The end of last term was predominantly about Christmas performances. Between school and my own kids, I reckon I notched up a record number of viewings in a week.
Being fairly new to the parent side of the school nativity, two things struck me: the first is how awful a view you get when the school hall is packed with seated adults watching small children on a two-foot-high stage, and the second is the parents’ reaction to the production.
As a teacher it’s always nice when a parent stops you to say they liked the performance or compliments you on the singing, but I have discovered some parents take these things to extreme lengths when it comes to their own children.
“Bursting with pride,” gushed one mum on social media. “Couldn’t be any prouder of this total superstar,” said another next to a photo of a dazed-looking penguin. While I agree it’s natural to feel pride in your children’s achievements, I did wonder if this overwhelming sense of delight was quite in proportion to the achievement itself. Her child had been put into a costume, sung a couple of action songs and done a little wiggly dance on stage. Like many of the others around him, he looked both happy and bemused, and generally unaware that he was in a performance at all. If this had her fit to burst with pride, I did worry about how she might cope if he ever won a Nobel Prize.
Maybe I’m just a hard-hearted mother who doesn’t cherish my children’s efforts, but Mr Brighouse and I agreed that our overwhelming emotion at watching our youngest child’s school nativity was hilarity, coupled with a deep and compassionate admiration for the teachers.
I’m all for praise and encouragement, but surely these are best reserved for when something is earned, lest hyperinflation render it as valueless as Damian Green’s Number 10 security pass.
Of course, when it comes to your own kids, any achievement, however small, can fill you with a sense of wonder (and, in my case, relief that maybe they won’t turn out to be psychopaths after all). But as teachers know well, for every child achieving against a background of a stable, happy home life, there is one who is doing it against the odds.
These are the pupils most likely to make us proud. The children who enter the classroom unsupported and unstable, who are battling all sorts of problems in their home lives, yet still make great strides. When these children achieve; when they work hard; when they make even an inch of progress, there is a palpable sense of pride among the adults who work with them.
Where we sometimes forget to direct the praise is at those who create the conditions to make this possible: every teacher, head, teaching assistant, dinner lady, governor and Sendco who has been instrumental in helping and supporting that child.
Teachers, by nature, move quickly to regret. We focus on what we failed to do rather than what we did. But I have still never taught anywhere where I couldn’t identify a child whose life had been immeasurably improved by the persistent support and encouragement of the adults at school – and that’s definitely something to be proud of. Let’s not forget this as we move from seasonal bonhomie into the season of depressing New Year’s resolutions.
Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym for a primary school teacher in the Midlands