OPINION: The teacher vs the parent in me

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My chosen profession, that of a secondary English teacher, had never held a particularly high status among my peers until we all became the parents of school-age children. Suddenly I became a fount of all knowledge.

I pointed out in vain to my anxious friends that I knew little of primary maths; the fact that I could explain the enigmas of vertical grouping and discuss with a degree of confidence ways of encouraging a child to read was enough. What really began to worry them, however, was that I was nervous, too. What secrets lurked behind the classroom door that no teacher dared declare?

The truth was, in part, less terrible than they suspected, but nevertheless a problem. As an infant-teacher friend confessed: "I expect my daughter's teachers to work miracles I know I could never possibly achieve myself." And therein lies the rub.

As a teacher, I see my lesson from 30 points of view: as a parent, however rational I am being, I want it seen from one.

I heard a parent of a lively and articulate seven-year-old complaining bitterly that his son's teacher had told him that the boy was so enthusiastic she sometimes had to ask him to be quiet. The father felt, understandably, that such discouragement might hold back his son's progress, yet as the mother of a child who was described as "quiet and withdrawn" in her first report, I would have liked a teacher who had told the confident ones to listen to other children once in a while. It's her job.

Yet it is not just that we want the teacher to see everything from our child's point of view. In the nervous Nineties we want our children to do well. We want results. It is this desire that feeds our anxieties. But there is a fine line between having high expectations and being over- demanding. As parents we want to foster the former but often demand the latter of schools.

If I am honest, the spirit of the over-demanding parent lurks within my breast, even when I know better. It is hard to see things in the long term. I always fail to sound convincing when people complain about the handwriting of their four-year-old children, as I know I have harboured similar anxieties myself.

But in the secondary sector I have often had to pick up the wreckage of children obsessed with appearance rather than content: those who will not experiment in case they make a mistake, and those who will not write at all. But sometimes, as a parent, it is hard not to want my child to be highly experimental in her writing and neat as well, and all this by the time she is five.

No other profession has the same amount of daily exposure to the general public as teachers. The relationship between home and school can be fraught with misunderstanding, which is why partnership and constant dialogue is so important. As parents, we need to be sure our demands are legitimate and helpful in the long term. As teachers, we must always ask of ourselves and our colleagues: "Would this be good enough for my child?"

BETHAN MARSHALL

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