Tomorrow, the children finish for the Easter holidays. Child 2 finds finishing school for the term sad enough, as she’s that type of child who thinks school is the best place in the world (I was too; child 1 thinks we’re both unhinged) but tomorrow is even more sad, because several of the teachers are leaving. This includes her own, beginning of the week class teacher, who is much revered in our household, and was the child’s first real love outside her family. In fact, it’s entirely possible that child 2 would rather I left than she did; I, after all, do not have the glamour associated with distance, nor the enthusiasm that comes easily to me at school but is very hard to summon at the end of a long working day, nor the sparkly personality that means child 2’s entire class are in mourning. Child 2 has cried on and off about this departure (and her phonics teacher’s, and her other class teacher’s) for several days, and I fear we haven’t seen the worst of it yet. But it did make me think about teachers, and the importance of teachers, and their significance in my children’s lives, and, mostly, the lessons my children’s teachers have taught them.
Since the children went to primary school, the teachers have taught them many things that I couldn’t always see that they needed, hampered as I was by their recent babyhood pasts and my own needs and desires. They’ve taught them independence. They’ve taught them that they can make their own decisions, and that they can trust themselves to make the right ones. They’ve taught them that their thoughts are valid (sometimes too much; if I ever hear the phrase ‘you’ve hurt my feelings Mummy’ again it’ll be too soon) and that it’s OK to feel happy, or sad, or somewhere in between. They’ve taught them that manners and kindness and helping each other are skills equally as valuable, if not more so, than being able to read and write. They’ve taught them the value of experimenting, and trying things over and over again to see what different things result. They’ve taught them that trying hard is more important than the eventual success. They’ve taught them that making friends, and belonging, and playing with others are not always easy, but are some of the best experience in life. And they’ve taught them that school is a safe place, where their voices can be heard, and they are valued, and they are cared about.
They’ve also made progress educationally – they’ve learned to read and to write, and – to a lesser extent as both our children appear to have inherited our total uselessness with numbers – some maths. But it isn’t this progress – so beloved by Ofsted – that is important to me. Teaching shouldn’t be about baseline assessments, and how rapid the progress, and intervention to help them catch up, at age five. It isn’t important how they stack up against other childre their age. They can do some things, and they can’t do others. That’s the sum total of that story, and every child’s story. I really don’t care how good they are at phonics, as long as they’re safe. I really don’t care how they form their letters, as long as they’re happy. I really don’t care if they can add, as long as they want to go to school every day. I really don’t care if they can fill an exercise book, as long as they love to learn. These are the only important criteria by which to judge schooling at age four, given the fourteen more years they will spend in school, and what a great pity it is that our government fail to see that.
Child 2 asked today if she would get her teacher back if she asked God nicely and prayed to him. (they go to a religious school; her absolute faith in a household of atheists is both touching and testimony to the power of education) I said, gently, that no, her teacher is going to a different school for other children to have; it’s their turn now, and she would get a different lovely teacher. Despite her tears, she accepted this with perfect equanimity. Because, along with all the other things that school has taught her, it has also begun to teach her resilience. That when things don’t go her way, you have a few tears, and then you think about how to move on. And this, I think, is the greatest lesson that I or her teachers can teach her, and I thank them for that most of all.