Panic stations – it’s the school holidays…

I’ve had the kids at home for the Easter holidays for precisely 5 days and 7 hours. A quick summary of our activities is as follows –

Friday after school ended: bribed them with an ice cream each; bribed them with a McDonald’s happy meal each; let them stay up late(ish) watching crap TV.

Saturday: trip to Tesco then home as I had a cold and felt crap; posh patisserie items for breakfast: lunch – can’t remember what that was; their dad took them to the park; film in the late afternoon as it was miserable out.

Sunday: bath and weekly head scrape with the nit comb for Child 1; trip to Sefton Park playground with multiple partners in crime from Child 2’s class at school and one of t\nheir siblings who – luckily – is a friend of Child 1; lunch; half of The Incredibles 2; I was once again forced to tell Child 1 the entire synopsis of Jane Eyre; Child 2 did some of her homework (suck up); Child 1 did some of her extra Maths activities – under duress; god knows what…oh yes, I helped Child 2 make an alien from green pompoms.

Monday: Child 2 went for ‘a big walk’ with her father and collected parcels that contained Easter presents from the post office; manipedi for Child 1 – then one for Child 2 upon her return; lunch; trip to the park; taught Child 1 how to make tea – although she’s not yet old or strong enough to do anything with the kettle so it was a somewhat pointless exercise; supper and early night as they were, thankfully, exhausted.

Tuesday: baked brownies with our lovely neighbour, Noor, and watched part of The Greatest Showman; fry up for lunch; park with Noor and her baby sister, Za’ara; shared out the brownies; said goodbye then proper posh pasta for tea and an episode of Agatha Raisin for Child 1- as she’s allowed to stay up slightly later.

Today: sorted out my car’s flat battery; left kids with their dad; went to work on the bus; worked; came home; drove (now working) car to Tesco – again – and bought booze; home; put on Netflix; gave them biscuits; sat in sun for a while. While I was at work, they went into town for a business meeting with their dad; behaved impeccably; got given free stationery by nice business person; saw dinosaurs; got lunch and enjoyed the ‘adventure’ of a bus ride there and back.

I’m fricking exhausted. I’m in work again tomorrow so I am leaving them in the capable hands of their dad. Great.

For Friday I’ve organised another mammoth playdate in Sefton Park. At least 4 families’ worth of kids – and I’ll get to talk to adults. Depending on the weather there may be a really really really crap picnic. Afternoon isn’t locked in yet.

Anyway, as you can tell, holidays are fairly intense. Kids need to expend all their energy or they won’t do what we all want – sleep soundly. They need the opportunity to play without supervision…but they also run out of ideas. I’m not Montessori trained – and I’m never going to home school. In fact, if nothing else useful, holidays dispel any romantic fantasies I occasionally harbour about that on a regular basis.

Teachers who specialise in early years education are saints. The two teachers I remember most clearly are Miss Colgrave and Miss Bater. Miss C taught me in Year 2 and she was lovely. She’s responsible for my first lightbulb moment – when she showed me how to do what I still call ‘long addition’ and ‘long subtraction’. I also forgot my plimsols on the first day of term. I was terrified. She said (and I can still repeat it word for word) “I don’t mind that you forgot them today, I won’t mind if you forget them tomorrow, I won’t care the day after that either…but I’ll be very cross on the fourth day.” I must have looked horrified because she laughed and said “honestly, don’t worry. They’re only plimsols – nobody cares about the ugliest shoes on earth.”. So I didn’t. But I did take them in the next day.

Miss Bater was a different kettle of fish altogether. I know now that she was pretty much the glue holding the school together. Miss Bater saw that I can see patterns but that I don’t like maths – despite Miss Colgrave’s best efforts – so she started a school spelling bee. Since I was the only person she personally coached, I won. I know it was unfair now but it meant I qualified for the county schools competition. For a word nerd – only spelling bees can use that term, by the way – that was a pinnacle, of sorts. I was in a rural school, the class had 20 pupils, only 3 of us were girls. We couldn’t even form a proper hockey team and sports were a big deal – possibly because the academic highlights were mainly supplied by the few girls and the boys had to have something to celebrate. God knows none of them were going to cure cancer. Or even a sore throat, I suspect.

Anyway, both those women inspired me more than many of my later ‘mentors’ in life. I met them years later when I was having lunch with my mum. They invited us to eat with them and I gladly accepted. They tried (and mostly failed) to persuade me to call them Patricia and Audrey. I spent a long lunch being an adult with them. It’s an experience I feel lucky to have enjoyed. They are lovely, lovely people. Miss Colgrave is still funny and Miss Bater is still inquisitive and encouraging.

They seemed pleased with how I’d turned out. I’m pleased that they are. I’m most happy that they were comfortable enough to talk about their lives with me. It was probably obvious to my parents but they’re a couple – although I think they were ‘comfortable spinsters’ (in the parlance of the deeply old fashioned people of North Bucks) when I knew them during the 70s and 80s. Anyway, when I had lunch with them they were planning their wedding. Miss Bater had already picked out her dress – I would put a month’s pay cheque on it being a cream, silk shift – but Miss Colgrave had only picked out her earrings.

Now my children have teachers that they will remember all their lives. Child 1 flourished for two years with Miss S. Miss S could clap twice and the children would stop talking. Imagine having that superpower. Two claps… She also wears a hijab that became an almost mythical object for her students. They learned about Islam and she told them about what it means to her. They loved their education and respected her wish to cover her hair. That said, the day when her scarf slipped and they finally saw her hair (it’s darkest black and wavy, btw) – before she straightened it up in full view of the class – is now described in whispers. None of her present students believe it happened. My daughter’s class experienced a really intimate privilege that day. It took hours for me to get Child 1 to tell me what ‘the big news’ was that day.

Now she is devoted to Miss B. Miss B has far more patience than I do. She’s nourished Child 1 from the day they met – when she told her that she likes to encourage her pupils to explore their interests. She told my daughter that drama can be useful in lots of areas of her life – and that little girl’s confidence has skyrocketed. She quit football after the boys didn’t pass to her and Miss B got her into to Glee club instead. Her football teacher, Mr S, was full of apologies – but what is school if you don’t learn your likes and dislikes, your abilities and your less thans? All I know is that Miss B found Child 1’s milieu – and I’m very thankful for it. She even told her how good she is at sounding sarcastic when it was necessary for the form assembly. I could have told her that but it’s nice when a professional confirms it. Obviously, constant, impromptu performances of the glee version of that Disney ‘classic’ Under The Sea has driven me almost to infanticide – but I’m learning to tune it out. Gradually.

Child 2 is fascinated by Miss P. Miss P has magnificent, long, wavy hair. It’s like something from fairytales. She’s cuddly and fun and loves kids. I should hate her – but I love her. Everyone loves her. I want to go to the pub with her. I already let her know when clothes she’d like come in to work. We bought the same shiny red sneakers from Matalan.

Child 2 likes Miss P because they talk about unicorns while she practices extra Maths puzzles with her. Child 2 loves maths…loves maths. I don’t know where that came from (actually I do as I’m a numbers nerd too) but it’s a blessing on boring car journeys and the like. Anyway she’s got the perfect teacher – a nerdy princess who loves fairytales where the prince is surplus to requirements, who thinks puzzles are fun and who also has a mysterious private life.

You see Miss P has a boyfriend – ‘So what?’, you ask. Well, I’ll tell you so what, Miss P’s boyfriend is also a teacher – at the same school. And they don’t skulk around pretending they’re just housemates. They rock up together in the morning. He often – imagine the squeals of 4 and 5 year old gossipy excitement – carries her bag. They wear outfits that are cohesive (I suspect she has something to do with that) and tasteful. They’re almost annoyingly perfect. And yet, they never talk about each other at work or display any affection – apart from utterly appropriate professional friendliness. Despite them being open about the situation, the kids can’t really believe it’s possible. To be fair, it does sometimes seem like he’s got lucky, so I see their point. Nevertheless this ‘secret’ Child 2 thinks she’s keeping adds to the legend.

Good teachers become significant to a pupil if they can mix a little magic into the daily mix. Honestly the bar is quite low with 5 and 7 year olds – but, with all the teachers I’ve described – I’ve found that I appreciate it too. One day I’m determined to go out with them socially. They’re so lovely. And, if I could do it with Audrey and Patricia, I know I can manage it again without mortifying my kids. Too much.

I meant to write about what to do with your kids over the holidays. It looks like I’ll have to do that tomorrow.

Today is all about the teachers. Most of them do an amazing job every single day. With the crappy pay and lack of support and even downright hostility towards provision for education provided by many, many governments, it can truly be called a vocation. It’s also easy to forget that it officially qualifies as ‘a profession’ under the government’s own job evaluation rules. That’s the same ranking as lawyers and doctors and accountants and engineers. On about half the pay.

Parents, pupils, outside agencies like social services and even doctors make demands on our country’s teachers. Let’s try to give them some support in return.

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