Just don't call me Mum, son;Talkback

24th September 1999 at 01:00
Sara Day's son James is joining her school as a pupil

I face one of the biggest challenges of my teaching career this September: my eldest son James is among the new Year 7 students at Tupton Hall, the school where I teach.

I didn't have to pull any strings to get him in - we live in the catchment area and he attends a local feeder primary school. I did think long and hard about finding him a place at another secondary school, but in the end the decision wasn't mine. There was no way he wanted to go anywhere else, he was going to Tupton with the rest of his friends.

I'm not sure how I will cope. I have no doubt he will cope admirably. He knows the geography of the school like a seasoned explorer; I have taught here for nearly eight years and he has spent many hours at school productions and functions, as well as time waiting for me to finish work.

But while he knows many of the staff, will he be able to translate Jill into Ms Smith or Mike into Mr Howells or, harder still, Mum into Miss? It's a big enough school to request that I don't teach James, and big enough for him and me to lose each other in the day. But is it big enough for me to be able to avoid his teachers? Will I be accosted at every corner and told that he isn't doing his homework, or that his behaviour is poor or that he is easily distracted?

I used to say that when James came to Tupton I would leave. However, I haven't been able to find another suitable job.

Meanwhile, other staff who have had children through Tupton have been reassuring. They tell me the situation will cause few, if any, problems. But their children all seem to be models of good behaviour - academic, musical and intent on pursuing careers in medicine, law or dentistry. I am a little more cynical about my own offspring.

It unnerves me that James is seemingly unconcerned. His friends' reactions are also interesting. I saw many of them - and their parents - at our open evening, which reinforced the fact that James's Mum could be teaching them in September. Friends who used to call me by my first name now call me Mrs Day. Is this a survival tactic so that they don't put themselves in a potentially embarrassing situation where they call me Sara, or worse still, Mum?

I have been called Mum many times, usually by my A-level group after a gentle chastising about their social lives interfering with their school work. One of the same group once called me Mum instead of Miss in his over-exuberance to answer a question. It took him a long time to live that down. A colleague in modern languages taught his eldest daughter for A-level French; she wanted to call him Dad, so the rest of the group decided to call him Dad too.

Then why am I worried? For the same reasons as every other parent. Because I want my son to do his best and to make the most of every opportunity. I don't want him to fail.

As a teacher you are programmed to look at the progress of your students and to try to implement strategies to aid that progress. As a teacher-parent, it is very difficult to let go and allow your child to find his or her own way with minimum intervention. When your son is at the same school as you, it becomes almost impossible. I want James to be independent but I'd like to know about any problems sooner rather than later.

I am hoping that by end of his first year, we will have settled into an arrangement that we can both live with. But I won't be able to breathe a huge sigh of relief. I'll have to repeat the whole performance with his brother.

Sara Day is head of biology at Tupton Hall School, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

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