There’s nothing takes the buzz out of your Sunday afternoon trampoline bounce like your five year old uttering those rather unexpected words: ‘Can we have a funeral?’ Now, an earlier discovery should have provided all the information I needed to handle such an utterance but, my mind, confused by this apparently random request, caused me to immediately respond with a rather definite, ‘No!’ when, quite honestly, at that moment, I had no idea who or what she was planning to bury!
I’d like to be able to say that this was the first time I’ve ever made a decision and responded very quickly without listening to all the details but, alas, it isn’t. We remind our little people of the need to listen to others and not jump to conclusions without hearing all the facts and the importance of adopting an understanding attitude and then, we (please note, ‘we’ should really be reading ‘I’ but, using the plural form makes me feel much more like we’re all in this together… That way we can share the blame, if you don’t mind!), well, we go with the: ‘Do as I say not as I do’ approach ourselves.
During the week that has passed, I’ve had the pleasure (ah hem) of marking many thousands of exams (hopefully this rather excessive description should provide you with all you need to know about the tone with which the word ‘pleasure’ was used). It never ceases to amaze me how some kids choose to use the time allocated to them during exams. There are the ones who have clearly listened to you, revised hard and tried their very best. There are those who have done their best to listen but have clearly nodded off a few times, nonetheless, they’ve tried to give it a really good shot but, feel the need to excuse the gaps in their knowledge by leaving you little notes throughout their exam paper. (For the record, ideally answers are desirable and correct ones preferable but, when these options are not, well, an option, the little notes do humour me and where applicable, I like to reply- we don’t like to be ignored, us humans, do we?) The third group I identified were those who make me believe that I have the gift of speaking in languages unwittingly. Unfortunately, these children do not have the ability to translate and so, approach the exam with all the finesse and expertise of my first go (after not getting on one for a ridiculous length of time) on my hubby’s new bike-it ain’t pretty folks although, more likely to induce squeals of teacher mid-marking frustration than the hysterical laughter from my less-than-supportive other half-I’m pretty sure there was something in the wedding vows about this which time has somehow erased from his memory!
But, isn’t the exam response approach of my little examinees (if it’s not a word it so should be) a bit like us?(see earlier note regarding use of the plural form)
Sometimes, we answer with certainty, knowing that what we are saying can be accepted with confidence. Sometimes, we understand most of what we’ve been asked and try our best at an answer, apologising along the way for the gaps in our knowledge. Sometimes, though, we really don’t get it at all. And we are left with three choices: we pretend we didn’t hear and hope they ask someone else; we openly admit we just don’t know; or, we say the first thing that comes into our head without actually thinking it through or listening to all the relevant details. Never the wise option, in exams or in life.
On occasion, in admitting a lack of knowledge, my eldest has responded with horror and confusion: ‘But mummy, you’re a teacher, you’re meant to know everything!’ Oh how I wish this were the truth! Imagine if PGCE stood for ‘Perfect Grasp of and Certainty in Everything’… Now there’s a year’s pleasure (once again, see above) we’d all be applying for!
Alas, though, perfect understanding, it seems, is not always meant to be and, much like the questions in exams we’re not prepared for, so too are the questions that can be unexpectedly thrown at us. When you’ve navigated the minefield of a three year old dealing with grief, you realise that, in the majority of cases, straight answers are the most effective antidote to deep, unsettling questions, that even little people know when you’re fobbing them off and so, will continue to wear you down until you’ve answered them with honesty. That said, I do accept and appreciate that there are some questions for which it is best (in my opinion anyway) to provide a more general response – e.g. ‘How does the baby get out of your tummy?’ Well, we all know it’s the clever midwives and doctors who make this possible. For me, right now, that’s all the detail my littles are getting… All in good time. After all, we wouldn’t expect a 6th year to sit the same exam as a 1st year, now would we?!!
So, as we consider the old exam scenario, I think we also need to remember that our answers will be checked and how well they match the subject in question will most definitely be looked at. Our children may not take out a red pen to scribble comments on what we have said, but you can bet your bottom dollar (‘Annie’ is still very much in vogue with us… I fear ‘Frozen’ may have found a worthy rival at last!) that they will give careful consideration to what we have said and their own responses will undoubtedly show us how they feel about what we’ve said. Much like the check-over time that we teachers love to encourage kids to use during exams, the opportunity to make those final alterations before time runs out, so we can, sometimes at least, take the opportunity to change an erroneous response-not necessarily making our first answer disappear, but making amends to ‘fix’ it before it’s too late! You know the ones I mean- ‘Can I go on a school residential next year?’ And first attempt is something like: ‘What? At that price? For how long? Don’t you realise I’m desperate to put you off while making you believe it was your idea not to go after all? Don’t you know I’m never letting you out of my sight because I’m your mummy and I have separation anxiety issues?’ (Please note-perhaps not all of these points were openly expressed, they do however, go some way to explaining the negative initial response.) Needless to say, my helpful ‘tutor’ pointed out how changing such a response to, ‘Of course you can go as it’ll be a great experience for you!’ was a much better answer (uh huh, brave face firmly in place but, be aware,chocolate and ice cream sales will take a notable rise during September, it’s almost guaranteed 😉)
Of course, no exam session would be complete without the obligatory reports that follow. What would mine read? ‘Should listen more carefully to all the facts before responding. Must make more effort to act like a brave grown-up when she initially forgets that she is one. Needs to bite her tongue and think before she responds, realising that while it’s good to use every opportunity to fix an answer, there may come a time when only her first answer can be accepted.’ No comment banks necessary (don’t get me started on those!!).
Reports written, delivered, read and reacted to, the exams can be put behind us, until ‘that time’ comes around again, though in life, that time is pretty much a 24 hour cycle! And so, with the sunrise, a new test begins and, I suppose the age old favourite comment is the one which we should face each day with: ‘Must do better’.
As for the funeral, well, that matter was taken out of our hands. The deceased bird that had appeared (neither executed nor electrocuted we were informed) disappeared over night. Where it went, we’re not quite sure. But, if some beloved creature delivers it to your doorstep, please be so kind as give it a dignified burial, where you feel appropriate, because this student gave the wrong answer and didn’t get a chance to fix it.