Lost in Translation

I haven’t had an anxiety dream for a while, which as far as I am concerned is A Good Thing.  I haven’t run naked through shopping centres, searching fruitlessly for toilets, Baby Sam hasn’t been in a stolen car and left on the side of the road by robbers and I haven’t woken up, heart racing, wondering if I really was pregnant for quite some time.  I know it’s coming though.  In a few days I will no doubt embark upon a series of dreams that will wake me, unpleasantly sweating.  I can even tell you what these dreams will be about.  I will be teaching something, in a classroom, on the school field, up in space, anywhere, and no one will be listening to a word I say.

It doesn’t happen in January.  Neither does it rear its ugly head in May.  No, the time for the bad dreams is the end of August, the end of the summer and the start of September.  I don’t think I am on my own in my experience of this phenomenon.  It’s a common one among those of us who are teachers, and it signals the start of the new academic year.   I don’t have the same sort of dreams about my own children – they are usually the ones where I have lost them somewhere – no, the ones that signal my return to work are the ones about professional impotence.

Of all the things that I worry about when going back to work, it doesn’t tend to be the school run (although there is always a first time – I can see it now, I’m running around and no one has a packed lunch, or all the swimming things are left behind, or no-one can find their shoes…wait, these are the realities of my life) or the paper work; it’s the children.  How will these unknown beings respond to me?  Will they do as they are told?  How long will it take me to develop a working relationship with them?  How long will it take for them to trust me?  Now that I have three of my own I know what manner of complicated little things they are, how worried and nervous they must be about a new teacher too.

That said, there were days, I reckon, when Sam was glad to have gone to school, to escape me, Cross Mummy.  Back when L was tiny, so Sam must have been about seven or eight years old, we went through what we teachers somewhat euphemistically term a Challenging Time.  It was a time where Sam displayed quite a bit of Interesting Behaviour.  Mostly at the point at which I attempted to get him to do anything.  Anything he didn’t want to do, that is, which at the time seemed to consist of: getting dressed, putting on his shoes, walking up the road to school, coming to the table for tea, cleaning his teeth, going to bed, staying in bed…I’m sure, if I gave it some thought I could come up with a more comprehensive list.

And the fighting.  The constant fighting between brothers.  We have just about got to the point, four years later, when I can almost trust them not to fall upon each other in a squealing, shouting fist fight at the front door, sparring over who gets to be the one who opens it.  Or who gets to sit in the front of the car.  Or the flopping to the floor.  It never used to be a problem, but then he grew and it became more difficult to carry him up the stairs and put him where I wanted him to be without negotiation and patience being fully engaged.

People used to say to me, when I eventually arrived in the school playground, three children in tow, how calm I looked, and I used to think, ‘if only they knew.’  If only they knew how I was perspiring beneath my clothes, heart still hammering, tears of frustration still clinging to my eyelashes.  If only they knew about the tussle Sam and I had just had over teeth, shoes, coats, bags, push chairs, reading, everything.  No wonder I never had any of those problems other mummies had, when their children cried and clung to them and made leaving them heartbreaking.

But the thing is, looking back, I can kind of see his point.  In the heat of the moment, when we were all going through it together I couldn’t see it, but a bit of time and space, no unlike the professional distance you have as a teacher, the moments at the end of the day when you can talk it through with a colleague, or reflect while you are searching high and low for the protractors, works wonders.  And I feel bad about that.  I feel sad that it took ‘til it was really awful and there were meetings (oh, how we adults love our meetings) and risk assessments and husbands had to take mornings off work.

I’m sad that it got to that point before I was able to figure out even a tiny part of what was really going on inside my boy.  Poor little Sam.  He was unhappy and he didn’t have the words to tell me.  He was having a tough time at school, and I was giving him a tough time at home.   I’m so glad that I, as his mother, get the chance to say sorry and make amends.

I might not teach little children with the same manner of communication difficulties as my son, but show me the child who can easily articulate how they feel, who has mastered language to such a degree that they can tell you which emotions are running high, especially when they are.  Running high.  Or show me the child who can tell you what is really going on, who can see to the heart of the matter, beyond the ‘it’s not fairs’ and into a complex web of adult agendas, some of which we know do not have their best interests at the centre.  I think about some of the children I have taught over the years, and I think about how they were never away, always in class despite the coughs and snot, large proportions of them in some kind of bother or another, kicking off.

I think about some of the children we have handed on to secondary school and I wonder how they got on, the mouthy ones, full of attitude, the silly ones, the nervous ones, the quiet ones, the ones who waited til the end of the lesson so that they could speak to you privately; did they find a teacher who ‘got’ them, was kind to them, who understood what kind of vulnerabilities were resident inside that small person?  Did they have someone who loved them enough to see beyond the behaviour, to put them first, their needs before their own, to forgive them no matter what they did, and protect them?

How easy it is to misunderstand.  What were, what are they trying to tell me?


Image taken from Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont, illustrated by Raymond Briggs.
Image taken from Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont, illustrated by Raymond Briggs.




6 thoughts on “Lost in Translation

  1. A truly wonderful post. I was touched by your experiences with Sam. He’s blessed to have you as his mum. I, too, have those teacher nightmares. It’s amazing how my brain can create a new possibilities of children acting crazy. Nice that I’m not alone….

  2. How I understand what you write – you really touch the spot.

    I train teachers. I am constantly urging them to see life, and school life, from the shoes of the child.

    For overwhelmed and over-stressed teachers, this might be their aim but it is not easy to do with constant Big Brother pressures – and the sheer pressure of having 30 or so complex little beings to attend to – and an over-sized curriculum – and so many people, perhaps like me, ‘suggesting’ what they do!



  3. I was just having the back to school nightmare conversation with two teachers in the US on Twitter this week. We all have that same dream, the one of losing control over a class. It never happens. It hasn’t happened in 17 years, but I have the same dream every September.
    My little one said today he feels shy about going back to school. At 6 years old, I guess this is his way of saying nervous. It made him feel better to know I feel that way too! But yes, as teachers do we really get how big a thing it is for them to start the new year with new teachers. New adults to build trust with? It is certainly true we never really know how they feel, and maybe never will ‘get’. With 30 individual personalities to get to know, no wonder it takes until January to truly feel at home with them, and they with us. The Autumn term is a tough one all round.
    Great post; reflective and thought provoking just in time for those nightmares to begin!

    1. Ha! Yes, I haven’t had it yet, but I have every confidence that. sometime over the next week or so I will be waking up worrying whether it was real or not!

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