I went away to boarding school just before my ninth birthday. I absolutely loved my prep school: we climbed trees, rode ponies and had midnight feasts, all in the beautiful surroundings of a Jacobean house in the Dorset countryside. It really couldn’t have been much more Enid Blyton if it tried. The girl who lived over the road from me in our village went to the same school. She’s a year older than me, but started school in the same term. When we arrived in the school grounds, we yelled with delight and ran straight out onto the lawn to play while our mothers unpacked our trunks and organised our dorms. When they then came to say goodbye, we acquiesced with barely-concealed ill-grace, and promptly returned to whooping and cartwheeling across the grass. Our mothers, on the other hand, drove out of the school grounds, stopped in the nearest layby, and burst into tears. I’ve always teased Mum about this, but today that’s coming back to bite me in the bum. Sorry, Ma. I’ll never make fun of you again. Well – not until the next time, anyway …
Due to bureaucratic shuffling, as of this week I’m giving up my two lowest level private classes and instead teaching two outside classes. This means that I have lost my five-year olds. Much as I may have bitched and moaned about having that class in the past, having actually handed them over to the new teacher, I feel surprisingly emotional. As I type this, I am sitting in the staffroom, listening to their voices coming along the corridor and feeling like a total traitor.
There is only one girl in the class, among four boys. She and I have therefore built up a bit of a girlie bond, despite her shyness (to the point of muteness and tears) with me at first. She now chatters away nineteen to the dozen, requesting piggybacks and asking me to draw mermaids, or whatever else takes her fancy that day. I am her protector when the boys get a bit boisterous, hoisting her up out of their reach and acting as a physical barrier. She plays on this shamelessly, teasing them and then rushing across to me, swarming up onto my back, shrieking with laughter. Today, when she came in, she was ushered towards the new teacher’s classroom. Suddenly the shyness was back. Her face fell, and she stopped speaking. The look on her face was heartbreaking. Unsure, she hung back, and looked back along the corridor. Seeing me standing in the staffroom she smiled and then quietly came to stand next to me, rather than follow the new teacher. I could have cried. Somewhere along the way I’ve grown ridiculously attached to these children. So much for not being maternal.
The boys in the class are, as five-year old boys should be, silly and boisterous and entertaining and endearingly delicate underneath the bluster. One in particular has a solid, round-faced look to him, and is usually the one rolling around on the floor fighting. Unsurprisingly, he is often the one who ends up in tears because he has been charging around like a bull in a china shop, then fallen over and bashed his head. In that wonderful way that five-year olds have, however, it’s merely a case of picking him up, dusting him down and giving him a cuddle. If only all adult problems were as easy to solve. Or maybe they are – perhaps this is where I’ve been going wrong all these years?
Another of the boys is a wiry little thing with a razor-sharp brain. He’s the kid in front of whom you have to watch what you say, because he picks it all up like *that*. He also has the most fantastic silly streak. I have never laughed so much as when he created a game the other week which involved taking the bin bag out of the bin, then putting the bin upside-down on his head. Because he’s so tiny, it dropped straight over his shoulders, pinning his arms to his sides, leaving his wrists flailing wildly out of the bottom. He then careened madly around the classroom, while the rest of the class chased him, laughing like drains. I was literally crying with laughter. Trying to make this into a teaching experience, I seized the opportunity to present prepositions of place – Gianmarco is IN the bin! – but was laughing so much that I couldn’t get the words out properly. The boy is a physical comedy genius. GENIUS, I tell you!
The other class that I am giving up is older: mainly nine- and ten-year olds. Their level of English is therefore good enough that I could explain the situation to them. Most of them were pretty laissez-faire about it, but one girl looked as if she was about to burst into tears, and mimed giving me a big hug. It’s odd how so often they seem not to care, and then suddenly you realise that, as Professor Higgins might put it, you’ve grown accustomed to their face. Turns out that teaching’s easy: it’s the leaving that’s hard.