I was out the next morning learning about empathy (really, you couldn’t make this up) and felt rather ashamed of myself. I trotted off at moderate pace to apologise at afternoon tutor. I shared my nightmare vision of a tripped-up child’s head trodden on accidentally and we nodded sagely to each other and looked sad. Then we perked up again. The squirtee grinned happily at me at parents’ evening and I kept my counsel when other parents hoved to.
There’s a covenant between teacher and child which shouldn’t be overlooked no matter how closely school and home work together. You make mistakes at school and sometimes the sheer joie de vivre of being young takes over. As long as you’re not doing it all the time, we deal briskly with a first minor offence. Forgetting homework, being late once, running in the corridor, wearing the wrong jumper, not having your kit, trying to subvert the dinner queue – all can be quietly nipped in the bud.
Parents might hear from us for a first offence if it’s cruel or anti-community: oppressive language, spreading rumours, fighting, undermining teachers. Whether you hear from us or not, we’ve made a judgement about the severity of the incident and we’re either just raising an institutional eyebrow with a bit of a glare or we’re pressing a reset button and we’d like it pressed at home too, please.
I think most parents are happy with that – it’s a matter of us using our judgement. Sometimes we’re challenged for not reporting every infringement, and allowing things to stack up before parents know about it, so the first conversation between school and home is more difficult than it might have been. Hard to know what to do.
Some schools are really big on sweating the small stuff (not that I really know what that means) and believe it makes all the difference to children’s self-regulation. Like uniform, it’s a matter of school ethos. I was out and about at an unusual hour today and passing through communities at school’s out time. Young people everywhere, happily drifting around the pavements, walking backwards, shoving each other a bit, grasping each other doubled up with laughter. And if I was to go into any of those schools in the morning I’d get a feel for the way it is and how it holds together – and if that’s missing, you miss it straight away. I can’t explain that either, but a safe and happy school makes you smile when you walk into it, and the opposite makes you look for the door.
Upstairs, year 10 are practising exams-in-the-hall while we all practice what-will-the-marks-mean? I take a guest to lunch and we chuckle at year 9 alone, vaguely wondering where everyone else is, as if year 10 and 11 might be hidden behind a pillar. They’re growing up, my dears, examined and gone, or under invigilation. Yes, even at lunchtime. The guest is blown away by the articulacy of the chat and the quality of the sausages. We’ve Jamie Oliver to thank for the sausages, but we do the chat ourselves.
A tall colleague comes and takes me surreptitiously by the elbow. ‘Press photographer outside’. But it isn’t and after a pleasant chat I wander back through reception. The sun shines through the back windows as if we could disembark onto the happy lands and I pass some drama rehearsing in the corridor. ‘Come and see our piece, Miss, we all die’. Later, we look out of the window and see children dancing wearing cloth and bamboo structures, being photographed by their peers. Very Tallisy, all’s well.
Learning and kindness are important, happy schools are important, freedom of expression’s important, space to make a mistake’s important and the freedom of the press is important. With children, every day’s a new one.