish but not the reality, even in the principal's household, where my own two sons tell me not to panic.

"Mom, we do the same thing every year. Why do you think this year is any different? Can we go and play games now?" I should trust them more…

Read: Carol Ofori shares five tips parents should know before their child’s first day of school

Putting the principal's hat on becomes a very different picture. I am there to calm parents like me. Perfection does not exist! Phew, thank goodness!

As parents, we have the best intentions for our children, and we often feel the pressure of not doing enough or being imperfect. Just know that the teachers do not judge you if the seamless start to the first few weeks has not occurred in your household.

A few good tips from the 'inside' may assist with a calmer, more rational approach to those first few weeks at school.

Let's take a look at some advice for parents and some points I would discuss with my teachers in a first staff meeting before we welcome your children to the school:

Reducing emotional stress

Try and alleviate any anxieties your child may be having, especially Grade 8 students going into high school and going to a new school. Your child's social and emotional learning journey plays an essential role in their academic success.

Teachers understand this critical foundation for learning, and a good school will assist students in managing themselves, reducing emotional stress, and supporting them through their high school journey.

Finding friends to sit with at break can be a challenging prospect for the introverted child. In my school, my teachers are on the lookout for these students and are always willing to try and connect new students with others who may have similar interests or subjects.

Also read: Planning your future while in Matric? Here are the important dates to note for the 2022 academic year

Parents and guardians must communicate how their child is feeling with the relevant staff at the school to assist them in adjusting.

A meeting with all the teachers or the principal to discuss emotional, familial, or academic challenges is vital to the success of the year and the feeling of security for your child.


Many parents, myself included, order textbooks late in the year from the supplier the school has offered. Buying textbooks is a financial commitment, and many will await year-end bonuses or 13th cheques to assist with this purchase.

This would mean that books ordered late will only arrive at the beginning of the year, dependent on when the suppliers get back to work after the new year. My advice is not to panic!

Teachers will understand that textbooks arrive late and ensure that the student's notes are available to provide will not be compromised.

Follow-up is constant, and schools will always plan for students to have access to learning resources!


If your child does not have all the stationery requirements, this is also not the worst thing that could happen.

Teachers in most schools always give a couple of weeks for students to settle in and afford the time for parents to purchase what is still missing.

They will also provide specific instructions for books and how they should be covered, if at all.

You may finally have a teenager who can do this on their own!

A student's timetable

There may be times that a student's timetable is incorrect – especially in the senior grades.

This is usually a slight adjustment by the Deputy Principal in charge of academics. Once again, it is to be expected that there may be hiccoughs at the start, but those first few days are there to iron out minor errors in timetabling.

The most important part of the beginning of the year...

Whatever the panic in your household may be in those first few weeks of the year, remember that a good school will be there to support and assist where necessary and not condemn and criticise!

Over the years, I have noticed that the challenges that seem impossible to many students can quickly be sorted out with caring and empathetic staff members at your child's school.

The most important part of the beginning of the year is that we allow them to settle in, build good relationships with their teachers and make wholesome friends.

Encouraging healthy relationships helps students develop essential life skills such as communication, cooperation, resolving conflicts, and problem-solving.

I wish all parents a positive start to the new school year. It may not be seamless, but we need to allow our teenagers to take responsibility for their learning journey.

Have a happy and healthy 2022!


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