Scout’s first day of school is important because her expectations do not meet reality.
The first day of school is a maturing experience for Scout. She was very excited about going to school for the first time. She has been jealous of Jem, and thinks that first grade will be wonderful. After all, Scout is very smart. She can already read and write when she starts school, but that’s part of the problem.
I never looked forward more to anything in my life. Hours of wintertime had found me in the treehouse, looking over at the schoolyard, spying on multitudes of children through a two-power telescope Jem had given me, learning their games … (Ch. 2)
School is not at all what Scout expects. Miss Caroline is a new teacher who is in way over her head. Scout gets in trouble for already knowing how to read, and Miss Caroline suggests that Atticus has been wrong to teach her. Scout is confused because Atticus never taught her to read. She just learned. The thought of not reading was too much for her.
Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. (Ch. 2)
At school, Scout and her classmates try to show their clueless teacher the ways of Maycomb, from the Ewells to the Cunninghams. Burris Ewell gets into an altercation with her when she suggests he bathe, and she tries to give Walter Cunningham a quarter for lunch. She does not know the special place the Ewells have in Maycomb society, and isn’t aware that a Cunningham never borrows money because he can’t pay it back.
Scout does not want to return to school. She feels like her teacher is mean to her and school is not what she expected. Atticus uses this experience to teach Scout her most important lesson so far—the importance of empathy. He tells her that she will get along better with people if she learns to look at things from their point of view, because you can never understand a person “until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” (Ch. 3).
Atticus tells Scout that they will continue to read together, but she must continue to go to school. School never really gets better for Scout, but she develops more reasonable expectations as time goes on. She is well ahead of her class and teachers intellectually, but Scout matures emotionally.