In praise of primary school teachers

Before child 1 and child 2 started school, the only passing thought I had ever given to primary school teachers was ‘how the hell do they do it?’ All those little sticky hands on your skirt, all that sitting on your feet at story time, all that…need. I don’t enjoy neediness, which is why I like my own charges at a nice reasonable age, where a bit of a strop is followed quickly by the admission that yes miss, they were wrong, and no miss, they won’t do it again, they were very silly in the first place. You might have the conversation roughly eight thousand times, but they don’t stalk you round the playground wanting to hold your hand.

Now they’ve started primary school, primary school teachers have taken up a much greater and more permanent residence in my mind. This started on child 1’s first day of reception, where, brand spanking new and clean in his slightly -too-big uniform, he trotted trustingly off through the door of the classroom and began a whole new world of school. For him, school was a doddle. He turned up, played almost exclusively with Lego, refused to write or draw for about the first six months, frequently misbehaved on the carpet when he should have been doing phonics, and came home to refuse to tell me anything at all, ever, about his day.  For me, it was all a horrible shock. What, hand my child, the little miracle I made from scratch, to someone else? Someone else who has twenty nine other little personalities to manage at the same time? Someone who has to stop them all from killing each other, make them play nicely, stop them misbehaving on the carpet, get them from playtime to snack to lunch to home time without losing a single one, all while teaching them to read, write, add up, tell the time, and god knows what else I wouldn’t know where to start with?

As child 1 has progressed into year 1, stopped misbehaving on the carpet, and even begun to willingly write, and child 2 has embraced reception, my initial suspicion and slight fear of the women (it is all women in my children’s school) who take charge of my children for six and a half hours a day has turned into admiration bordering on slight hero worship. Not only do they cope with all that love, adoration and need (child 2 has made little secret of the fact that, all things being equal, she’d probably prefer her teacher to be her mummy. I can’t blame her for this. Hell, she’s so capable and kind and sweet and apparently receptive to child 2’s ardent adoration that I’d welcome her into the family too) but they also manage to actually educate them about poppies, Remembrance Day, Guy Fawkes, cancer research charities and all sorts of other topics that I used to see as fairly complex, but have now been re-educated about by a four year old.

At this point, I’m sure any non teacher friend of mine is shaking their head in bemused irritation: you teachers, always wanting some kind of recognition for just doing what’s actually your job. And indeed it is their job. But
teaching today, primary or secondary, is very different to how it was thirty years ago, when I started school, or even eleven years ago when I qualified. My children’s teachers are not just teaching them to read, they’re teaching them to read using yet another phonics programme that the government has decreed is this year’s favourite, and is entirely different to the one they taught last year. They are not just observing my children make friends while re-enacting Frozen in excruciating detail, they’re filling in endless paperwork in order to show their progression to Ofsted. They are not just teaching child 1 how to write sentences and punctuate, they are rushing from topic to topic in order to fit in everything on the national curriculum that some faceless government official has decided arbitrarily that every child should know within the year. (Next year it will be something different) In addition, they’re writing endless messages in blue books to parents like myself who spend the entire time worrying that somehow our children are getting behind/ already are behind/ are so far behind they’ll never catch up, spending endless hours preparing nativity plays so that we can smile fondly over how cute our children are, and and more endless hours marking child 1 and his classmates’ far too many exercise books. And let’s not even get started on the lesson planning, the setting up of activities, the school trips, and the worrying that that child in the corner is too shy, and that one isn’t progressing as they should in their reading, and that one doesn’t have any friends.

So yes, it is their job. But given that every day I hand over my two most precious possessions – those amazing little creatures without whom my life would have next to no meaning – to them every day, and they return safe, tired, happy and well-educated, I’m so glad and grateful that there are people in the world willing to do all of the above, and far more, for our children. And willingly and without complaint hold child 2’s sticky little hand in the playground.

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