I have a confession to make. If I find myself in a social situation with a school-teacher, I can’t resist passing comment on how lucky they are to have such long holidays.
Something in the way that vein starts throbbing in their temples as they explain through gritted teeth how much marking, preparation and administrative duty goes into their jobs beyond class-time, about how stressful, if I really want to know, their life can get, takes me right back to the innocent, teacher-baiting pleasures of my own childhood.
And if I’m feeling especially devilish, I’ll ask them if they ever have trouble with unreasonably demanding parents. Then step back and make room for some spleen-venting. Sometimes they actually go purple.
...despite my nasty and sadistic habit of winding them up with my ignorant queries at barbecues, I’m on their side, I’ve got their backs, they have my sympathies.
Pushy parents, more than all those other irritants - the staffroom politics, the accountability-pumping appraisal and feedback frameworks, the chronic underfunding and measly pay rewards, more even than the booger-flicking little maniacs who populate their classrooms - are the bane of a teacher’s existence.
I like teachers. I have a sister, a cousin and numerous friends in the trade. And, despite my nasty and sadistic habit of winding them up with my ignorant queries at barbecues, I’m on their side, I’ve got their backs, they have my sympathies.
I never imagined I’d be that pushy parent. But things changed when our son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) last year.
There’s no intellectual disability, though his assessment revealed struggles with processing speed and working memory. His condition mainly presents itself in the all-consuming nature of his interests - huntsman spiders at the moment (his latest captive, which he will study for a few days before releasing into the garden, glares at me banefully from its bark-furnished plastic container as I write) - a certain physical restlessness and a habit of repeating words and phrases to himself.
A typical scene in our house: I kneel at the coffee table at work (at his entreaty) on a pencil copy of a photo from one of his spider books, while, beside me, he bounces up and down on my long-suffering armchair, going “huntsman...huntsman...huntsman”.
Half the time he’s meant to be listening to instructions, he’s scanning the ceiling for spiders, completely oblivious to anything else.
He started prep in February this year. He’s not crazy about school, doesn’t find the learning easy, gets distracted, can play up. But his behaviour is nowhere near disruptive enough to gain the school any extra funding, so his teacher doesn’t get support, just does her best to manage his needs along with the 20 or so other little people under her charge.
He’s got a special, purple wobble-seat he can sit on when he needs to deal with that restlessness. He likes that wobble-seat.
There’s another boy with ASD in the group, who can be a handful. Sometimes she’ll find tasks for the two of them to do together, away from the rest of the children.
She tells me this, his teacher, when I meet her for a catch-up about our son. It bothers me a bit, and a bit more when she answers my concerns about his disengagement with “well, yes, I suppose that’s part of the way he is.”
I’ve been in to help out once or twice at the school, during “kitchen classroom” and “investigations”. Half the time he’s meant to be listening to instructions, he’s scanning the ceiling for spiders, completely oblivious to anything else.
I remember when I was his age, adults would regularly accuse me of being in a world of my own. They were right and I liked it there. He seems just the same.
And maybe, like I eventually did (not that I don’t still hang out in a world of my own when I ever get the chance), he’ll snap out of it, find something to spark his interest in the stuff they’re trying to teach him, the wider world out there.
I guess I’m going to have to help out at the school more often, make those catch-ups a regular thing.
More likely, though, he’s going to need more support, more creativity in teaching approaches, more one-to-one attention than I ever did, if he’s going to avoid falling through the gaping cracks in our public education system, opportunities passing him by. It’s going to take more than the wobble-seat.
And the only way he’s going to get it, as far as I can see, is if I start making some noise. I guess I’m going to have to help out at the school more often, make those catch-ups a regular thing.
You know, my sister, my cousin, those friends of mine are right - we really should be paying teachers more.