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Father's day

Motivation? It's no problem for a tearful Michael Cook

I'm working through a maths exercise. The group is quiet and motivated, but can it last? What's to stop these kids ignoring me and every word I say and starting their own, more interesting, conversations? That is, after all, what my own children do. And, come to think of it, most of my friends and family.

As a parent helper, I don't have the automatic respect that Teacher has.

Teachers are permanent and professional members of staff. I am someone's dad who arrives once a week with an expression of mild panic and a lingering eye infection. Relying on innate parental skills might be a mistake. As anyone who's watched Supernanny or visited a supermarket knows, parenting skills often consist of little more than swearing repeatedly and occasionally cuffing your child about the head.

In the world of work, there are elaborate schemes to ensure motivation.

Some of these involve money: red maths group would surely keep to task if they were guaranteed a minimum wage to spend on Yu-Gi-Oh cards or Bratz.

Other rewards are more intangible: I have written speeches for corporate awards ceremonies that celebrate the "ultimate achievers" of Europe's leading office and consumer imaging company. You'd be amazed by the efforts a photocopier salesman will make for the chance of a big dinner and a handshake from Steve Cram.

Of course, school has a direct equivalent. Being in the headteacher's gold book is accorded the same status among infants that adults give to Olympic champions and marathon winners. There are lesser motivational tools, too. A regular supply teacher in Poppy's class has stickers reading "Mrs Alton thinks I'm brilliant". Of course, with my aptitude for names, my stickers would have to read "Mr Cook would think I'm brilliant if he could remember who I am".

But my maths group remain quiet and motivated nonetheless. I must have a knack for this. Then at playtime, I catch sight of myself in a mirror. I have what looks like a permanent tear running down my cheek. Did the kids think I was crying? Were they cowed into silence in case I broke down in front of them? Note to self: apply eye infection ointment less liberally.

Michael Cook is a freelance copywriter and a parent helper at Ernehale infants school, Arnold, Nottingham, which his children, Alfie and Poppy, attend

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