Anarchy in the UK: what happens when the teachers are on strike?

No, it wasn’t the return of punk rock: yesterday was Teacher’s Strike Day, perfectly timed for the end of March, when most parents have used up their holiday allowance until the end of the financial year.

Groups of joyful children roamed the streets of the UK, looking for an adult-free house to spend the day in. This was like an unexpected snow day, with the added bonus that as there was no snow, parents could still go to work (and not only could go – they had to go).

I checked my phone at my desk, thinking optimistically that my daughter was unlikely to get out of bed before noon and so there was no need to worry about her yet. Everyone at work was in a good mood after an easy journey to work; the roads and buses were clear of school-children.

I text-ed my daughter a morning greeting, and through a painful process of questioning and monosyllabic answer managed to find out where she was. (just to give you an idea, my text ‘how is your day going?’ – followed by a hopeful smiley face – got the reply ‘fine’, and ‘where are you?’ was answered with ‘out’. At this point I realised it was going to be hard work).

I managed to extract the information that she had – incredibly – got out of bed, got dressed, and gone to a boy’s house, by 10.30 in the morning. She would be coming home soon, however, with a group of friends. They were going to watch a film and eat popcorn in our house.

I spent a few moments complaining to my phone handset that none of this had been mentioned last night, when we discussed plans for the day. Realising the futility of this, I spent another few moments considering what she and her friends might be getting up to, worrying about the mess they would leave at the house, and planning to take an hour at lunch to find out exactly what my child was doing.

As I usually do in these situations, I thought about what I would have done at her age. This gave me absolutely no comfort at all in terms of reassuring me that she was going to be sensible. However, it gave me a very clear memory of how it felt to be worried about, at that age.

My parents tended to let their imaginations run away with them, having nothing real in their own experience to compare my young life to. I remember feeling that they always thought the worst. I remember that this had absolutely no effect on how I behaved or where I went, but it did have a serious and damaging effect upon the relationship I had with them.

Of course, now I have my own daughter I understand what they went through. I now get to experience the fear and bewilderment of living with the fast-changing whirlwind of self-righteous confusion that is a girl entering puberty; watching her throw herself into the unknown, with no certainty that it will all be OK.

Yet I have an advantage – having grown up in a similar situation and environment, I know this: that if I am afraid, she will be too. If I don’t trust her, she will never learn to trust herself.

I owe it to her to believe the best of her. I know that suspicion, fear and mistrust will make not the slightest bit of difference to her actions, but will forever influence the way she feels about herself.

Although I will protect her from danger when I see it, and come down like the proverbial tonne of bricks when I know that she has done something wrong, I have to accept that now there will be times when I just don’t know whether there is danger or whether she has done anything wrong, and those are the times when I must believe that she has learnt enough to protect herself and to keep her feet moving in the direction of the straight and narrow path – and hope that this belief will give her the confidence to seek help when she needs it.

Teacher’s Strike Day was indeed a day of anarchy for the children; a break from normal rules and structure, giving them time to explore the possibilities of life without boundaries, for a brief period. Although there was no school, we may still have managed to learn something, my daughter and I…(I still went home for lunch, though).

As for the teachers – I think they are striking for the right reasons and so I wish them well.


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