The Teaching Mum

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


Songs of Innocence and Experience

“Are monsters real?” my daughter asked this evening as she was in the bath.

Momentarily, I stopped lathering her up in pink soap suds and sat down on the toilet (lid down, if you’re wondering) and pondered upon my answer.

This could be a learning opportunity here, I thought.  We could talk about the fact that, yes dear, there are monsters in this world – bloody horrifying ones; ones that obliterate innocent people’s lives in an instant and ones that deliberately seek out to hurt our children.  Monsters do exist and they can be standing in front of us in the queue for the cash point and we may well never know.  However, of course, this wasn’t my answer as my daughter is five years old.  She doesn’t know what happened in Manchester last week (although she was aware of Mummy’s need to listen and read the news that day), she doesn’t know what happened in London in March and she has never heard of Paris, or Brussels or New York or that a local mother by the name of Jo Cox was killed last year.  Because why would she?  She’s still so young and so innocent.

My answer, naturally, was to tell her that no, of course monsters don’t exist.

“Then what are the shadows in the night in my room?”

A chill ran through me then.

Shadows that lurk in the night.  Shadows that make that last train home, after an evening out with friends, unnerving; shadows that make you run from the sports centre door to your car after an evening gym session; shadows that you spend your life trying to avoid even when you are doing the safest of tasks in your own house, your own street and in your own city.  We shouldn’t have to avoid the shadows and yet we do.

“It’s probably just the curtains,” I told her. “You’ll always be safe with us around.”

“Do monsters only come out at night?” she asked, still pushing the subject.

Still seated on the toilet, I thought and thought.  Some do, I wanted to say.  Some of the most cowardice monsters only come out at night because that’s when we are at our most vulnerable; that’s when our guards are down and that’s when, sometimes, whilst we are out having the times of our lives, that for a moment we stop looking for the shadows in the corners of clubs, bars, pubs and concert venues.

The conversation moved swiftly on to the fact that a boy at school could balance a fidget spinner on his eye but for a few moments, my daughter believed that monsters were real.

Only, they are aren’t they?  Otherwise, my daughter wouldn’t have been taught The PANTS Rule in school at just five years old.  At five years old, she was being taught about how her body belongs to her and if she ever feels worried that someone, whether it be a known adult, another child or a stranger, is encroaching on her body then she is to tell a trustworthy adult.  I find this so desperately sad that my daughter has to be taught this at such a young age but at the same time, I support it whole heartedly because you do whatever needs to be done to keep your children safe.

“My bum belongs to me!” she told me after learning about The PANTS Rule the next day.

I smiled at the childish nature of the comment and yet I felt a like she had lost a little bit of her innocence that day.

There’s no denying it anymore.  We live in a dangerous world where monsters can live and breathe among us.  Innate evil exists, which is nothing new I know, but it’s just that our children, our young ones, our innocents are starting to notice it too.  They see it in us, their parents, when we won’t even leave them alone in our own garden in fear that something untoward may occur; they read it in stories that reflect modern life; they see it on the TV screens as parents dare to click away from CBeebies for a moment just to catch a glimpse of another God awful event that has unfolded in the world and they see it in the eyes of the armed police officers who are currently patrolling our cities, shopping centres and public spaces.

Was I wrong to tell my child that monsters don’t exist?  After all, I am in a quite an influential position in my role first as a parent and then as an educator.  Am I doing my children a disservice by not telling the truth?  Because wherever there is evil, there is good and I should take every opportunity to talk about the good in people.  In the minutes I took to read about last week’s tragedy, all I have seen shining through my television, my phone screen, my friends and my colleagues has been goodness and it has left me blindsided.  Never have I seen such an outcry of adulation for the UK public services as I have this week.  Never before have I seen a picture of an armed police officer or paramedic and felt 100% safe in the knowledge that they are there to protect me and my family and never before have I felt so proud of a community that has come together in love despite the rawest of all pains.  They could have rebelled, they could have rioted and they could have wanted their revenge and we would have understood and yet the people of Manchester, they chose love.

I didn’t want to write about Manchester because I think everything’s been said and I think it’s been spoken with such eloquence that I have nothing to add.  I have read articles by mothers telling their children to go out and live their lives but I also stumbled across a post by another mother telling her child that she’s not so sure anymore that love always wins.  I have even read an article posted by a music loving father and daughter about the rules she promises to abide by from now on when she attends gigs and concerts.  The meticulous planning of these rules was almost comical if you didn’t take into consideration the circumstances as to why they have had to be written, especially when twenty two years ago I attended my first concert at Manchester Apollo – of all places – and the only rule my mum had stipulated was that I sat upstairs in the balcony away from the crowd surfers and mosh pit below.

I had the time of my life.  As any fourteen year old music fan should.  It remains, to this day, one of the best nights of my life.

My most sobering moment – when I learnt that the world was not as safe as my mum and dad would have me believe – was on September 11th 2001 when, aged 20, I had just returned from having spent my summer in a children’s summer camp in Massachusetts and the Twin Towers came down. (Two weeks earlier, I had been at the top of one of them).

That’s when I really saw the monsters for the first time.

And to keep my innocence about the true horrors of this world in tact until 20, well, I don’t think that’s bad.

However, for my daughter to be five and on the verge of losing her innocence about the world around her, well I think that’s sad, incredibly so.

Last Tuesday, as I was waiting to drop my daughter at school, I was trying to listen to Chris Evans talking about Manchester – the place I spent my university years – on his Breakfast Show.  My girl was talking incessantly about being afraid of wasps and I kept turning up the radio.  She noticed that I was trying to drown her out and she asked what it was I was so desperately trying to hear.

“Someone has hurt some people in a city not too far away from us,” I tried to explain.

“Will they come here?” she asked, meaning our sleepy little village.

“No,” I reassured her.

“I’ll fight,” she said.  “Even though I don’t know karate, Mummy, I’ll fight.” 

Her innocence, once again, came shining through and yet simultaneously I saw it fading as she should never have to fight or even think about fighting.  Not now.  Not ever.

She should be able to just be a child.

As should all children, the world over.

Sheer joy – please don’t take it from our children.


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Jack’s Story – Part Six

Despite setting up a new page for my fictional musings, I thought I would post on here also as I have a larger following.  However, if my other page starts to grow then I will use this site for my parenting and teaching posts.  Thanks for your support and comments as always.

This is part six of Jack’s Story.  I have changed the title to ‘A Test of Wills’.  This is just a working title – I still haven’t decided quite where I am going with it yet!

If you’re interested in the earlier installments, then just click these: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five

Part Five

If a bell rang to signal the end of the lesson, Jack didn’t hear it.  His eyes were still fixated on the boy who was standing in the field opposite his classroom.  Michael hit him on the head with his bag on the way out of the room.

“Come on!” Michael urged.  “Geography next.”

Jack nodded, grabbed his belongings and paced out of the room behind his best friend.  Walking along the crowded corridors suddenly became over bearing for Jack and he found himself struggling to breathe.  Michael was marching off ahead so didn’t notice when Jack stopped and stood back against a wall in order to prevent other pupils from bumping into him.  He took a few deep breaths and realised that he wasn’t going to Geography.  He was going outside.

Minutes passed and as the crowd of pupils dispersed, Jack walked towards the doors that led to the PE changing rooms.  Through those doors was the field that the mysterious boy had been waving from.  From staring out the newcomer, Jack had felt no fear or malice emit from the stranger and so didn’t hesitate when he sneaked into the boys’ empty changing room and outside into onto the school fields.

The crisp spring air was a welcome relief as Jack let go of the breath he didn’t know he had been holding.  Clinging to him like a warm hug, the sun’s rays wrapped themselves around his body and he embraced the feeling they left behind.  Mentally, he could feel knots unwrapping inside his head as thoughts from the previous evening were slowly burnt away by the heat of the morning sun.  Breathing the scent of freshly cut grass, Jack made his way towards the playing fields.

He didn’t know what to find when he reached his destination and in his heart of hearts, Jack didn’t expect to find anything or anyone.  Only he did.  The boy was still standing in the same place as he had been earlier, only now his face was turned towards Jack and he looked to be still smiling.

“Shouldn’t you be in a lesson?” Jack shouted as he walked over to the boy.

The boy didn’t answer.

“Are you new?  Which year are you in?”

Still, there was no reply.

Jack paused then for a moment and checked the phone in his side pocket to check the time.  He didn’t want to be late for his next lesson and yet he couldn’t leave this boy on his own.  What Jack failed to notice was that there was no signal on his phone.  He was out of range.  Should he fall into any trouble now, no one would be able to reach him.

They were standing face to face now and still the boy had not spoken.  An uneasy feeling wormed itself into the pit of Jack’s stomach and slowly and slightly pulled at his insides.  Something wasn’t right.

But, then he looked up and stared into the boy’s eyes.

They were amiable eyes, yes, amiable, definitely.  There was a sparkle to them as if they were greeting a long lost friend or relative.  Flecked with bright blue, the eyes smiled at Jack.  The boy raised an eyebrow while at the same time raising a hand towards him.

“Hello,” he said in a surprisingly confident manner.  My name is William…erm Will, actually.  You must be Jack.”

What came next felt like a blow to the stomach as Jack staggered backwards slightly in shock.  It was his turn to remain silent.

“I’ve been waiting here for you all morning,” Will explained as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world to be stood alone on an empty school playing field.  “You need to come with me now. We have much to do.”

Jack found the voice he had lost.

“You know my name,” it wasn’t a question.  “I didn’t tell you my name.”

Panic set in.

“Is this a joke?  Has Michael set you up to this?”

Will shook his head and gestured with him arm.

“You need to come with me now,” the boy urged.  “It’s a matter of life and death.”

Afterwards, Jack would claim that it was the word ‘death’ that made him make the rash decision he did.  He was too afraid to find out whose death it might mean.

Will didn’t wait for a response.  He simply turned and walked up towards some high fencing that led to a nearby wood.  Jack followed, obediently.

Upon reaching the metal fence, Jack noticed that a part of it had been ripped away from the earth and that, when pulled up, it would be large enough for a young person to climb through.  Without question and without thought, Jack followed Will through the hole in the fence and together they walked onwards towards the wood.  The deeper they ventured, the darker it became and still Jack felt no panic, no fear and no sense of regret that he was missing Geography.  He was searching for valid excuses to use with his teacher tomorrow, when the two boys stumbled upon a huge oak tree.  With hanging branches, it embraced them and welcomed them into its midst for this was precisely the destination they were heading.  Will gestured for Jack to come closer towards the tree’s darkened bark and when he did, he noticed another hole.  Once again, this was large enough to crawl through.  Will crouched down and crawled towards the hole.  Instinctively, Jack followed.  He bent down and placed his hands on the ground underneath him; it felt warm and dry as the soil coiled itself through his fingers.  He felt the mud seep into the knees of his school trousers as he passed under and inside the hole.  He was crawling into the tree itself.  Darkness engulfed him as he realised he was wholly inside the tree’s bark.  How was it possible?  It wasn’t.  And still he crawled through blackness following Will’s laboured breathing.  Time passed.  Was it a minute?  Was it two?  Suddenly, Jack’s eyes adjusted to the dark and he could make out faint outlines on the wall of the bark next to him.  Strange markings had been etched inside the bark.  It was impossible to make out what the marks were, but it dawned on Jack that the reason he could see them was because light was seeping in somewhere.  They were crawling towards the light.  The longer and longer he crawled, the more the light grew.  He could now see his hands in front of him pressing on the dirt beneath.  He could see the outline of Will’s shoes as they rhythmically moved forwards.  Slowly, the light grew and grew and Jack noticed that it was a hazy light – not bright like the sun – but luminescent and cold like the moon.  Up ahead, Jack noticed that Will had vanished and just before panic could consume him, he realised that there was nothing over head anymore – just open space.  Jack stood.  Uncoiled and at full height, Jack looked above him and gasped in astonishment.  A blanket of stars covered the night sky and the beacon that looked to be leading those stars was the most breathtaking sight Jack had ever seen: the moon.  The monumental sphere hung low in the glittering sky.  Jack almost reached up to touch it when all of a sudden, for the first time since entering the bark of the tree, Will spoke.

“Do you want an adventure, Jack?”

Glancing up again at the moon, Jack felt the weight of his worries slip way.  He looked at Will then directly and with intent.  He nodded, grinning.




An Open Letter to My Year 11 Form Group

My final maternity leave was over and I was returning to work.

Before announcing my pregnancy, I had been told that I was going to be a Year 7 form tutor – something I had never been despite being a teacher for almost ten years.

I then fell pregnant and subsequently had my form taken away from me before they had even started school.  It was understandable though.

I expected to be given a new Year 7 form when I returned to work the following year but I didn’t.  I got you.

You were given to me as you were entering Year 10 because your form tutor was switching to part-time.

I didn’t want you, not at first.

No, I wanted a Year 7 form.  I wanted the cute eleven year olds who spend their first few weeks in a new school looking like rabbits in the headlights of a fast moving car.  You know the type I mean – the sweet, innocent ones – you were them one once.

Did I want a form filled with hormonal fourteen year olds about to embark on their GCSE years – the first year who would be sitting their English and Maths 1 – 9 exams? No, I didn’t, not really.

Then I met you!  All doubts I had about your acceptance of me, your potential teenage behaviour, your possible negative attitudes were vanquished almost instantly. Please believe me when I tell that I don’t want you to leave in two weeks.

You’re funny, you’re intelligent, you have a strong work ethic, you’re beautiful, you’re stubborn, you’re kind, you’re sarcastic, you’re polite and you always have my back.    Sometimes you’re over whelmed and over worked.  Sometimes you’re upset or even heartbroken.  More often than not, you finish your homework in my classroom.  Sometimes you’re lazy and you just want to give up.  I have lost some of you along the way due to your behaviour and attitude (not towards me – never towards me).  If only you had talked to those members of staff as you had talked to me and you might still be sitting in my classroom.  I have spoken to your parents and carers and learnt about what you love, hate and fear about school and your upcoming exams.  I have learnt about your health issues and have been in a room with your parents as they have broken down in tears because they just don’t know what to do with you.  I have shouted at you for not getting enough hours sleep, I have scolded you for driving around on a ‘ped’ because I don’t think you’re old enough. I have snatched Coca-Cola off you because you can’t drink it as you’re diabetic.  I have listened and empathised as you, rightfully, have had a little moan about your lack of sleep due to a new baby in the house.  I have monitored and checked your safety because I thought you were going out with someone who was too old for you.  I have bugged you to apply for Head Boy and Head Girl and I have been disappointed in you when you didn’t apply for Prefect when you so thoroughly deserved it.  I have tried to talk to you about Star Wars because I know you love it so much.  I have been immensely proud of you when you have won certificates and prizes in assembly even though you hate getting up and accepting them.

And what have you given me in return?

Every morning, as I dash in from the school run, you greet me with an ‘ey up Miss’ as I rush in, tell you I am tired, complain about either the traffic, my children, my partner and my complete inability to be a functioning working adult.  You take the chairs down from all my tables and open the windows to let some fresh air in.  You offer me sweets, drinks and chocolates.  You lend me pens when I can’t find one.  You reluctantly go pick up my photocopying because I have forgotten to collect it again.  You tell your Head of Year that your planner is all signed and up to date when I may have forgotten to sign it every now and again.  And every morning, every single morning as you leave my room, you tell me to have a nice day.

You are a diverse bunch and I know you’re not all friends with one another but I know you’re not not friends either.  You laugh at one another and I hear quips being passed through the room but I have never seen any sign of malice in anyone of you.  Last year, a boy, who spoke no English whatsoever, joined our form.  He had travelled from Africa.  He was alone and without his family and you made him feel so welcome.  I imagine he was apprehensive and scared and yet within days he appeared so happy and I have never seen him without a smile on his face.  I could not have been more proud of the boy who became his ‘buddy’ for those first few months as he was settling into his new school, his new surroundings and his new country.

Enough adulation from me for the moment.

Let’s get down to the business end of things.  Excuse me while I put on my English Teacher hat.

You are the first year to take the new English and Mathematics 1 – 9 GCSEs and I feel for you, I really do.  I was angry at the new changes.  I was angry that a corrupt, rich, privately educated man in the current government decided to scrap the way we used to test English Language and Literature.  I still can’t get my head around that you’re not going to achieve As, Bs and Cs at the end of it all. The fact that there is no longer any coursework makes me so desperately sad.  Not necessarily for the high achievers among you but for the ones who struggle with exams and writing quickly and accurately under timed conditions.  Coursework would have meant that, no matter what, you would have achieved a grade.  Unfortunately, without coursework it means that some of you won’t.  Yes, I will admit it, I think you have been dealt a tough hand and with English and Mathematics teachers learning the new exam specifications literally as they teach, it has been a steep learning curve for all of us.  I have had to learn how to teach new texts, new poems and new ways of critically analysing texts (Yes, I mean you EDEXEL ‘evaluate’ question) and sometimes it may have shown in my lessons despite my preparation and planning.

However, (if we are still speaking in card game metaphors) you have been dealt an amazing hand when it comes to the school you are in.  Never in my teaching years have I ever seen any year group be given as much support as you have (perhaps that’s because I have seen it as a form tutor for the first time.)  As an English Department, we have pushed you and pulled you in every way possible.  We have given you mock after mock after mock.  You have attended weekly boosters for two years.  You receive weekly homework tasks and personalised booklets to complete.  You have a designated room to study in until 5pm every evening and my classroom is always open to you.  I know some of you hate this amount of work and pressure and yet I also know some of you relish in it and need it.  I fear that when it gets to 6pm on an evening and you’re writing another descriptive piece of writing about a beach, you despise everyone of us with a passion but please know this, it’s because we care.  It may appear clichéd but with all our hearts we want you to pass these exams.  As teachers teaching a brand new exam, we don’t know grade boundaries yet; we have no previous data to rely on.  The only thing we can do is give you enough ammunition to walk into that sports’ hall and kick the ass out of these exams.

Also, as a teacher of a core subject, it is easy to become wrapped up in just English.  During form time, I yap at you about the language and structure question and I complain to you about the fact that you have to get your timings right in your exam (a mark a minute – come on, how is that even possible?) and what do I forget?  I forget that you’re probably getting this from at least eight other subjects too!

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed by it all but its not okay to feel stressed, panicked and fearing that if you don’t pass these GCSEs then your future is in tatters.  It isn’t.  Yes, these exams are important but they don’t define you and won’t influence the adult you are to become.  Achieving a 9 or an A* in one or more of your GCSEs won’t necessarily get you to where you want to be in life.  Sure, your exam results will help (my GCSEs still appear on my CV) but kindness, compassion, acceptance, patience, love, friendship, support, humility and empathy are the skills that are essential for reaching your end goal.  And you, Year 11, already have those skills.

I don’t claim to know much (unless it’s about ‘Game of Thrones’ or Green Day) but what I do know is that there is a big wide world out there that’s yours for the taking, if you want it.  Don’t bury your head in the sand and pretend that these exams aren’t happening – they are.  At the same time, don’t feel like you can’t ask for support from anyone, you can.  You’re our future.  You can change the whole landscape of the world if you want to (or you can just grow up to be decent human beings – that’s fine too) and we need you happy, healthy, inspired and prepared to take on whatever life has to throw at you.

If you keep being who you are, then I am certain that the world is in good hands. 

Stay safe and I will miss you.

Clearly not a member of my form but a child I like to think I teach and influence nonetheless.