Treat them as if they were your own

19th September 2003 at 01:00
I enjoyed Brian Boyd's energetic response in The TES Scotland a fortnight ago to my rant (his word and mine) on the Higher English saga. But I'm laying aside that debate for the moment and concentrating on something we do agree on.

Brian speaks with justifiable parental pride of his son's brilliant Higher results and, in doing so, expresses his appreciation of his son's English teachers. This triggers a train of thought. Does having children of our own make us better teachers, commentators, policy-makers? As both my children are now through the school system, with the younger one about to be entrusted to the tender loving care offered by Glasgow University, it seems an appropriate time to ponder this.

One thing's for sure - being a teacher and a parent affords a unique view of how the education system operates. It gives an inside knowledge of the system which is sometimes a two-edged sword.

OK, not every one will like this. The children of teachers - like other children - will bring home their thoughts about what happens in the classroom. These might be positive (I've had my history essay back and the teacher has written loads of constructive comments on it) or negative (our prelim is in two week's time and we still haven't had sight of what an exam paper looks like).

Naturally, as a teacher yourself, you're reading the subtext but you gag the howling accusations because teachers are unbelievably defensive when other teachers complain about their treatment of their children. Yet the kids themselves know who the motivated and dedicated teachers are.

Possibly, the children of teachers have an automatic radar for picking up on these nuances but all pupils do it. But what about the other way round? Do pupils feel more understood by teachers who have children of their own?

The capacity to empathise with your pupils is an offshoot of being a caring (not all are) parent. You see at first hand the pressures felt by young people. Endless internal assessments. Mounting deadlines. Having to take up part-time employment to offset the inevitable future poverty of the higher education years. As a parent, you have had to pick up the tearful aftermath of humiliation. ("What happened to you, girl?" was the aggressive question hurled at the pupil who did less well than predicted in a prelim exam.) Individual schools play a part. Does the school foster an ethos which actively celebrates the success of staff and pupils? Or is the emphasis on mediocrity so that kids do their damned best not to emerge with a clutch of A passes at Higher grade? As a teacher, you know which category your child's school is in.

I have to be careful, because the childless among us will be out to argue their corner and why not? I have to admit that the very best health visitor I had when my children were born was a lady without any children of her own. As always, there are no tablets of stone on this one.

Being a teacher with children certainly raised my expectations of how I wanted my child to be treated in school. I wanted them to be inspired, yes, but also to be allowed to exercise the legitimate rights of a democratic society. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights phrases these aims aptly: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

If teachers - with or without children of their own - thus treat their charges, there can be no higher aspiration or more worthy accolade.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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