When I came back from maternity leave, a lot of my pupils said I had changed. Apparently I was a lot calmer, nicer even more understanding (ha, I guess the 2am feed was a great leveler). I remember a parent asking me and a colleague if we had children. Her little darling was in trouble again and mum’s best defence was attack coupled with her unusual but very natural use of bilabial plosives.
My colleague said that it had nothing to do with the current situation and mum retorted, ‘ahh yess it does, because if you had kids, you’d see.’
See what, I wondered? I knew that my child would never be like that, it couldn’t be. I would be the best parent and my child would be effortlessly easy to raise. Obviously.
I remember over-hearing a conversation in my EBD class between two girls.
K: Oh my god, she is pregnant.
C: Nope, she is just fat, my mum looks like that and she is just fat.
K: Nah, she is, and anyways, oh my god, that poor kid, it ain’t gonna get away with nuffin’. Who’d want her as a mum?
She had a point, none of these kids would want me as their mum. Their behaviour in school and out of school would have me reaching for the gin and corn flakes and maybe that was the point the Mum in the meeting was trying to make.
Once I returned to school after 6 months, I did feel differently towards my cohort. I felt a lot more empathy and understanding towards their misdemeanors. I found myself wondering what I would do if he or she was my son or daughter- how could I support or defend them? I had a new bond with parents because I was one of them now too. I also lost the cocky ‘my child will never behave like that’ mantra.
It soon becomes obvious that your own child is less afraid of you than your Year 9 EBD class are and a supermarket meltdown is far more challenging and cringe-inducing than can ever be imagined by your former, childless-self.
My stint in a Montessori nursery taught me the capabilities of 2 year olds and set the foundations for behaviour management with teens. It taught me that patience, high expectations and a gentle voice would always win over even the most difficult young person. A shout could stop a child in their tracks, work wonders for shock value but if you wanted or needed anything from them, you must return to calm, cool and collected.
And I found that my Cbeebies’s voice also works wonders for annoying teens, they hate the patronising tones (almost as much as my husband) and the threat to speak like that all lesson soon has them working hard in class. Humour works well with all ages, laughter and fun is an essential part of both teaching and parenting.
In both roles, I have learnt to ignore, diffuse, avoid or distract negative behaviours and when they can’t be, I have learnt that positive praise, and following through on sanctions whether it be the naughty step or detentions is as fundamental as talking to them about their feelings and actions.
Am I better teacher or parent? Not sure I can answer that definitively but I can say both roles have helped me to be more human and take realistic steps forward in both jobs.