Letting teacher know best

It's that time of year again, when new shirts and skirts and trousers are bought and, possibly, labelled. When pencils in boxes seem extremely attractive, particularly when they come with rubbers and sharpeners, and when rumours fly about the New Teacher. Of course, we've met the New Teacher and she seemed OK. But can she possibly be as good as the last teacher? The last teacher was undoubtedly a pearl although strict, we all agree. We like that, children and parents both.

The rumour is that the New Teacher is soft. Hearts are full of dread. Will the naughty children (we all know who they are) run riot? Will the clever children not bother? Already my own (whom I, naturally, class as clever rather than naughty) has tried out the thought that "perhaps she won't really mind" if he doesn't do his writing. I have discouraged this, but will she?

And then there is spelling. Oh dear. Gone are the days of letting teacher know best. No doubt this is horrid for the teacher, but it is also horrid for the parent. Rather like my friend, who believes that it is only her worrying which keeps her husband alive and aloft on his transatlantic flights, we parents feel that it is only by fretting that we will keep our offspring within the bounds of achievement. Never mind that far worse misfortunes than uncorrected spellings used to afflict schoolchildren at a tender age - the cane, learning by heart the capes and peninsulas of the British Isles, cold water in the toilets, scratchy loo paper - we must and will worry.

Our worry is infectious. The children, blithely cheerful to be in the junior school, seem little affected, but the New Teacher herself wears an anxious and propitiatory smile. This does not bode well and makes us more anxious.

What are we to do? The temptation to gather in knots and talk about it is proving too strong for some of us already. Soon someone will talk about going to the head.

Fortunately, at this point sanity steps in, though perhaps only until home time. "Let's just see how it goes," says sanity. And with relief, though perhaps just the tiniest bit of disappointment at being cheated of a drama, the parents agree and waft off to supermarket and office, to home and park.

Meanwhile, the schoolchildren go to their new classrooms and begin to learn their New Teacher. For quite a long time, perhaps for their entire academic career, it will be their teacher they learn as much as any curriculum.

And one of the things they will learn is that every teacher is different.

However standardised the curriculum, the teacher is variable. (The children each teacher encounters are much less variable, because they are reflectors and amplifiers where he or she is light and sound.) Unfortunately, part of the system must then include finding out that not every teacher is either equally good or equally compatible. (But not this year, please!) Hands up who can think of a better system? OK, you can be chief inspector. And while you're about it, you can mark these shorts, make two ham sandwiches (no butter) and don't forget the reading book.

Oh, and Jake will need a note if he's got to go back to the dentist. Cheers.

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