Education and Schooling #4: Industry Secrets [Guest]

HANDSDelightful. 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.

WALLAs 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.

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0 comments on “Education and Schooling #4: Industry Secrets [Guest]”

  1. Jason Preater Reply

    Very good post Michael. I don’t value school reports that much, not because I don’t think teachers are doing a good job, but because I don’t like measuring all the time. When my oldest was three I had to take her for some pre-school tests in the UK at the health centre. They asked her to do a whole range of things and then said, “Can you stand on one leg?” So she held on to my leg and stood on one leg. The woman very nicely tried to persuade her to stand on one leg without holding my leg but she refused. Then the woman turned to me and said, “I am going to have to mark that down as a fail.” At that moment I had a blinding flash of realisation about my responses to the situation, my kid’s response to the situation and the nature of school and bureaucratic “care” in general. It doesn’t really matter to me if there are good health or educational reasons for it, I don’t like testing. This has been confirmed in my professional career as I have had to deal with educational psychologists for whom, it seems to me, the test replaces intelligent observation.

    • SKATERAK Reply

      Hi Jason – good to hear from you. Teachers and parents often have different, even polar views of assessment. How should it be done? Why should it be done? What should be assessed? Rightly or wrongly, large bodies watch schools carefully to make sure children are progressing and not slipping though the system. The same bodies also insist, often, that every children does the sames tests in the same way. A teacher’s assessment or judgement of a child is not always seen as good enough or standardised, therefore tests are king.

      This is terrible, in my opinion. I agree with all that you said. What happens so often when (even intelligent) people are presented with a list, or a checklist or criterion, is that they robotically chug through it without thinking or considering the child involved. I’ve seen it far too many times. Your leg standing example wraps up the case perfectly. It’s a shame. Whereas teachers do need to know what children can and cannot do, and a general feeling is not really sufficient, there are many ways of suitably finding this information without tests or iron clad checklists.

      * gice children a range of tasks which could show their understanding (of division, for example)
      * have children explain a concept to another child or design an activity to help younger children learn the same idea
      * talk to the child

      to name a few.

      I wonder what other people think about tests, assessment and all this stuff. There are probably two discussions: one for primary students and one for secondary students, but not necessarily.

      I’ve always appreciated this:

  2. andrew Reply

    are you more likely to get good teachers at schools where parents are engaged and enthused about education?

    can a good teacher provide good teaching if 90% of the students come from a poor and dysfunctional family, and where school is seen by the parents as childcare rather than something to be cherished?

    our suburb is among the poorer in the area. and even our city is considered at the lower end of the overall area we live in (metropolitan brisbane). it’s almost a given that as soon as you are talking about a church community you’re talking some flavour of middle class. or at least aspirational in some sense. thinking around all the people i know at church, i can’t recall anyone sending their kids to a public school. the financial barrier in getting into a private or church school is enough that it is seen that it filters out those whose main interest in school is getting kids out of the house for part of the day.

    a couple of grand a year to get your kid into a school that might be marginally less traumatic, and where more teaching might happen and less social work seems like a good trade-off

    • SKATERAK Reply

      Hi Andrew – great comments! I think the decile discussion is never ending and really up to individual parents, schools and teachers. The short answer to your question about whether a teacher can provide good teaching if 90% of children are from poor or dysfunctional families, coupled with a general lack of support from home, is ‘yes’. They can.

      Obviously, many of the ingredients of an ideal learning environment are diminished, but I believe if a few simple things are in place, it can work and work well. I have taught many children from rich, dysfunctional families with very little support from home and seen many children make good progress against the odds:

      * The children needs clear routines, boundaries and high expectations. Teachers can’t make excuses for the children, even if there are reasons why they may be underdeveloped.

      * The teacher should provided an enjoyable programme, It should be varied, rigorous and aimed at the children (not straight out of a folder).

      * The teachers needs to be able to celebrate progress as much as achievement, even if it is simply that a seven year old can finally count to 20. If that’s progress, they deserve a smile and a sticker.

      As for quite able children, maybe our own, being in a class like that (like my son was last year) the teacher should make sure they are given academic challenges as well. But, those children are in a great place to learn about diversity, patience and what it is like outside the box. Life skills.

      I worked at a wonderful independent school in the UK where the fees were very high and the facilities amazing – sprung floor in the gym, several full sized sports fields, tennis courts, computer labs, swimming pool, specialist teachers for half the curriculum, a beautiful chapel, national sports trips (for primary), international trips and so on. But, when the students left the secondary school and went to university with their Gucci underpants, A+ grades, they found that no one cared about their silver spoons or sense of entitlement and they struggled to keep up with being in the deep end. I would not have liked to have been one of the children at this school who was a little different or finding it difficult to keep up. Reputation is very important to these schools and even being an expat I was looked at funny by other staff.

      To quote Angela, below:

      … low decile (schools) often give teachers more room for creativity. And that they attract the more aspirational, committed, creative teachers as they feel it’s a place where they can make a real difference…

      There is a lot of truth in this, from what I have seen.

      I spent hundreds of dollars a term myself to put my son in a decent nursery as there were no good free ones around and I am glad I did.

      I guess, each person has to make their own mind as to what is important for them and their children regarding school life. If the school can’t or won’t provide certain things, then we need to step up and make sure our weekends help fill these gaps! 🙂

      What was your school and schooling like? Did you miss anything?

      Take care 🙂

  3. Angela Reply

    A brain drain INDEED Michael, still hoping that you might drain back in our direction one day.
    You realise you’ve asked about a million questions there and it’s going to take a lot of thinking to work through them – but all very worth while!
    I realised when I was looking for a kindy for Reuben that the top priority was finding a teacher he would click with. Someone he would like, and someone who would see him and cherish him for who he is. I expect I will want the same thing when looking for a school for him, but obviously the first year teacher is the only one you can guarantee, and there are many years to come after the first one.
    I heard recently when speaking with someone about low decile schools vs high decile schools that low deciles often give teachers more room for creativity. And that they attract the more aspirational, committed, creative teachers as they feel it’s a place where they can make a real difference. It’s an interesting and attractive thought – though for me makes the decision about schools ever harder.
    There is so much to think about on this over the next year that I don’t know where to begin. Thanks for the wise and timely advice/ideas. I’ll start with you!

    • SKATERAK Reply

      Hi Angela – Good to hear from you.

      I do find questions can help us make decisions more than answers. 🙂

      I doubt there is a perfect school out there, which ticks all the right boxes and with which we’d be extremely happy for the entire schooling of our children. Nonetheless, we can be generally happy, which is also very good!!

      Asking to sit in on assemblies or to speak with different parents and staff can give you a wider picture of the school as well. At some stage, we bite the bullet and trust we’ve raised our children to be responsible learners.

      I’m glad Reuben is enjoying kindy. He’s a bright, alert, curious wee lad. It’d be hard NOT to teach him things. 🙂

      Take care.

  4. Caroline Reply

    Interesting post Michael & it was great timing for me. We had our first proper meeting with my daughter’s nursery teacher this week & your post inspired some of the questions I asked her. I was most pleased to see that H seems to behave in a very similar way at home and at nursery and that the teacher seemed to know her well – the main “development area” that she identified for H is one that I also recognise from our home life.

    I look forward to reading more of your insights.

    • SKATERAK Reply

      Thanks for reading. It’s great that you’re meeting your daughter’s nursery teacher in advance and taking preschool so seriously. These years are no less important that the ones to come – more so, possibly.

      A consistent child is surely a happy child. Well done on raising her thus.:)

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