Full Story

Some years later

The Mother has had many jobs in her lifetime. Kennel maid, bingo caller, housing officer, courier, to name but a few. If she was being honest, she’d admit she wasn’t very good at any of them. When she was a kennel maid, there were a couple of occasions when she’d fallen asleep in the straw with the dogs. Both occasions had been after an all-nighters. But her explanations were wasted on her boss, and she was fired. Her career as a bingo caller was also short-lived. What with her dyslexia and dyscalculia, well, let’s just say the job didn’t match her particular skill set.

The job of being the Mother came much later in life, and most of the time, she was good at it. But working as a mother didn’t pay the bills. In fact, if anything, it created them. So, in order to feed her kids and make sure they didn’t get evicted, the Mother had to moonlight.

For several years now, the Mother had worked as a supply teacher, and that suited her down to the ground. What she liked about being employed through an agency was that you could never really get sacked. Mess up, and you just got moved on. Being a teacher was something she thought she was mediocre at. There had been a time when she had considered herself a good teacher. But years of paperwork, unpaid overtime, cuts to education, and Ofsted inspectors had worn her down. She was happy to settle for mediocre.

Being a supply teacher is often not that much different from being a permanent member of staff at a school. You can still find yourself worrying about the children’s progress, their levels, and their predicted outcomes. You still wake up at night thinking about how to best support your pupil premium kids, your EAL kids, your white British boys, your BME kids, and your gifted and talented children. Then there are the hour-long discussions you have in the pub regarding accelerated learning, value-added, peer mentoring, report writing, and parents evening. And let’s not forget the after-school meetings – oh, God, yes, the meetings.

But if, at the end of it all, you have a nervous breakdown, you can always ask your agency for a different assignment.

Today, the Mother is in Year 5, trying to teach a lesson about “the Shang Dynasty”. It was always going to be a long day. The children in the class keep talking, but they are not talking about ancient China. Two of the boys repeatedly stand up and do Fortnite dances when they think she is not looking. Brittany, who is a big girl in every way, keeps deliberately falling off her chair. It’s a kind of party trick of hers. The Mother tells Brittany that if she falls off her chair one more time, she will have to move her name down.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that, Brittany,” says the Mother and her words truly come from the heart. For if Brittany’s name has to be moved down any further, it will end up in the bloody underworld. After what feels like an infinite amount of time, about 20 minutes, the Mother finishes the teaching session.

“I’ve explained the written work. Now, has anyone got any questions before we start?”

A boy at the back of the class asks the Mother if her red hair is dyed. It is difficult to tell if he is being facetious.

“Yes, it’s dyed,” she replies. “Now, open your books and start your work, please.”

At last, the Mother has a few valuable seconds to read through the teacher’s notes. She is desperately hoping that no one asks what the learning objective is, as she doesn’t know. She also is not entirely sure what they are meant to be writing. However, a quick search on Google instantly reveals a wealth of information on the Shang Dynasty.

“Thank God for the internet,” thinks the Mother. Now, she just has to read all this stuff. In a few minutes, children may ask her for more details about the whole saga. She can’t very well wing it on this subject.

“Miss, why did so many Shang clans decide to migrate northeast during the Western Zhou period?”

“Well, why do you think so many clans migrated to the northeast?” This worked sometimes, but it wasn’t going to work today.

The Mother manages to get up to the Shang Dynasty artisans’ use of piece mould casting before she has to stop reading. The noise in the classroom has gone up and up and is now just below screaming. She stands up, walks over to the behaviour chart on the wall and moves two names up on to the sunshine. She doesn’t actually know who Mohammed and Eva are, which can mean only one thing – those two particular children are behaving themselves. It seems to do the trick. Even in Year 5, the allure of being on the sunshine is still strong. Rebellion has not taken root yet. The class quietens down, for a few seconds. Over the next few hours, the Mother will repeat the sentence, “Keep the noise down” so many times that, by the end of the day, it will feel like they are the only words she is capable of saying.

At four o’clock, all the children have gone home, and the Mother is busy marking their history books. George and Davonte have only managed two sentences, and Samuel had just written the date – well, part of it. While Brittany has written absolutely nothing, she has at least drawn a picture, a picture of a princess riding a horse. 

“Well, that’s four books I don’t need to mark,” thinks the Mother, and she begins writing the words “Could do better” in the margins. At Brittany’s book, however, something makes her stop. Her drawing of a horse is actually really good, and animals are notoriously difficult to draw. Ancient Chinese history isn’t for everyone, and maybe Brittany’s talents lie elsewhere, like the Mother and the bingo. She gives Brittany a sticker and a “Well done”. Who cares if the school doesn’t approve? The Mother will be somewhere else tomorrow.

An hour later, the Mother has finished marking the history work. Just the literacy, maths and science to go. “Shouldn’t take too long,” she thinks as she reaches for her paracetamol.

Finally, the Mother has finished the books, and it’s only six o’clock. She signs out, and as she leaves the school, she instantly feels a sense of freedom, like a lion who’s escaped from the zoo. On her way home, she must remember to buy pudding, Coco Pops and croissants. This will prove to her children that she loves them and ease the guilt of having a childminder pick them up. She walks into Nisa and sees a can of San Miguel, it’s £1.29 and all shiny. Shiny things make the Mother happy. “Well, it’s cheaper than a diamond,” she thinks

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