Thursday, 5 March 2009

Talking to myself

I've spent a good deal of my life talking to myself. Occasionally I've disguised it as teaching. It can seem that the little children sitting at your feet are drinking in every word when what they're really doing is wondering why your hair looks young when the lines on your face clearly indicate that you're extremely old, just like their mums or, worse yet, their grandmothers. Sometimes a small child will boldly reach out and touch the polished surface of your shoe to see if it really is shiny or just wet. Once in a while an infant will whisper shyly, 'I like your blouse' or even, touchingly, 'I like you'.

Children can be devastatingly honest when young and unhampered by conformity. Very politely a little girl may put up her hand to indicate that she wishes to speak and when acknowledged say, 'Excuse me, I don't like you.' Often actions speak more piercingly than words. Couching instructions in the form of requests – 'Would you like to . . . ?' can be answered by the child shaking his head vigorously or turning his back and walking away. If the instruction/request involves three-dimensional items to be sorted, built, placed, the answer may be an eloquent gesture sweeping the items to the floor, or, if already on the floor, far and wide across the room. Nothing could be plainer – the child does not want to cooperate. If the instruction/request is repeated a little more firmly there are several possible outcomes:-

1: the child acquiesces and does as he is told. Result!

2: the child bursts into noisy sobs and demands her mummy.

3: the child repeats 'NO' with increasing vehemence until your ear drums are ringing, he has turned purple with rage and ends up having a full-blown tantrum, maybe even succeeding in making himself sick.

3: the child throws the items at the nearest adult (you) and possibly aims a kick at your shin.

4: the child wets herself, indicating at the same time, by the volume of the flow, that she has not emptied her bladder since the night before.

5: the child soils himself, indicating at the same time that he consumed far too much fruit yesterday.

None of these outcomes were quite what was in mind at the beginning of the 'lesson'. I believe that the hardworking teachers of very young children deserve more generous pay than their colleagues at the other end of the age range, when students attend lessons (now known as lectures) voluntarily, are usually articulate and toilet-trained, can dress themselves and use a handkerchief and know that writing on walls is unacceptable. Pause here, while I think about this last statement – okay, they know it's unacceptable but do it anyway, arguing the right to free expression.

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