Life at secondary school isn’t easy. (If you think it is, you’re the berkish little feck-face making it hard for everyone else.)
But there’s a special kind of school-time torment that only a few of us know about. The fate of the Teacher’s Kid.
You have no place to hide. Everywhere you go, you’re conspicuous. (It doesn’t help to choose a mustard, pink and purple shell-suit jacket to wear in Year 7.)
You can never, ever, not do your homework.
You hang out in the library long after the cleaners come round, part of the furniture. Only Jimmy the caretaker sees more sunsets over the blocky seventies buildings.
The only boys who actually want to go out with you have to be bit thick, a bit sad, or just a froth of hormonal desperation.
You’ve worked it out. Yes, I was a Teacher’s Kid. From the age of eleven to eighteen, before I could be me, I was always going to be Mrs Grearson’s Daughter.
‘Are you – Mrs Grearson’s Daughter?’
‘You’re Mrs Grearson’s Daughter, aren’t you?’
Eyebrow lift. Shrug. Jut chin. Wait for it.
‘Your mum caught the littlest Harkin smoking weed.’ ‘Your mum broke up a really wicked fight by the buses.’ ‘Your mum put all of 8CB in detention.’ A lower sixth-former, sobbing angrily in the toilets: ‘Your mum is a total bitch.’ As if I’d whip out a clipboard and make a note in the Grearson Family Brand Awareness Survey 1998: We Value Your Feedback.
I still get it, a scary amount of years later, out in Cov. ‘You’re Mrs Grearson’s Daughter?’ Nowadays, sometimes followed by: ‘Are you the one that strips?’, thanks to my little sister’s brief fling with pole-dancing at university.
Yep, Mrs Grearson is my mum. And Mum is a paradox. She’s the tough disciplinarian with no patience for anyone dicking about. Yet she’ll bend over backwards to help you if you really want to try. She loves seeing someone find their feet, leave school able to support themselves and their family. But as an art teacher, she also wants students to feel the value of new experiences, new ideas, new ways of seeing the world.
She’s the girl who failed her eleven-plus and was made to feel stupid, and who has spent her whole career trying to prevent any other child feeling the same. Working hard to make sure any young person can come good if they try enough. Passionately believing that comprehensive education should be precisely that: comprehensive. That all of us, no matter where we start off, should be able to go wherever life calls us, whether that’s a bang-up plumbing apprenticeship, a nursing degree, going to drama college or reading History at Oxford.
She’ll give feedback on UCAS personal statements into the wee smalls. She’ll spend hours on the phone sorting out someone’s admissions crisis, or helping solve a problem at home. She’ll tell her fellow teachers they are paid good money to work in the holidays. She’s retired now, but all that means is three days a week at a different Catholic comprehensive school in Coventry.
Mum was my first, best teacher. She stayed at home with me and my sister, baking bread and ploughing her love, fun, and creativity into our early world. But she wasn’t one of these soft, long-suffering, angel-in-the-house kind of mothers. You can’t get sentimental about her kind of parenting, because it was never self-effacing. Later on, the bread-baker became the breadwinner. She was there for us, always. But she was also out there, for everyone else too, showing us that hard work was as important a legacy as the love we were steeped in. She’s taught generations of Coventry kids. She’s now onto the grandchildren of her first pupils.
My secondary school experience was one long cringe, but in bearing it, I got to see Mum in her workplace every day. ‘I’ve never met anyone so committed to helping others develop,’ one of Mum’s colleagues told me, when I met him as a VSO volunteer. ‘Oof, she was hard on me,’ said the lad in Millsy’s last year, the one who was keen to know about my stripping CV. ‘But I needed it. Tell her thanks.’
We’re very different, me and Mum. I couldn’t be hard on anyone if I tried. Apart from being handy with a pencil, I haven’t inherited much beyond her deep frown. I ended up with my Dad’s boobs and most of his easy-going nature, too. Where I’m a puddle of reflection, Mum is a whirlwind of action. She is physically incapable of procrastination, and hates wasting time. Losing her father aged eleven, and her beloved brother in her early twenties, she’s always known that tomorrow might be too late. Something I, a born meanderer, with my sunny, peaceful childhood, have difficulty feeling in my bones.
But lately, I get it. How close it is, the place of no more time. Full of unsaid things, turns-not-taken, unwritten words. Simon Armitage’s lost, unfinishable business.
I need someone to show me how to be strong and kind and make sadness explode into hard work, and luckily, she is right there in front of me. Made of star-iron, fire, and unstoppability: my meteor of a mother.
So, yes, I am Mrs Grearson’s Daughter. I’m trying to be more so every day. And I’m trying to do her proud, because perhaps, then, she’ll see how proud I am of her.