Whilst in Morocco, many moons ago, I entered the local hotel’s arm wrestling championship. It was one of things that seemed a good idea at the time; an experience that one would only ever undertake because it was a holiday. I don’t arm wrestle much in London. There isn’t much call for it. Londoners tend to demonstrate their machismo by drinking large amounts of strong lager and eating spit-roasted, processed lamb meat on pita bread whilst shouting abuse at the supporters of a different football club. I am comfortable with that.
Having made it through the early rounds and ultimately to the grand final; I found myself up against one of the waiters from the hotel. He was an intense, thick-necked man with wild, staring eyes. For some reason, my opponent thought I was German and kept speaking to me throughout our bout in a rough North African tourist hotel version of the language. He easily won our final shouting “die Augen, die Augen” overtop of our entwined fists; thus taking home the fine bottle of Moroccan champagne.
I retell this story, dear readers, not because of the absurdity of an arm-wrestling competition on the edge of the Sahara, not because of the fact I was mistaken for a German, not because the Moroccans actually produce champagne. No. My lasting memories of the man came in a conversation we had the next day by the hotel pool. The thick-necked waiter informed me that he was in fact a teacher and was spending his summer supplementing his wages by working in the hotel. I of course, reciprocated that I was also in education and the conversation thereafter took a professional path. Oh, and I had managed by now to convince him I was from London, not Munich.
The arm wrestling champion said something to me which has always stuck in my mind. He shared an old Moroccan proverb which was popular with his colleagues in the teaching profession. He leaned in close to share the wisdom with me, whispering so that those tourists lounging around the poolside could not hear;
“Every beetle is a gazelle in the eyes of its mother.”
I smiled and nodded an “Aha.” He rolled his head back on his thick neck and emitted an inappropriately loud, open-mouthed laugh. In reality I knew exactly what he was talking about.
Tonight marked that great end of school year obligation of the Parent/Teacher Conference. Every one of our 506 pupils received a multi-page report last week, outlining their progress over the year. Throughout the course of this evening, 80-90% of parents of those 506 pupils funnelled in to see class teachers in 15 minute slots to discuss the report and any amendments they wished to suggest.
There is a standard script teachers are asked to follow: relay the child’s current levels compared with national expectations, relay the child’s progress his year, relay what are the next steps in the child’s learning. All this information has to be delivered in a quarter of an hour.
Most parents come along to thank the teachers for their work this year and say how pleased they are with their children’s progress. This is especially true as the pupils have more progress this year than any time in the school’s recent history. A very small minority come for a pedantic argument over the wording of the report. “It says here my daughter needs to practice her seven times table. She does practice.”
All, without a doubt want to be able to compare their child with classmates. School policy will compare them with the national picture but not with each other. This does not stop the parents heading straight from their teacher Conference to the park to compare assessment results with other parents. Within half an hour, the pushier mothers have formed their own league table of who is the brightest in the class.
I hear two mothers comparing results in broken English “”My daughter very good in English she is 3A.” “Mine reading the Harry Potter.” I smile as parents barely literate themselves have become ambitious for their children.
Every beetle is a gazelle in the eyes of its mother.
One of our 7 year old tough nuts walks past my office following his conference. I call out, “How did you do? Was it a good report?” The 7 year old looks at me pleadingly as if trying to give me a silent message not to mention that he had been sent to me for bad behaviour on the playground earlier in the day. His mother sticks her head inside my office doorway. “The teacher says he is really good at tidying up the reading area,” she beams.
Every beetle is a gazelle in the eyes of its mother.
I watch the families departing through the main school gates. I call to the two assistant Heads from the office next door, “Everyone looks happy.”. Parents are smiling and chattering in any one of 33 languages spoken at the school. They are comparing their child’s results with their classmates.
The children are bouncing out into the street, proudly holding their reports. I watch them leap into the early summer evening. They are kicking up dust from the urban savannah.
Twice as many kids are reading than two years ago. I feel proud. I want to phone my mother.
I want to tell her that I m not just older, bald and fattening. I am a gazelle. She will tell me that she always knew that.
Keep the Faith,