Combining being a parent and being a teacher can be bloody tough. The constant juggling, the regular attacks of guilt, and the NOISE… “Mum, Muuum, Mum?” “Miss. Missss. Miss!”
But at the end of this dark November, I wanted to revisit some of my earliest themes from my writing and share the best bits.
Last week, my daughter asked after one of my students; the one who gave her Wotsits and played basketball with her when she was in with me a couple of weeks ago. "He’s not having a great week," I told her. She disappeared to her room and reappeared with a hand-made card for him. "Your [sic] my favourite student… and I hope you are OK." Accompanying the words was a stick figure drawing of them both and a demand to see him again as soon as possible.
When childcare fails or Inset days clash, with the right permissions and right risk assessments, we can occasionally bring our children with us to work. This means my two know my classroom, my team and the young people I spend my days with. They take a shine to certain individuals (with no particular pattern that I can yet discern), and will continue to ask after them for months and even years.
My children’s role when they come in with me is to allocate the stickers (for no student is ever too old or too proud for a sparkly dinosaur or a puffy owl), to hand out props and to strategically place themselves next to a student who might need a gentle reminder (and get a less than gentle one) to keep their efforts up.
My earliest memories of balancing parenting and teaching go back to before my first child was even born. The students in Hendon went out of their way to ensure that my books were carried and, in the latest and heaviest days, to take a lead from the front of the classroom whilst I, bovine and barely able to move, directed from my seat at the back.
Bringing your children to school
Flash forward to my firstborn being thrown in the air to squawks of joy by my wonderful Hendon boss, who then proceeded to actually change her blueberry nappy… not a job I would wish on anyone but a parent.
Then, while still on maternity leave with my second, I offered to come back and help out when staff were stranded all over the globe during the unpronounceable ash cloud of 2010. I taught two days’ worth of lessons with her strapped in a sling to my front, feeling that we would have fitted well in a cast of Alien.
My eldest has climbed the Eiffel Tower with 30 Year 10s and been wheeled by wildly enthusiastic teenagers through Berlin as a toddler. My youngest has danced bare-footed through a Year 11 French revision session, and they have both potholed and chanted French verbs. My eldest attended the memorial of a student we lost far too young and has recently been able to process that the headteacher who threw her in the air tragically lost his life to suicide. My children have experienced secondary schools in all their glory and all their trauma.
Of course, the reality of bringing tiny children to work is that it is so exhausting it leaves you a haggard husk for days.
There are infinitely less happy memories. Not seeing my youngest awake at all on her second birthday because the demands of my role at the time were such that such a request was not deemed reasonable. Having my eldest asked to leave the Year 11 prom and the chocolate fountain because the risk assessment didn’t adequately cover her presence. Racing home on country lanes at 10pm after unexpected hours of report writing with a flat battery on my phone knowing that my parents – the people who stand in when I can’t be there and without whom much of this would not be possible at all – would be frantic with worry.
But, in the 11 years since I became a parent, I find myself eternally and profoundly grateful to the school leaders who said “yes”. The school leaders who gave me time to be with my child for her first anaesthetic and leave school half an hour early to see my daughter’s starring role as a surfer (?! Yes) in the nativity play. To the school leaders who opened the doors of their school so that my own children could play a small part in the fabric and the culture of the place and help them to understand why I do what I do, every single day.
My eldest said not long ago: "I think I’d like to be a teacher like you when I grow up, Mummy. Or maybe a journalist like Daddy…". Let’s sort the profession out so that maybe she can do both.
Dr Emma Kell is a secondary teacher in north-east London and author of How to Survive in Teaching