The Teaching Mum

A light-hearted look at parenting through the eyes of a very busy English Teacher.

The Girl Who Didn’t Want to be Brave.

1 Comment

Today I made a mistake; a boundary was crossed – if only for a second.

I did something that teachers aren’t supposed to do.

In my defence, I had to do it because she was inconsolable; I had to do it because I have walked a mile in her footsteps; I had to do it because I understood how she felt, but most of all, I had to do it because she was scared.

I hugged a pupil.

For the briefest of seconds – all done in front of CCTV cameras – I offered some solace to a fourteen year old girl, who was crying over her mother being ill.

During English lessons, my pupils and I often discuss the difference between sympathy and empathy.  It’s a key factor that comes in to play when discussing how flamboyant words, intricate sentences structures and enduring characters can influence a readers’ thoughts and emotions.  ‘Sympathy is something we feel’, I tell them, while ’empathy is something we understand.’  The ability to empathsise with somebody is incredibly powerful because with just the slightest of nods and a look deep into their eyes, you know you’re not alone in feeling the way you do.  But, with some of the texts we read and in some of the poems we analyse, empathy is the one feeling I do not want my pupils to identify with.

Whenever I discuss empathy in class, a glimmer of light always ignites somewhere deep in my sub-conscious and I am instantly taken back to when I first read about the Thestrals in ‘Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix’.  Harry could see the skeletal horse-like creatures that pulled the Hogwarts carriages when, in previous books, they had appeared to move of their own accord.  He could see the Thestrals because he had seen death.

I would be able to see the Thestrals.

Fourteen year old children shouldn’t have to see the Thestrals.

She walked into my classroom late.  We were reading silently.  She looked at me as she came in through the door and I asked her if she was okay.  There was a flicker of acknowledgement in her eyes because she knew my story and I hers; she began to crumble.  Instantly, before the class could see her facade break, I ushered her outside and left my class.  In a heartbeat my colleague saw us – gave me the slightest of nods because he too understood – and went to sit with my class.

We’re taught not to ask leading questions when it comes to speaking with pupils in distress.  Therefore I didn’t.  I didn’t need to.  Her emotions overflowed as words she had been keeping to herself were finally out in the open.  Then, when it was my turn to respond, I found that when I tried to speak, I couldn’t because my own understanding of her situation had got the better of me; when I opened my mouth to talk, my voice cracked and I too cried.  I cried because I felt completely helpless.  I lost one of my parents to Cancer so how could I offer her any comfort when my story ended with such a defeating blow? How could I offer her any comfort when I didn’t know the full extent of her own inner turmoil?  How could I offer her comfort when I wasn’t the one person she really needed right now?

So we sat.

And she cried.

I told her that there were people in school who were fully trained to give her the advice she needed.  She told me that – amongst many other things I am sure – that their advice was to be brave.

“I don’t want to be brave,” she cried. “I just want my mum!”

And that was when I hugged her. We were seated next to each other and I put my arm around her for a matter of seconds because my roles blurred for a moment and I was no longer just an English Teacher; my parenting instinct kicked in as I saw a child in distress. Yes, it’s a maternal instinct to comfort a child in need, but it’s also a human one.

We were both handed tissues by another amazing colleague who too, unfortunately, could empathise completely with us.

“You are going to have to be brave,” I started. “This journey (yes, I really did use the clichéd ‘journey’) you’re about to embark upon is going to be tough.” I explained that chemotherapy was hard and that her mum might have to get sick in order for her to get better again.

I don’t know whether the truth helped, but telling her to be brave wasn’t what she needed to hear.

“But she will get better,” I said. “And that’s what you have to believe. It’s all you have, but it’s enough and your mum will see that.”

The corridor started to fill up with pupils moving onto new lessons and we were ushered into an office where we were both greeted by other members of staff who looked at us as if we were a pair of Thestrals.

I left her then with my colleagues and under their mindful eyes, she composed herself and calmed down.  I too composed myself and re-entered my class where I was greeted by pupils concerned for their friend’s well being.

There was half an hour of my lesson left and I decided to abandon it.

“Let’s play a game,” I suggested.

A quiet ‘yes!’ resounded in the room.

“Bookworm,” I said. “It’s a word game.”

A unified groan now reverberated around the four walls.

Within minutes though, a fierce competition had begun and pupils were trying to beat my high score. My classroom was loud as my pupil reentered the room and quietly took a seat near the back to be with some friends.

Because it was normality she craved.

And it was normality she got while seated at the back of my room with friends as I had an argument with a fourteen year old boy as to whether ‘flobbering’ was a verb or not. (It’s not, for those wondering…) She had told me outside that she didn’t want to be brave and yet here she was, and probably without realising it, being the bravest girl in the classroom because she dared to be honest, not only to herself, but to trained staff, to me and, perhaps most importantly, to her friends.

No, she wasn’t going to be seeing the Thestrals – not today. Not for a long, long, long time, I hope.

I may have crossed a boundary.

I don’t even know if I helped or if I was a hindrance. But, what I do know is that I am a teacher and I am a mum, and for the briefest of seconds, I was both.

Parenting, like teaching, is a balancing act, but the end goal is the same: a child’s best interest is always at heart.

One thought on “The Girl Who Didn’t Want to be Brave.

  1. Ah I’ve been here too, so difficult when you are a product of the worst that can happen.

    On the subject of hugging, I’ve hugged upset kids. I’ve also got a couple of Year 10’s who ASK for a hug! I have a joke with one about being grumpy, it’s usually a good day to get her out of a grump, one day I asked her jokingly if she wanted a hug but surprisingly she did! 😂 Now she’s like, “Miss, can I have a hug?” I always make sure we are around others and stuff like that obviously. Sometimes I think we have to use our own professional judgement and if that is putting and arm around a kid to give them comfort, then so be it. X

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Excellent post. Stumbled across is purely by accident when reading a web article on a completely unrelated subject but glad I stuck around to read it.

    I used to work at a children’s residential activity camp and can totally relate to being in situations with a crying child and wanting to just hug them for support.

    I’ve no doubt that any sane adult would ever judge you for hugging in a situation like this and you absolutely did the right thing by doing so in my opinion. I hope that when my children go off to school they can have teachers who are able to step out of the ‘100% teacher’ role when required to provide emotional support when required.

    All the best x

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I remember being that kid & craving a hug but knowing my teacher wasn’t alllowed to give me one. I get why there are rules & regulations in place, but sometimes a kid just needs a hug.

    I’m pretty sure you made a huge difference to that girl.

    My oldest daughter is 6 & struggles with going to school. & she’s had a teacher who’s sat her on her knee when doing the register, or a teaching assistant who’s plaited her hair when she’s been crying, & that warms my heart knowing there’s someone who’s going to care for her when I can’t be there 🙂

    Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah, that’s lovely. My daughter is five and when I drop her off at breakfast club alone every morning, I worry that she will feel lost some days, so I too would welcome a teacher or assistant doing that. At the end of the day, we are care givers and have our students’ best interests at heart. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. x

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I hugged a student last week when she was upset as a parent has been diagnosed with cancer. I hope that a teacher would do the same for my children. We are humans, not robots after all. Keep hugging when the need arises!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • And I bet that hug meant the world to her. It’s such a terrible disease that renders us helpless. Such a little act can mean so much to someone so young. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. x


  5. The best teachers break the rules!
    I have no doubt at all, that you helped that pupil and I’m sure she’ll always remember you for your kindness.
    I hate that we are forced to fight our natural human instincts, when working in schools, but I love that there are plenty of staff willing to put kindness and empathy before the rules because we are only human after all.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. You probably know what I am going to say. You absolutely did the right thing and I can only hope that one day if my own daughter needs a hug, someone will be kind enough to break a barrier and comfort her. Cancel is cruel & almost hardest for those looking from the outside in. It makes you feel helpless and lost. You did the right thing, a kind thing & something she will never forget.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I’ve been the girl in your tale. I was 14 when my mum died. Most of my teachers were male so getting a hug was never an option but I’m so glad you did that for her sometimes human contact is needed far more than words. Keep doing it your way!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You are the kind of teacher anyone should want for their kids.
    Keep breaking the rules. I’m sure her mum would hug you to thank you for caring for her child in this way.
    Keep being you.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Think you did a wonderful thing, I used to be a Registered Childminder and from a child’s first few weeks we are charged with their complete care and we would see them through to Primary school age and beyond. You become, in many cases, a second Mum to the children in your care and comfort them when they are in pain, hug them when they are unwell and generally help to set them on their way in the world. So it is sad to think that when they reach the dizzy heights of Secondary school, they are totally barred from any human contact from the very people that have taken on the mantle of their care at this age. I do understand the safeguarding issues that hang over every childcare worker, but it is so refreshing that you were able to offer comfort at such a time to this young, vulnerable girl.

    Liked by 2 people

    • So much changes once they reach secondary school – children are expected to grow and adapt to the changes quickly. Safe-guarding is so important as it protects both children and teachers. Thank you for taking the time to read the post and for your lovely comment.


  10. This is beautifully written and I am in tears, the support you have given that young girl will mean the absolute world to her. I hope my daughter has teachers as fantastic, supportive and understanding as you when she grows up – the teaching profession needs more people like you xx

    Liked by 2 people

    • Aww, thank you, that is so kind of you to comment on my writing. Teaching is so consuming – especially when you have a young family – and I often doubt myself as a teacher, so to read your comment is lovely, thank you. X


  11. You didn’t make a mistake. You did entirely the right thing, for that child, in that moment. I hope that this young girl’s mum gets better and that she continues to get the kind of loving support that you and your colleagues are clearly giving her. I now work in higher education and have already this term tutored a few students who’ve been very stressed, homesick, upset about break-ups, about family life and their workloads. We’re teachers, yes, but we were also kids and yound adults once. Some of us are parents, too, and, first and foremost, we’re all human. I would never want to forget that when I was dealing with distressed young people.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Thank you, I empathise with you both too. I have done since I was 14. I only wish if my children are ever in that situation that their teacher is just like you. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Lovely blog. You are a human being first and foremost, and absolutely did the right thing

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Also a teacher reading this and thinking you haven’t done anything wrong! Cried a little reading this. So many of us impacted by cancer nowadays but it’s always horrible when I teach someone having to experience grief and such horror at a young age. Well done for being human. x

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I don’t think you crossed a line. It was such a lovely thing you did, giving her a hug and also listening to her when she was at such a low point. Made me tear up. Cancer is so awful and effects so many. It’s also sad to think nowadays people/teachers have to be so careful/cautious in case what they do is misinterpreted.

    Liked by 1 person

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