I always saw myself as a trusting sort of person. My friend Pippa once told me, when I asked, that in order to get the family caravan out of the garden they took it to pieces and walked it through the garage, bit by bit. Because she is such a lovely person I, even though I was a particularly wet-behind-the-ears seventeen, believed her. I always want to believe the best of people, to think that they are worthy of my trust. I am always surprised when life turns around and doesn’t behave the way I expect.
But despite my general trust in my fellow humans, I have to admit, and I write this with a certain sense of unease, that I don’t actually feel the same way about my children’s teachers. My mum thinks I’m completely bonkers. To her mind, teachers are the professionals, and I should be happy to let them get on with it, a bit like the way my granny felt about doctors, and to a certain extent I do. But I don’t always. Sometimes that bond of trust that ought to exist between teachers and the parents of the children they teach, sometimes, it has been broken.
It’s a funny thing, this lack of trust. I mean, it’s not as if I had a terrible experience of school myself. OK, I wasn’t the biggest fan of school during my early teens, but who is? My antipathy had more to do with me, than school. I was an adolescent, after all. I don’t look on education with suspicion. I come from a family that values it, and what it can do for a person, for a family. Both of my parents were the first in their families to benefit from a university education, and they passed their aspirations on to me. I’m a teacher myself, so classrooms aren’t some sort of mystical place where things happen that I don’t understand.
But there are barriers. There are things that keep me at a distance. Timetabling, for a start. When Sam started school, we parents were told in no uncertain terms that if we wanted to see the teacher, we were to make an appointment, through the office, after school. I was a bit taken aback by that, I have to admit. I have spent the majority of my career, to date, teaching in mobile classrooms, out in the playground, within easy reach of all and sundry. There was always a number of adminny-type jobs to do first thing in the morning (I had to get the dinner numbers wrong and wait for the phone call from the school secretary for a start), and it was always ten minutes or so before we got started. I didn’t know that while I was busy having babies, the atmosphere in schools hardened, and it was no longer acceptable to ease ourselves into gear. Learning must get going straight away. There is no time for anyone to tell anyone anything, big or small.
And when you hand that baby over, that oh-so-precious baby you have invested so much of yourself in, to a virtual stranger there is a sense of disquiet that takes a strong relationship to overcome. I suppose I could forgive myself for getting my knickers in a twist about Sam. At first I didn’t realise that his condition, his label would carry so much significance for other people. I didn’t understand the limiting power of low expectations, and over-weaning helpers. It is, I suppose, understandable, that I felt a growing sense of unease, followed by alarm, that at times, all was not going as it ought.
And if, like me, you are a fixer, a sorter-outer, a seeker of solutions, it is doubly hard when the very person with whom you want to make a partnership, with whom you want to work, in the interests of your very precious child, is, it seems, hiding behind a bolted classroom door. And before you know it, you are on a spiral, a downward spiral that ends in disenchantment, disengagement, the results of which damage the education of the very person you are seeking to help.
Because I know now how it works. I know how, when you get home cross, or upset and you talk about it, the children listen. With every word that comes out of your mouth that expresses your dismay with the teacher or the school, their authority is lessened. You don’t mean for it to happen, but it does. All by itself.
I know that it might take some time, and it might go against the grain, but I know that we, as a body of teachers, need to listen to the parents of the children we teach. And not only that, but we need to listen particularly to the parents of the children who are having a difficult time, or who misbehave, or, like mine, have a considerable special educational need. Without listening, how would you know that the little girl whose confidence has crashed through the floor cares for her younger siblings while her parents go out to work? Without listening, how would you know that the boy whose mother hardly dares leave was born prematurely and nearly died of pneumonia when he was two? How would you know whose parents spilt up in the summer holidays, or whose mummy died? Why would we not listen, and let someone else, someone who knows their child oh, so well, help us?
I know that it doesn’t take a minute to answer a query, to reassure someone that you will keep an eye on their small person because they didn’t sleep well last night. It takes seconds to say that you understand that they didn’t make it to assembly, or sport’s day, or parent’s evening either. It takes an instant to show that you aren’t sitting in judgement on another parent’s lack of perfection. Because I’ve done it too. I’ve got an impressive list of parenting fails behind me, from missing the assembly when he won an award through forgetting when the year started to sending him in on an INSET day. Being late in the morning, late for home time, forgetting the lunch, I must have done it all. We all have feet of clay. As well as being one of us, I’m one of them too.
So now that I am back in the classroom, I can’t help but bring my experience as a parent with me. I can’t help but remember those days when I came home from the school run and cried, or raged, or simply stood and stared sightlessly out of the window. Thanks to Sam, and the children that followed him, my classroom door is open wide. Please come in.
This post was written as a partner to this one http://relationalschools.org/rules-of-engagement/ written for the Relational Schools Project.