I became a teacher seven years before becoming a mum. Like many of my teacher-turned-mum friends, I have seen how the former helped prepare me for the latter as there are so many many parallels between the two roles: never really switching off, thinking on your feet, having to cram thirty tasks into a one-hour ‘non-contact’ slot (a free period / nap time), trying to stay psychotically positive in the face of it all. In fact, I shudder to think how the scatty, pre-teaching me would have coped with mumming; the current me can still take two hours to leave the house tots-in-tow. I doubt we’d ever have seen daylight.
And so it was that teaching also prepared me for disciplining kids, but not in the way you might think. Before you go assuming that my kids jump, Von-Trapp style, to my penny-whistled commands, let me set you very straight: I am still certain that I exercised more control in central London schools, in a sea of chewing-gum, graffiti and giant, hormonal teenagers - than I do with my own three-year-old son. No, what I learned was this: there are certain things you will find yourself saying (and doing) to maintain boundaries and they are often things you once vowed you’d never say.
‘It’s your time you’re wasting.’
‘Would you like to come and teach the class?’
I had rolled my eyes with the best of them hearing these at school. At teacher-training college, such phrases informed exactly how I did not want to practice. I will be the new, cool teacher, I thought. The maverick, the fun and funny one. I will not trot out crap old phrases and I will not enforce rules. At the end of the day, why pull kids up on uniform or lateness when there is Shakespeare to be explored, crucially, through mime and dance?
The result: I was eaten alive, of course. My ‘lessons’ resembling the opening credits to Fraggle Rock, I had become nothing new or exciting but that old parody of the rookie. And so it was then that I sought some old-school advice from those above me, those that appeared to manage unruly classes with an effortless grace. They taught me the importance of tone of voice, postural positioning, facial expression; in short, body language. But as my confidence increased, a certain language-language began also to creep into my practice and there they were, the words I had avoided for so long:
It's your time you're wasting...
It's your time you're wasting...
I even found myself standing, waiting for silence, hand-on-hip and emitting, just like all my own teachers back in the day, a loud ‘ERM-’ noise. Is ‘erm’ even a word? It didn’t matter. It was old-school, it was effective and that was enough.
I had become the very teacher I had sought not to be. Or sought originally not to be. But you know what? My original view had been ridiculous, informed by myself as a child, not as an adult. The penny had dropped and I enjoyed having classes who listened now; dammit, it was not just effective to trot out the cliches and the erms, it felt downright satisfying because I realised that I had earned the right. A boring conformist? Nah- I’d finally shaken off the shackles of giving a shit what kids think. I had come of age and I began to feel how much my previous teachers must have felt the same. Maybe not the most exciting club to have graduated to, but it certainly felt good.
What does this have to do with parenthood? Well, let’s just say it’s fitting that this experience was something I brought with me into more recent years. In my childhood home, once again there were certain phrases said to me that I had winced at every time. Now you should see me as I reel them off with gay abandon. Here’s a run-down of my favourites:
Massive cliche phrase
Why it is in fact brilliant
Almost a strapline, this one is snappy, memorable. It’s slightly undermined by ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ later on but that’s for another day.
2. Mind your P’s and Q’s
Said by paranoid parents in the car on the way to dropping you off at a friend’s house. A catchy way to stop your kid from acting like a boorish bellend, which reflects badly on you. I am sure I will use this one like there is no tomorrow when the time comes.
3. Where does he/she live?
Less of a catchphrase but still very popular; actually meaning ‘he/she looks a but common to me.’ The utterance of this one generally rules out the necessity for #2 above.
4. We’ll buy/do that another day, not today.
Sounds positive but is in fact ‘sod off/ not on your life/ I hope you forget all about this very soon.’
5. Please do X/Y/Z boring task. There’s a good boy/ girl.’
Again implying positivity and compliance before the act even occurs. Clever.
So I’m all for progression and all that, but let’s be clear: reinventing the wheel is just one task too many for a busy mother. And speaking of mothers, I most certainly hear my own mum every time I say these phrases but you know what? That’s not such a bad thing if that woman could whip four wayward little asses into shape.
Now I’m off to spread her word(s)
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