Delightful. Unique. Gifted. Our children mean more than the world to us and, if you think about it, it’s pretty silly that we, as a civilization, have decided the best thing for them is to chase them off to school to spend their happiest years with overworked groan-ups and other people’s (feral) offspring. It’s absolutely mental. Yet we do it, or are about to do it without a second thought.
Without a second thought? Or should I say, with nights and days of constant wondering and scattered feelings; hoping that it will all be okay and not too traumatic for our bubs (or their teachers). We see the bullying statistics and we read about the assessment debacles that crop up each year. We personally know teachers who have left for warmer climes and less stress creating (if I do say so myself) a brain drain. What does go on inside schools each day and are they really suitable places for my precious bundles to be?
Have you given or do your give your child/ren’s schooling much thought? How much do you trust the system? Why? Why not? Was your own schooling up to scratch?
It still surprises me how much the vast majority of children really enjoy school. I can’t see why. There is a lot of writing and counting and sitting still and full stops and doing as they’re told and being hollered at for something someone else did and so forth – what’s the fun bit?
It’s not uncommon for cheerful, happy, well balanced, meticulously nurtured, Christian, normal, developing appropriately, polite, sweet mannered children to:
- show a different side of their personality at school than they do at home: she’s so quiet in class but bouncing off the walls at home
- be very good at some aspects of school life and weak at others: he reads level 10 books but can’t tell the difference between an odd or an even number
- hit other children from time to time
- get in with an unsavoury crowd
- exceed our expectations wildly.
Saying that, I was briefly concerned for one of my sons because the teacher repeatedly reported that he was angelic at school. He always had his hand up, was always first in line, never called out and kept all his bits neat. It sounded like a different child and when we moved schools (not for this reason) we found him to be far more relaxed and himself in a new class. What was the class environment like which made him act so unusually good?
What does your child’s teacher say to you about your child? Do you agree with them? Are they good at communicating with you? What would you really like to know from your teacher? Do you value school reports?
Apart from a few, I haven’t met that many bad teachers. There are some who I honestly believe should not be working with children, but I could count them all on one hand and still have a finger or two left to waggle. I have worked with some genuinely excellent teachers too. Skilled, dedicated, funny, knowledgeable and easy going. This figure may be more like a dozen.
Some children are close to their teachers. They hang off their every word and the teacher’s opinion is very important to them. They have a new story to share with the teacher each day about how their little sister’s sock ended up full of porridge and nestling in the DVD player. They bring trinkets to school to show the teacher and are ridiculously eager to please. They are healthy, bright, cheerful individuals who, in the main, have parents who are supportive, communicative and understanding.
Other, equally bright and cheerful cherubs, spend their entire day avoiding the teacher at all costs. They sit at the back. They work in silence. Their hand seldom goes up and they line up around the middle of the line. These folk do what it takes to stand out as little as possible and usually succeed. They progress well, they have great friends. They laugh and pass their tests. They are well liked and respected.
What the teacher should be teaching is another topic, which we’ll get to.
As most schools, thankfully, won’t allow parents to indulge in extended teacher observations and appraisals, as parents we need to rely on a general perception point of view. With this, you’ll recognise a great teacher because you will see, among other things:
- them speaking to children in a normal voice
- them smiling at children
- an attractive classroom
- a strong relationship with other staff
- evidence that they are good at something (running, music, art, writing, telling jokes, cooking, computing, backgammon)
- your own children bubbling and talking about school, telling you what Miss said
- a settled class (walking sensibly, speaking politely, self-managed).
I told a friend just today that I would love my son to have a teacher with three foot dreadlocks on top and jeans and sneakers underneath. As long as he knows his pedagogy and doesn’t skive off early to go for a curry more than twice a week, he has my confidence.
How would you describe the ideal teacher for your children? Is your image realistic? What do you value in a teacher? How much ‘benefit of the doubt’ are you prepared to give them?
We are not Jacks of all trades, but we all have something special to give your children, which might be as simple as a peaceful classroom each day, with clear boundaries, positive reinforcement and the odd pun or jellybean.
Schools spend a lot of time making themselves look good. Display and book marking policies can be brutal, not to mention patronising dress codes, instructions on how to make every child glow in their termly reports, unbelievable health and safety policies and bells and whistles websites are just the start. Be impressed but don’t be fooled.
In a nutshell, get to know your child’s class teacher. Try not to jump to conclusions or expect everything to be just as you dreamed or how it was back in the day (because we turned out alright, right?).
I’d like to write further about how to have a strong relationship with your child’s teacher and what to do if you feel things are not gambolling along quite as chirpily as they should.
Michael is a primary-school teacher who has taught in six countries. He is contributing to this series and responding to our questions, so please do leave comments, questions and suggestions for future posts below. You can see catch up on his first post here and the series list here.