Freddie hates nice Miss Horrid
Fretting, stalking up and down the kitchen, spilling her coffee, talking fast and nervously, unable to take a healthy interest in the latest spicy gossip of the school-gate set. Clearly a family crisis.
No - worse - a school crisis. After a smooth and cheerful introduction to the reception class and a starry first year ("Excellent progress in reading and number work, confident with others") the education process had hit its first terrible stumbling-block, the Nemesis that they never warn you about in the antenatal ward. The worst has happened. Her son hates his teacher.
Schoolteachers, worn smooth by living among the rough-and-tumble of mutually abrasive personalities year in , year out, probably don't understand how much a family frets over such matters. Staggering into the staffroom with a skirtful of poster-paints and alien snot, the front-line guerilla swigs back her coffee, raids the school secretary's Jaffa Cakes, tips a pile of DFEE leaflets off the comfy chair, and reflects that phew, so far all seems to be going OK with the 30 new moppets inherited from Year 1. For her - or him - school is just a familiar working environment, safe and colourful and under control.
Those children who remain enigmas after the first few weeks of the new year will, the teacher knows, be most likely to yield up the key to their personality in due course, and everyone will be friends. It'll all come out in the wash, it always has before. It's just school, that's all.
In the home, however, emotion seethes. New parents retain from early schooldays a set of flashing neon memories, and emotions which are suddenly raw all over again. Daddy remembers Mr Snogbin, who hit him with a ruler in 1963 for tipping back his chair. Mummy snivels at the long-buried memory of wetting herself in mixed infants and being issued with spare knickers by an unsympathetic Miss Pigwhistle in front of everybody. They quell their panic with difficulty, but empathy throbs within them every time small Freddie announces that Miss Horrid hates him, that it is mutual, and that she is a bad witch.
Each morning, Freddie announces that he has a tummy ache. Everyone knows why. Mother and father are in despair: last year he loved Mrs Darling's class, the school has a shining reputation, and Mss Horrid was delightful on parents' evening. None of the other mothers has a child who hates her. And yet their life is blighted, day after day, by Freddie's insistence that she is Cruella deVil.
Apart from anything else, a hideous social dilemma confronts the parents. Six is too young to sort out your own incompatibilities, but what exactly is the etiquette for informing a cheerful, hard-working, kind teacher that your child can't stand her? How do you tell a transparently nice woman that she's an ogre? Mother snivels. Bravely, Father volunteers to have a word, but when Miss Horrid flashes him her saintly, teacherly smile he ends up muttering a few platitudes about reading schemes and fleeing back to the Volvo. Eventually Mother takes the initiative and asks for A Private Word.
"The thing is," she pipes "Freddie's terribly nervous, though he doesn't look it ... and he's getting a bit stressed in the new class ... and ..." Miss Horrid reassures her. She'll give Freddie lots of individual attention. Mother panics, remembering the morning's scene ("She stares at me! She picks on me! She hates me! I hate her!") Mum starts to backtrack. "Better to ignore him, perhaps? Let him find his own level?" She fiddles with her scarf, and patient Miss Horrid eventually, gently, brings the interview to a close because three other mothers are glaring balefully through the glass door, waiting to bend her ear about dyslexia and missing inhalers.
Stalemate. Personally, I favour the direct approach.
"Look, there's something we have to work out, as a parent-teacher team. I have great respect for you as a professional and as it happens I really like you as a person, but we have to face the fact that for some weird reason Freddie hates you. We're going to have to work out a strategy for winning him round." A more cowardly version substitutes the words "is a bit scared of you" for "hates you".
But I would be fascinated to hear the teacher's side. How does it feel to be informed that a small child, who liked his last teacher, harbours a passionate burning dislike for you?
It must be even worse than those very personal bad reviews which set us novelists and broadcasters snivelling and brooding for days on end. What is the professional response? Do you want us to be honest with you, or would you rather not?