First encounters

22nd December 2000 at 00:00
It's a familiar scene. I sit on my bed, surrounded by files and, this particular Sunday, books on maths. Nervousness is setting in: three assignments due (hence the maths) and my first observed science lesson taking the whole class is fast approaching.

My seven-year-old daughter thumps up the stairs. She enters in large rubber flippers, nightie and dressing-gown, wearing goggles and carrying a bag of Betty Spaghetti construction dolls. She takes a run towards me, arms moving in a swimming style.

"Don't, whatever you do, jump on the bed." She stops.

"We're mermaids," she protests. "This is the seabed." I barely manage a smile.

Have I not recently given a seminar on encouraging "speaking and listening" through adult participation in children's role-play for the development of language? I make an effort.

"OK. The floor's the seabed. I'm an extremely grumpy octopus on a large rock, so don't disturb me."

She pushes the goggles off.

"What exactly are you doing on your rock?" "Trying to learn how to be a good teacher."

She looks at me, unimpressed.

"Actually," I remark, "you've had three teachers, wat do you think I should do to become a good teacher?" "Don't be too strict," she answers thoughtfully.

"Why?" "Because the children you have to tell off don't care. They even like being told off."

I'm impressed.

"So what would you do with naughty children?" She sidles up on the bed, webbed feet dangling off the edge. "Use their name in a sentence on the board, or choose them to come out. They like that."

"Any other advice?" "Make lessons fun. Say things like, 'Put on your maths caps now' or pretend things."

"What sort of things?" "Like you've got a magic number square that helps you count on."

This is good. I press her further.

"Always be cheerful. And now," she pleads, "will you please play my game?" I reckon after such pearls of wisdom, it's the least she deserves. So I abandon Piaget, Vygotsky et al, take a deep breath, slide friendly-octopus-style off the bed, pull out a couple of dolls' heads from the bag and start creating fluorescent pink hairdos for Betty Spaghetti and her friends.

Jinny Durant is a primary PGCE student in the Wandsworth primary schools consortium, south London

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