Running to stand still

I am getting to know my new children, especially Liam, who has spent most of his first week back at school looking out of the window. I should ask him to pay attention to what we are doing in class but somehow I haven't the heart. He reminds me of an illustration in Anthony Browne's book Gorilla. There is sadness and longing in those eyes that peer between the bars of formal education on to a freedom that has suddenly been snatched away from him.

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there," said LP Hartley in the opening line of The Go-Between. What he didn't say was how quickly it happens.

This time last week I was sitting on our patio annoying the neighbours with my unplugged version of Mardy Bum by the Arctic Monkeys. I didn't consider it a failure of priorities to put playing my guitar ahead of preparing for a new term. Extending my musical repertoire seemed just as important as grouping students by ability or planning a unit on explanation texts. What if frontman Alex Turner got ill and needed another Sheffield lad to stand in for him?

Apparently it is part of the human condition to treat life as a race against time. As a teacher I am often the victim of my own to-do lists, prioritising the things I must do before the children arrive; before the end of the day; before Monday comes round; before the end of term; before I die. But life is a marathon, not a sprint, and if experience has taught me anything it is that sometimes you need to slow down and chill out. That's what the summer break is for.

Like most primary schools we are eased back in with a training day, and the great thing about training days is the pace at which they take place. Having time to look back on what we have learned and think about how it might impact on our classroom practice is vital, according to our training provider. "For teachers and students alike, taking time out for reflection is the key to raising attainment," she says.

But training days take place in a parallel universe. The school is curiously clean and weirdly devoid of children. Teachers are free of stress, and time stretches impossibly like the inside of the Tardis.

The real universe lurches into place the next day when school starts, complete with children. By the end of the first week life has resumed its old frantic momentum and all hope of quiet reflection time has gone out of the very window that Liam is gazing through. "Is it nearly playtime?" he asks.

"No, Liam," I say. "It's time to focus on your learning and to work hard. What's Mrs Headteacher going to say if you miss your maths and literacy targets this year?"

"But I want to go out and play," he insists.

"Me too," I tell him. "But I can't just walk out, can I? What do you think would happen if I went strolling through the school gates and on down the road? What if I continued past familiar landmarks and away from everyday routines? What if I abandoned every mundane responsibility and just kept on going, Liam? What then?"

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield, England.

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