Lesson planning has been my strategy for coping with the chaos

24th February 2006 at 00:00
As I've come to understand the mercurial moods of my toddler, lesson planning has been my strategy for coping with the chaos

Gemma I am entering the last two weeks of my maternity leave, so I am determined to enjoy this precious time with my two children. I am earnestly telling everyone that I will so miss this golden time of tantrums in the sweetie aisle in Tesco's, tantrums when time's up at the baby gym, tantrums when it's time to wake up, tantrums when it's time to go to bed, and tantrums when my toddler cannot have what he wants, now, immediately, at the double, regardless of whether mummy is feeding the baby, sitting on the toilet, asleep, taking a hot plate out of the oven, or collapsed on the floor having a nervous breakdown. It makes last lesson on a Friday afternoon doing poetry with Year 10, on some inane exam board subject such as "vehicles from the past", positively inspiring and energising.

As I've said before, I feel that becoming a parent has made me a better teacher. I am more understanding now of the difficulties of raising children, and how, despite your best efforts, they have this troublesome habit of doing exactly what they want, when they want, and this is often diametrically opposed to what you want. Damn this whole free will thing.

As my elder son enters the terrible twos, I'm beginning to wonder if this can't work both ways; if being a parent makes me a better teacher, can being a teacher make me a better parent? One of the many things that I've learnt on my two maternity leaves is that it is not enough simply to love your children. It takes more than that to get them through the day without major disasters and assaults on your own mental health.

But recently I've been approaching my days with something resembling - I hate to admit it - a lesson plan. Having sat through countless Inset sessions on starters and plenaries, multiple learning styles and the like, I began to see that if anyone can get through the day successfully with an 18-month-old and a five-month-old, it is me. My burgeoning family is a mixed-ability class, and making progress requires the kind of meticulous planning that you normally get only when you find that an Ofsted team has taken up residence in the Holiday Inn down the road.

As I've come to understand my baby's routine, and the - shall we say - "mercurial" moods of my toddler, lesson planning has been my main strategy for coping with the chaos that is only ever one tantrum or a rainy afternoon away. When you've been teaching for a couple of years, you instantly sense which activities will work with which classes, what times of day are better suited to certain tasks, and when to abandon your plans altogether if the unexpected crops up. This is how I've come to turn changing the sheets on the bed into pillow fighting and loading the washing machine into throwing pairs of socks to see if we can get them in first time. The daily square of chocolate (cure for all evils) is saved for when it finally is closing time at the baby gym and we have to leave if we don't want to be locked in for the night. All our accomplishments, such as posting our blocks successfully through the right holes or declining to attack the baby with his own rattle, are celebrated, and even, dare I say, reinforced.

Structure is my new best friend. Obviously, like most of my lessons, it doesn't always go entirely to plan. Playing dead lions in the university library so that mummy could pick up some books for her MA was stretching it a bit far. As I return to work I have to live with the realisation that I am still not the perfect mother, and still not the perfect teacher. And I have a feeling that things don't really get much easier from here.

Gemma Warren is on maternity leave from her post as head of inclusion at a London secondary school. Email: gemmablaker@hotmail.com

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