PARENTING | Back to school – confessions of a teacher and a mum
As a school teacher, and also mummy to 6 year old Lyla, I have the privilege (and pain) of experiencing those first few days back at school from a number of perspectives…
That first day of school is brutal for every mum, even a school teacher
I remember when I taught in reception a few years back – those first few days in September – the first day at school for so many little ones. I watched parents holding onto their precious little children with tears rolling down their cheeks thinking ‘ Get a bloody grip – send them in and be on your way…’
But now I’m a mum I get it. I completely get it.
Your precious little child has grown up. He/she is wearing a uniform. Jumpers burying them. Crisp white collars buttoned tightly around their little necks. Book bags bigger than their torso. They’ve spent all summer – in fact all their little lives dressed casually and comfortably, covered in all sorts of crap and hair all over the place and now they’re in a pressed power suit sporting a briefcase – about to start a huge life-changing journey.
It’s a big deal. Even if they’ve attended a nursery or pre-school – ‘Big School’ is different. It’s official.
I held it together in the playground on Lyla’s first day but as soon as I got home and closed the front door I had a little cry.
I soon pulled myself together though and enjoyed a few hours in peace. I was able to eat a full packet of crisps to myself, and it was nice to be able to sit on the toilet without being gawped at.
Homework is a ball ache – DON’T FORGET TO CHECK THE BOOK BAG!
Your evenings as you know them are over for the next 15 years. Possibly more.
Once the 3.30pm bell rings, it’s time for swimming lessons, dancing lessons, your turn to invite little Gary’s friend over for tea… just DON’T FORGET TO CHECK THE BOOK BAG!
There will be plenty of times when you forget to check the book bag the night before, and at 8.30am the next morning when you are shoving that third brand new “indestructible” water bottle of the school term into your little one’s book bag, about to run out of the door, you’ll spot it. A worksheet.
Probably phonics… (you probably don’t even know what phonics are but don’t worry, that’s totally normal if you were born in the last millennium).
If it’s not phonics, it’s home learning and involves collecting a number of objects from around the house and garden made from 27 different materials. It’s 8.42am.
You have eight minutes to source the objects and get your child into that playground and through that door before it’s slammed in your face and you’re subjected to the walk of parental shame, across the deserted playground and into office to face the wrath of the receptionists.
They really aren’t all that bad and even teachers have walked this walk so don’t beat yourself up too much.
The paperwork – it’s relentless.
Newsletters, diary dates, checklists, PTA event flyers, invites, lunch menus, reply slips – I’m guilty of putting all this paperwork in a ‘safe place’ and I make a promise to myself that I will look at it later.
The pile multiplies before my eyes and inevitably I miss something and Lyla goes to school with no pound coin for the book fair, or I’ve sent her in her uniform on a non-uniform day. And no one told me about the sponsored bloody run! Well technically, they did – it’s in the paperwork pile.
Don’t beat yourself up – it’s very easy to feel like the worst mummy in the world when you’re dragging your little one through the playground on a morning in school uniform when everyone else’s kids are head to toe in wellies and waterproofs all set for wildlife hunts and pond dipping. They will get over it.
We’ve never missed a cake stall though. This is the one activity that I get onto straight away. As soon as we get notification of cakes needed, that competitive streak fires up inside me, my apron is on, and the Halifax GBBO begins.
Friendship fallouts are tricky.
I witness lots of power struggling conversations when I’m on playground duty:
“She said she’s not my friend anymore.”
“She said she’s not inviting me to her party now”
“I only said that because you said my banana was disgusting”.
For the most part, I can promise you that these little squabbles are resolved in two minutes – everything’s hunky dory and everyone’s best friends again.
But now and then a child will go home and explain the day’s happenings to their parents – with a side order of tears.
The moment that your precious little cub tells you that someone was ‘mean’ to them or pushed them, or shoved them, you immediately feel your protective lioness instinct kick in, teacher or not.
Of course 99 times out of 100, it’s ‘something over nothing’, ‘just kids’, ‘they’re all as bad as each other’. But your heart is telling you to march round to the house of the little **[insert word of your choice]** and sort him/her out.
Should you mention it to the ‘culprit’s’ mum in the playground?
Should you just let it run its course?
It’s all part and parcel of growing up and learning how to get along with each other – you don’t need to steam in all guns blazing. Trust us, the teachers, if we are in any way concerned over the behavior of a child in relation to yours, we’ll discuss the situation with you.
Levels and grades aren’t the be all and end all.
I would never collect Lyla from school and immediately quiz her on how she got on with her spelling test or her times table – the first thing I ask her is if she’s had a good day.
Of course I care about her progress but first and foremost, I want to know that she’s had a nice day.
I want her to regale me with her stories of laughter with her friends. Cartwheels across on the grass at playtime. To have the telltale signs of a good chocolate pudding and lumpy pink school custard round her chops. I want her to enjoy going to school.
She’s there for a long long time – she needs to be enjoy it. Miserable kids who hate school make for a miserable life for us parents – a worse scenario than them not getting full marks in a test in my opinion.
As a teacher myself, I’m aware that assessment data, progress made, and getting a child to an ‘age related expectation’ by the end of summer term is important, but as a parent, it’s not the be all and end all – for me anyway.
As a side note, I also think I’ve changed a bit as a teacher since becoming a parent. I listen – properly listen – to the children in my class more because I hope that if Lyla was to confide in her teacher I’d want them to really listen to her.
And I leave my work at work a lot more. This summer holiday I haven’t stepped foot into the school building because it’s my time to spend with my friends and family not stuck to a bloody laminator. It’s felt good!
Has parenthood changed you as a teacher?
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I’m a primary school teacher and I’m a mum to a beautiful, bright and bubbly six-year-old. I witness the ups and downs of wellbeing in children every day. Every parent faces the same dilemma – how to ensure the wellbeing of our children – particularly from a mental health perspective in a world that is more pressured than ever in more ways than one.
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