This time, it's personal

Someone told me the other day that parents make better teachers. Although I believe this to be largely rubbish, I would agree that teaching changes a bit once you have your own children.

For a start, your post-school date with the sofa and a cup of tea becomes a distant memory; it is replaced by a frantic session of feeding, bathing and wailing before you crack open the wine and crack on with the marking.

Then there's the sleep issue. Most teachers are used to the odd sleepless night, but sitting through a staff meeting is definitely more of a challenge when you've spent the previous seven nights crouched on the floor by someone's cot singing The Wheels on the Bus.

Other things conspire to make school life more challenging: finding red crayon scribbled over your school books; pulling a dummy out of your pocket halfway through playtime; the sinking feeling you get when the school secretary interrupts your morning maths lesson with the words, "It's the nursery calling."

Finding time for the paperwork can be tricky, too. A friend whose husband works away has had to resort to paying for childcare on her day off just so she can keep up. I muddle through by keeping my books in the boot of my car so that if my kids fall asleep I can pull over and get marking.

Changes in educational policy have deeper ramifications, too. Every time the powers that be launch yet another half-baked initiative, I'm reminded that it's my poor offspring who are going to be tested to within an inch of their lives and used as guinea pigs to satisfy the whims of each new education secretary.

When I started out in teaching, I was vaguely aware that these were little humans in front of me with their own emotions and worries. Now I have a couple of small humans myself, I find it impossible to put achieving targets above a pupil's happiness. You only have to begin to think "what if that were my child?" to galvanise yourself into action.

As a parent, I've realised I care far more about my children being happy and secure at school than about their test scores. I want them to experience a broad curriculum that includes art, sport, drama and field trips. I want them to be educated by teachers who are relaxed and creative, not exhausted, stressed and cowed by data. That is why my heart sinks when I hear teachers say they don't have time to spend on children's emotional problems, when the level 5 students are singled out for applause in assemblies or when school plays are cancelled to make way for Sats revision.

I also hate it when the pressure of the timetable means that genuinely unhappy children are dismissed with, "Just get back to work, you'll be OK." When it's your own child, "OK" is no longer an option. For your own child, everything has to be perfect. And if it has to be perfect for your child, why does anyone else's deserve less?

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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