It is back to school tomorrow and I sit here tonight, knowing that upstairs three children are sleeping, or rather, two of them are sleeping and one of them is nervously tossing and turning, probably picking at scabs, preparing themselves, if one can do such a thing during one’s slumbers, for the beginning of a new era in the morning. For tomorrow, not one, but two of my children will be at secondary school, and, for the first time, I will have three children in three different schools.
L seems to be OK about going back. She is looking forward to seeing her friends (she does tend to see school as a social experience), and has reconciled herself (I think) to the loss of her favourite teacher, like, EVER, and is cautiously anticipating the new one. Sam is relieved, frankly, that the holidays are eventually over, and will no doubt be up far too early in the morning (although whether he is in uniform is anyone’s guess). No, it is A, my little ball of anxiety, who is upstairs worrying, he who is taking up the most of my worrying.
Tomorrow, you see, he leaves the world of the primary school entirely behind and takes his first, uncertain steps towards Growing Up and I’m full of bittersweet because he’s only just got the hang of it. He enjoyed the responsibility of doing the powerpoint for assembly (not as much fun as the OHP if you ask me, but I doubt he’d even know what that was), the sitting at the back of assembly on PE benches, the cachet of being top of the tree. He’d finally found a teacher he liked.
But now he’s moving on and he’s bothered about detentions and discipline, I’m bothered by his dreaminess and his stubborn streak. We’re both bothered by different classrooms and different teachers. He, well, he’s a small 11 and sees the new school as a labyrinth into which he may disappear, never to return, no ball of string to guide him to the way out, me, well, I have a whole other kind of anxieties.
I make no apology. I’m a primary school teacher and I like one-teacher-one-class. Teaching is essentially about a special kind of relationship, and, when you teach the same few children, day in day out, you have the best possible environment for it to grow. You get to know each other. They know when not to overstep the mark, you know when they are finding things hard, when they are swinging the lead. And, as the year passes, everyone involved takes ownership.
I remember being aware that I belonged to them at an early stage of my career. They would enter my room, suspiciously, cautiously, all of them in a bit of trepidation, and I would breathe with satisfaction. My class. My children. Same time, same place, all through the year. Except when I was ill, or on a course, in which case I would be met by accusing looks upon my return, tales of horrid supply teachers, and offers to wash up the paint pots left in the sink, to tidy up the desk. But it wasn’t really the case. The first time one of them called me ‘mummy’ I knew it had happened; I was theirs, not they mine.
I was never very good at moving the classroom around. I like routines and I reckon they do too. I like calm and orderly. Well, I like the children to be calm and orderly; the one who gets to be bouncy is me. Actually, I tell a lie. I like a quiet, purposeful hubbub. Stop when I say stop, go when I say go, that sort of thing. I like belonging to them; being their teacher.
A is about to enter a world where your teacher flits in and out of your life. With regularity, yes, but they aren’t there all the time. The foundation stone of a good teacher, one who belongs to him, is something to be rationed now, because he won’t feel the same about all of them. It’s not like Sam, who gets the majority of his lessons with his class tutor. Every 45 minutes A will be off, shuttling to and fro, bounced from one to another.
It’s a terrible circle to square really. My own personal theory is that we humans like territory. We like to work in set spaces, set places, to settle down, make it our own. One of teh first things I used to get my new class to do, before we got on with the real stuff, for about half an hour or so at the beginning of the year was to make and decorate a label for their tray. I measured and cut the paper, the rest was up to them. Free reign in terms of design. A marker with which to denote their territory within the class. I used to make them tidy it up every so often, but, being a bit of a glory-hole person myself, I wasn’t particularly strict about it.
R, who until last year worked in an office where ‘hot desking’ was the thing, hated it, the transient working life. No place to put a picture of adored wife and family. Nowhere to put your bag, or your snacks, your pen or pencil. Nowhere, even, to keep a mouldy old coffee cup. No small group of people, clustered around a couple of desks, with whom to make friends, to build a bit of loyalty towards. At primary school it isn’t hard (well, it shouldn’t be) to give everyone their own space, but at secondary? Someone has to move about, be it teacher or pupil.
I reckon TAs, and those of us teachers who travel from class to class, room to room, from corridor space to cubby hole to anywhere where we might get a bit of peace and quiet in which to work our teaching magic, trundling our bags and trolleys, always leaving something behind, a trail of bits and pieces scattering behind us, leading us back to our cupboards in case we get lost, nowhere to call our own, no place to personalise, know how they feel, these children, dragging their enormous bags full of everything they might possibly need behind them. Dislocated.
I hope he finds his place soon.