First encounters

21st April 2000 at 01:00
Pam Jarvis takes life as it comes.

A few years ago, I saw As Good As It Gets. The film's storyline involved Jack Nicholson doing his usual brilliant job as an obsessive-compulsive author, who, through a series of coincidences, has to come to terms with the world and all its imperfections. The story follows him as he learns that, in real life, this is just about as good as it gets.

Over the past couple of years, I have been following the same sort of path in teaching. Not that I was ever an obsessive-compulsive (though the students might tell you different). But you know how it is: the first time you hit the classroom, you are going to be that superteacher that everyone keeps telling you about; the one who never brings the wrong lesson plan, the one who gets all the straight A students, the one who never screeches into the car park at 8.50, then desperately finishes off her make-up in the staffroom.

Five years down the line, you too begin to realise that this is as good as it gets. The student who is already two weeks late with his or her assignment will give you another unlikely excuse. You will have to walk three miles to get the key for the room you've been allocated. There will be days when you have serial classes of vocational students who want you to explain exactly why Piaget's theory is any good if he can't explain 100 per cent of every child's developmental process 100 per cent of the time.

I seem to remember a similar dawning of understanding about three years into parenting when I realised that, no matter how carefully I planned, it would always take me half-an-hour to dress three infants for the winter weather. And at least once a week, by the ime I had the second baby "trussed up", the first would have a dirty nappy, and by the time that nappy was changed, the three-year-old and the second baby would be red in the face and screaming.

We all have dreams for that first child or that first job in teaching, and it takes us a while to get over the fact that we are not going to be the 21st century's answer to Marmee or Miss Honey (both of whom, you will note, were fictional characters).

Not that things aren't good sometimes, such as when you mark a whole group's assignments at merits and above (must have done something right there) or when your son gets the best maths score in Year 8 in the school maths challenge (good genes, you see).

It seems to me that maturity begins when you realise that there will be good days and bad days, and not everything that transpires is necessarily under your personal control. This includes the sports kit that disappears between 6pm on Sunday and 7am on Monday, leading to the wonky eyeliner applied at 8.55am while staring into the super-magnifying mini-mirror (only slightly chipped) that was free with Megawoman magazine (February 1997 issue).

I get yet another dimension on the "as good as it gets" phenomenon from teaching bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young nursery nurses who have just finished their home placements: "Why can't mums with young babies just chill sometimes?" Well, just as you may be a few years from now, and just like NQTs, my loves, they haven't quite got their heads around the idea that this is about as good as it gets.

Pam Jarvis completed her PGCE at Huddersfield university last year. She teaches at Barnsley college of the Open University

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