Let’s be honest, teachers. Playground duty is the worst. The. Worst.
Forget the luxury of going to the toilet in your fifteen minute break, you are out there for the duration, so it’s almost a good job that there’s absolutely no chance of finishing your cup of tea before it starts going cold. There isn’t a big enough playground in the world to offer respite from the barrage of questions, the mediation of squabbles, the interception of danger, the soothing of every last bump and graze, and there’s nothing to make a person feel more dead inside than when you have to relentlessly police children’s fun.
But every now and again, if it isn’t raining and the children happen to be in amiable spirits, playground duty can be an OKAY deal. If there is no policing to be done, you might just have the pleasure of strolling around in the sunshine, observing the kids do what they do best: play.
And this is actually quite a privilege, especially when you’re old and crotchety and you’ve forgotten how fun it is to do frivolous things with your friends (not me obviously), and if you’re very lucky, you might even learn something from being out there too.
This is the position I found myself in recently, long after I'd resigned myself to the fact that Summer was well and truly dead and done, and I'd ceremoniously dug out my Big Coat, only to find out that SURPRISE! It's still 21 degrees in London! I was out in the playground in my oversized jumper, sweating like a maniac, but enjoying the novelty of this spontaneous September heatwave all the same.
We only have a small playground at our school, and at any one point I can guarantee being circled by at least four small people at the same time. It’s usually the girls, and they usually want me to watch them do something.
On this day in particular, hula hoops are the equipment of choice and right in front of me, a little girl is busy spinning one around her neck.
“I can do 150 spins around my neck,” she announces proudly, to no one in particular but mainly to me.
“Wow,” I say, genuinely impressed. “Doesn’t that hurt?”
“No,” she replies, as though I know nothing about the world. “My mum can do 200 and it doesn’t even hurt HER.”
“Well that’s certainly…impressive!” I tell her. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to respond to children.
“I can do that as well. It’s easy,” her friend says, bulging a little at the eyeballs. “It feels like a massage.”
“Perhaps I’ll give it a go one day!” I say cheerily. Obviously, I won't.
Another child then starts skipping with the hoop, and declares, “I can skip with a hoop. It’s easy because I’m small.”
The hoop goes round and round, flicking her long hair over her face. This does not interfere with the expert skipping. She’s a pro.
And, lest I fail to notice the array of her diverse hula hooping skills, she starts doing it backwards on one foot.
“I can skip backwards on one foot,” she narrates, just in case I had suddenly lost the use of my eyes.
“You are very talented,” I tell her.
The other girls start skipping manically, also backwards and on one foot. This has all escalated very quickly.
“You’re ALL very talented,” I tell them, not wanting to pick favourites.
Elsewhere in the playground, a child has somehow managed to put her legs through the arms of her hoodie, zip it up and put the hood over her head. She’s walking around barefoot as though she is half a meter tall. The other kids think this is the best thing they have ever seen. The surrounding children gleefully tell me to look.
“Look at what she can do!” they declare, and whilst I agree it’s very funny, this is the sort of thing I have a duty to police.
I go over and ask her to unzip the hoodie (she might rip it) and put her shoes on (she might step on something) but the real reason is I don’t want everyone to copy her. I’m not sure what the rules are about having 50 kids walking around with their legs in their hoodies but I’m pretty sure it’s not allowed.
“It’s because I’m so bendy,” the child tells me, dutifully removing her legs from the sleeves of her jacket. “I do gymnastics.”
“I can see that,” I reply.
Another few minutes later, I spy another child with his fingers in his eye. He is pulling at his left eyelid, deep in concentration.
“Oh dear. Is there something in your eye?” I ask him.
“No. There’s this really cool thing that Zara can do, and I can sort of do it too. Watch.” And he continues to pull at his eyelid, attempting to turn it inside out.
“Please don’t do that!” I tell him. “That’s....horrible....”
And while he actually can’t do it, it doesn’t stop him believing that he can, and persisting with it anyway.
I sit down and process the onslaught of talents that have just been performed for me.
The other day, a child had asked me if I knew all the Weasleys in Harry Potter and when I maxed out at two (Ron and Ginny) she proceeded to list ALL the Weasleys from ALL the Harry Potter books, IN ORDER. I didn’t even know there was an order.
My 6 year old nephew declares that everything is easy. Reading a book? That’s easy. Running 5K? That’s easy. Number bonds to ten? That’s easy.
Another boy recently asked if I knew what all the postcodes were for Hammersmith and Fulham. When I laughed and told him that I had absolutely no idea, but I would hazard a guess that they started with a ‘W’, he confirmed that in fact only five of them begin with a ‘W’, and the rest begin with ‘SW’. “I’m an expert at maps,” he concluded, before walking off. That was me told.
All of this made me wonder, at what point do people stop being so confident about stuff? When do we stop acknowledging when we’re really good at something? When do we start accepting that it’s not cool to show off?
Kids aren’t necessarily confident about everything – in the classroom, if a child feels they’re not good at reading or writing or multiplication, you can definitely see it, but they’re VERY good at telling you what they CAN do. This is an excellent coping mechanism. At what point do we stop doing this!?
I made some really great guacamole last night but if I went round telling everyone about it, I’d be a very, very dull person. I might teach a really great lesson about paragraphs but I’m fairly sure that nobody will care. When a friend at work told me that she liked what I’d done with my hair, instead of saying, “Thank you!” I said, “Really?! Don’t you think it looks frizzy?”
There’s a fine line, isn’t there, between being confident and being a smug git? Nobody wants to be the latter, but constantly putting yourself down is awkward and a bit annoying too. We should all be better at celebrating ourselves, even if our talents include turning our eyelids inside out and being a hula hooping champion.
Why don’t we make it acceptable to say what we’re good at, to acknowledge all the weird and wonderful and uniquely impressive things we can do with our bodies and our minds and our words? For example:
I will ALWAYS be able to tell you where the apostrophe should go in a sentence.
When forced into sporting competition, I can run and swim surprisingly fast (albeit for a very short distance).
More than one person has told me that my chocolate chip cookies are better than the ones in Pret.
When playing the cereal box game and/or during a limbo contest, I will always be one of the last ones standing, if not the winner.
Together with my friends, we are saving the ocean one tampon at a time by using a menstrual cup, and telling everyone else to use one too. You'll thank us for this in 50 years.
And finally, just to put things into perspective, I know all the words to My Humps by the Black Eyed Peas.
Now...that didn’t sound too obnoxious now did it?