When we walk into our empty classroom together every morning, my three year old daughter and I, I am still her mummy. I help her hang her coat and put her lunch box away, just like the other mummies; I give her a hug and a kiss in the still sleeping classroom and settle her down to an activity. Then, somewhere between firing up the laptop and filling up the paint pots, her mummy goes home and her teacher arrives. We wait quietly together for the other children to arrive and she becomes one of many and I become the same for all.
It’s a strange and unique blurring of relationship boundaries that we both have to juggle constantly throughout the working week. The other children have become used to her calling me ‘Mummy’ by mistake; I still find her calling me by my full name strange and bizarre. At the back of my mind constantly is the fear of playing favorites with her to the point where the reverse effect has happened and I’m actually more firm with her than with all of the other children. I expect more from her in terms of her behaviour, probably expect more out of her than every other child. At the beginning it was difficult not to allow her the same flexibility to be sad or angry or irrationally ‘small child’ as the rest of the children in my class because of my assumption that she and I were being ‘judged’ on her behaviour and progress. It’s been a tough lesson to learn not to do this… and to remind myself that my assumption about judgement is completely unfounded and wrong. I have learned to allow her to be as irrationally ‘small child’ at school as she is at home, as irrationally ‘small child’ as all of her irrationally small, amazingly unique and wonderfully different friends and classmates. She IS a small child and my insecurities have no place in her head. She has reminded me that all the children in her cohort have the explicit right to be irrational small children; that my role is to nurture a spirit of celebration for each and every one of them in all their egocentricities, and to create an environment with enough comfort and trust for them to play out their conflicts and worries in a way that allows me to engage with them and support them to move on from it. My daughter has reignited in me a spirit of needing to know and understand every child and every personality at a deeply personal and individual way. She has inspired me to want to engage with their interests and characters beyond where they are on their learning pathway because I know, as a parent, how influential and significant an empowering relationship can be towards them being motivated and brave enough to take the risky step towards ‘trying’ and ‘having a go’.
There is a juggle of guilt about playing fair; she is rarely the ‘first’ to be chosen, she is rarely the one to be publicly celebrated in whole school achievements. She can’t be chosen for the lead in assemblies, she can’t stand at the front when they sing. Thankfully, she has become so integrated into the ‘group’ that she never notices this disparity. She has learned from being a sibling and from being within a classroom community that the gruelling anticipation of waiting for her turn is necessary and fair, she doesn’t question it or expect anything different. But she doesn’t know that I sneak ‘mummy glances’ at her throughout the day and that I have surges of ‘mummy pride’. These moments, the ones where I see her wonderful interaction with her friends, or I hear her laughter ring out spontaneously at something she finds hilarious whilst she is at play, or when I see how fiercely and seriously she takes on every small responsibility, I get a secret surge of emotion. These are not moments to be ‘bubbled up’ or ‘plotted on a pathway’ but treasured forever in the keepsake box inside my head. I have the rare and lucky experience of witnessing my child’s progress ‘from the inside’ . It is a special gift that most parents don’t have the privilege of watching. I watch her with both hats of mummy and teacher; I observe her from the sidelines growing, developing and learning with her friends. It is truly a joy to behold and I treasure it each and every time. And somehow, my daughter, my three year old, this baby of my family and a child who I love endlessly has also become my teacher; this tiny person is my muse. The way I teach, the activities I plan, my relationship with the other children in my class are often a reflection of her and her reactions to her experiences of life both in and outside of school. I have been able to ‘use’ her to gauge outcomes from lessons and experiences I have planned, I have been able to absorb what motivates her the most and work this into my planning knowing that these are probably similarly motivating for the rest of the class. And, because I have enjoyed her unique moments; this has reminded me to share unique moments belonging to my daughters friends and my pupils with THEIR parents. The central focus of developing that crucial home/school relationships pivots on being able to demonstrate that I know and understand their child completely and beyond the perspective of just a teacher; that it is cemented in child-centered and holistic values. It can become all too easy to focus on learning outcomes and attainment targets in feedback to parents, and, while these are indeed important, they will never celebrate a child’s unique personality; they will never demonstrate or reflect a relationship a child has with his/her learning; and they can all too often be seen as the only thing of importance from a schools perspective. It has been my mission to develop enough of a transparent relationship with the parents of the children in my class that they too have a glimpse of the insight I get with my own daughter, my aim has been to provide their ‘mummy glances’ for them so that they too have moments of Mummy and Daddy pride to place away carefully in their own ‘keep sake box’; and even though I am mindful that these things can not be plotted on a spreadsheet, may not be valued by an OFSTED inspector and are not necessarily what are held in high regard by those who hold the seats for Education within Parliament; I am confident that the people whom I value most professionally benefit from a relationship based education- the children in my care and the parents who trust me with them.
So yes, it has been a sometimes uncomfortable and often challenging, but ALWAYS a precious and rare gift to be my daughters teacher. Not many teachers get the opportunity to be part of a dialogue at home about what they have been teaching at school. I get a continuous and honest appraisal about what she is being taught, I get to reflect on my practice in the best and most useful way because I have my own child living out her learning both at school and at home. I have been able to plot out achievements from what has been taught by observing her playing out school sessions with her father and her siblings; I have been able to reflect and improve on what has not been so successful in the same way. She has been the drive behind many environmental changes, routine adaptations and activity enhancements. I know about the mind of a three year old because I am too the mother of a three year old. This has given me the confidence in my teaching to relax and step back, to allow the children to lead their own learning; to shake up the balance and teach spontaneously, not to be led always by my planning but to allow the learning to follow its own path and direction and to strive daily to provide meaningful learning opportunities that reflect the individuality of each child participating in them.
Every teacher wants the best outcomes for the children in their class but it is easy to lose sight of a child’s face when you are tracking their progress and plotting the statistics. Every mother wants their own child to be held up as special, unique, amazing and understood. I will always thank my daughter for reminding me to do both of these things; to constantly strive for the best outcomes for each and every child whilst also trying to build a unique and special relationship with each one simultaneously- a relationship that values the things that education sometimes forgets, a relationship that understands what makes them tick, a relationship that invites trust and love and excitement to learn, a relationship that empowers children to take risks in their learning and gives them enough confidence to do that, a relationship that brings children running and smiling into their classroom every single day eager and ready to jump into every new opportunity that is waiting for them.