Talking to myself
In a bid to exercise what’s left of my grey cells I am revising some old posts. Here is a reworked version of something I wrote 11 years ago, ‘Talking to myself’.
Until I retired, I spent a good deal of my life talking to myself. Occasionally I disguised it as teaching. Usually, I taught older children, who had already learnt to conform to the conventions of school life (translation: ‘do as they were told’) but sometimes I was called on to work with younger children.
The most testing times were when I was with the youngest children, then called ‘Nursery’, now known as ‘Pre-school’. It could seem that the little children sitting at my feet were drinking in every word when what they were really doing was wondering who made the cracks in the ceiling, or why my hair looked young when the lines on my face clearly indicated that I was extremely old, just like their mums or, worse yet, their grandmothers. Sometimes a small child would touch the polished surface of my shoe to see if it really was shiny or just wet. Once in a while an infant would whisper shyly, ‘I like your blouse’ or even, touchingly, ‘I like you’.
Children can be devastatingly honest when young and unhampered by conformity. One day a little girl of about 4 put up her hand to indicate that she wished to speak and when acknowledged, said politely, ‘Excuse me, I don’t like you.’ I cannot remember my response - I may have said something like, ‘Oh, that’s a shame, because I like you.’ Cringe-worthy, I know.
Often actions spoke more piercingly than words. Couching instructions in the form of requests – ‘Would you like to . . . ?’ could be answered by the child looking straight through me or shaking his head vigorously or turning his back and walking away. If the instruction/request involved three-dimensional items to be sorted, built, placed, the answer could 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 did not want to cooperate. If the instruction/request was repeated a little more firmly there were several possible outcomes:-
1: the child acquiesced and did as he was
told asked. Result!
2: the child burst into noisy sobs and demanded her mummy.
3: the child repeated ‘NO’ with increasing vehemence until my ear drums were ringing, he had turned purple with rage and ended up having a full-blown tantrum, maybe even succeeding in making himself sick.
3: the child threw the items at the nearest adult (me) and possibly aimed a kick at my shins.
4: the child wet herself, indicating at the same time, by the volume of the flow, that she had not emptied her bladder since the night before.
5: the child soiled himself, indicating at the same time that he had consumed far too much fruit the previous day.
Any of these outcomes could happen very quickly but fortunately not often, though sometimes coinciding with a prospective parent/visitor being shown round ‘our family-friendly school.’
None of them was quite what was intended at the beginning of the ‘lesson’. As every parent knows, young children can be exhausting. Twenty or thirty of the same age can be a small but intimidating army.
I believed then, and still maintain, 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, can concentrate for more than 5 minutes, (all right, that’s debateable) 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 consider this last statement – okay, they know it’s unacceptable but do it anyway, arguing the right to free expression.