Love is...sleeping with your pet hamster and accidentally crushing it to death during the night. This happened to my old school mate Derek “Ashtray” Ashmore in the late 1960s.
It was a deeply distressing experience for boy and rodent alike. And the reason it happened is because, in the words of the Bard, Ashtray loved Hammy not wisely but too well. This was something he had learned from his parents.
Mr and Mrs Ashmore had almost given up on having a child when, against all medical expectations, little Derek arrived. Assuming he must be a gift from God, they lavished presents on him and gave in to his every demand.
The benefits were great for those of us who were lucky enough to be counted among Ashtray’s friends. They included access to unlimited sweets, the right to play with the biggest collection of Matchbox cars outside of Hamleys, and a licence to scorch round a Scalextric track the size of Silverstone.
It was obvious on my first visit to his house that Ashtray’s parents weren’t like mine. When he slammed his plate down and refused to eat those delicate little fish-paste sandwiches with their crusts cut off, his mum smiled adoringly down at him and gave him a four-finger KitKat instead.
It would have been a curled-up-at-the-edges day in fish-paste sandwich hell before my mum would have done that. But then her parenting techniques were of the non-negotiable variety.
I am reminded of Ashtray by Relitsa. Not because she was a gift from God, but because she’s stubborn. Right now she is refusing to write. In fact, she has made it perfectly clear to me that she doesn’t do writing.
I can report her to the headteacher if I like. I can send for behaviour support for all she cares. I can even call upon the services of Mrs Rottweiler if I want to, but there is no way I can make her write – end of story. Or at least it would be if I could get her to produce one.
Under the Children Act 1989, teachers have a duty of care to act in the manner of a reasonable parent, but what does this mean in practice? Relitsa’s mum thinks it’s reasonable to engage in an ever-retreating negotiation with her daughter. Does that mean I should be prepared to do the same?
She thinks that being verbally (and sometimes physically) abused by her child is reasonable. So should I learn to grin and bear it too?
Teaching under the shadow of Ofsted, where key priorities are always about helping children to achieve at or above national expectations, is difficult enough. Teaching under the shadow of Relitsa, telling me in no uncertain terms where I can stick my offer of one-to-one help, takes it to a whole new level.
Ashtray may well have abused his mum and dad but I don’t ever recall seeing him abuse our class teacher. Of course, neither of his parents wore a calliper, took snuff or had a glare that could halt a charging rhinoceros. Sadly, neither do I.
Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield. To read more on pet hamsters, see our feature on pages 24-28