The kids are all right
Schoolteacher Mike Davies "hitched a ride on a schoolboy's mind" to write his classroom debut, Lousy Thinking, out next week with a sequel due in the spring. He reflects on how his classroom experience inspired his latest career"Dad," asked my youngest son on the school run, "how do you know how children feel?" I could have punched the air and jumped for joy, but thought it best to keep hold of the steering wheel.
Without knowing it, he had hit upon the very essence of my debut novel, Lousy Thinking, which he had been reading the night before. You see, I didn't set out with a plot or a character. My starting point was a question: how do I get inside a child's head? My solution, obviously, was a head louse that accidentally bites into a particular place on a boy's scalp which gives him a hotline to his thoughts and emotions. It was a question that had fascinated (and frequently frustrated) me during my time as a primary school teacher. How could children 'get' something one day and lose it the next? Where did it go? And how could I help them find it again, then keep it for good?
The head louse was a fun way of showing children that their brains are amazing. It was also a good way of helping them to see school life through fresh eyes. Because, let's face it, school is an extraordinary environment: so many dramas happen every day. Even though we adults might dismiss each event as something we've seen many times before, to a child it's all new, challenging and often mysterious. Best of all, there is an almost unlimited supply of stories, especially in Year Six. Not only do the children have to go through the particular torture of SATs, but they also have transition to high school looming before them, the onset for some of adolescent changes and the beginnings of boy-girl attraction.
For those of you itching for an anecdote, there was the time I had to talk to a boy who was refusing to come in after lunch, because he had been dumped by his girlfriend. He was ten years old. I advised him, to his evident surprise, to forget about girls for a while and play more football. One day he'll appreciate why. At the other end of the scale there was the lad who cheekily took advantage of the fact that the girls were in tears at the end of their last year at primary school. Pretending to offer consoling hugs, he took great pleasure in collecting as many cuddles as he could. How do I know? Because I caught his eye over one girl's shoulder: while she shook with sobs, he gave me the most knowing of grins.
As well as rogues and angels, each class offers a wide selection of heroes, like those dealing with everything from disabilities to dysfunctional homes. However, you might not find it so easy to spot the villains because they're rarely the children. I don't mean irritations like Ofsted or politicians, although how they manage to foul up on such a regular basis is beyond me. As far as I can see, what children have to learn has not changed much for decades. So surely, guiding education should be like steering a canal barge: steady as she goes, with smooth changes in course now and again. However, as soon as a new politician gets into the top job, the tiller is immediately yanked to left or right and the barge crashes into the bank, shaking up everyone on board. Meanwhile the skipper blames the crew as we zig-zag wastefully on our way.
No, some of the greatest villains are the parents. Now I've been very lucky: I've only been threatened once, and I called his bluff. Oh yes, and I was twice told who to put in the football team (I refused). But I have seen the intense distress caused by parents who twist the knife out of all proportion to the situation. And if you think it's just the staff who suffer, think again. I've known aggressive serial complainers alienate their own children from their peers, sometimes by demanding special favours (with menaces), sometimes by lunacy like insisting that their child spent playtime away from other children. And can you imagine having to witness your mum being asked by a teacher to stop snogging someone else's dad in the playground at parents evening? What would children make of all this? That's what I wanted to explore through Lousy Thinking and Lousy Behaviour, by hitching a ride on a schoolboy's mind. Hopefully, it will enable some of them to feel that they're not alone. Perhaps more importantly, it might allow them to laugh about it.
Mike Davies trained as a primary school teacher in his thirties after working as a copywriter in a London advertising agency. He now combines writing with one-to-one teaching at Gusford Primary School, Ipswich, where he taught full-time for over five years, and where his book will be launched on 26 October.
Lousy Thinking is published by Live It Publishing