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Over the past few weeks I had a revelation. It wasn’t the sort of revelation that hits like a ton of bricks that makes you go ‘Wow!’; it was more like walking through a deep dark forest, seeing nothing but a tiny glimmer of light, and eventually when you get to the tiny glint you find a paradise waiting there all along.
And this amazing revelation was nothing more than My perceptions and expectations of school were warped if nothing else. Generally my opinion of school was “after we do the hard work at home, she has time off to relax at school – school is boring, learning nothing new”.
You see it all started weeks back when we took Friday off, packed up to go to Brighton and London over a long weekend. As a parent, I’m a stickler for routine (a little routine), I like knowing what has to be done, by when and once it’s done it’s out of the way, we can get on with the day. Don’t worry, it’s not as if the entire day is scheduled, just some parts of the day.
Anyway, we generally have a morning time routine, in which she does some work (writing, reading and maths) and practises her cello. Usually we slack off during a holiday, although tiger mummy that I am, I do usually take along some books to carry on with a stripped down version of ‘work’. On this Brighton trip though, we completely laid back (pretty much horizontal) and found getting back in to the routine, once we were home again, a big big struggle.
This was when I started to reassess what we were doing and why we were doing it, and I came to the conclusion that it was this great big disparity between what I expected of a school and what was actually done in school.
Amazing as her class is, with all the loving, caring philosophies, I have found it more than a little frustrating that communication has been limited, nil, to say the least, apart from the ten minute sessions of Parent-teacher meetings.
To be fair, I have never found the need to go and tell them quite what she was capable of, writing short sentences, making lists and doing sums and times tables.
Being the typical Asian, I have not ‘rocked the boat’, kept my mouth shut, and basically done what I can from home. This included sitting with Georgia every day, working through things she is very capable of (in terms of learning) to ensure that she had some challenges, while she went to school for what seemed to be a relaxing play time, at least that is what she tells me. (yes, I know they have this new thing called learning through play).
All this until we came back from that Brighton trip…and then nothing worked. No amount of coaxing, cajoling, bribery or threats could get her to pay attention for longer than a millisecond. Worried and frustrated, I decided to talk to her teachers (the TAs really as her class teacher was away that week) at school to see if she was doing the same thing at school. (Turned out to be a great conversation and a great deal more conversation followed but that’s for another post)
But this was when I realised: much as I liked and loved the openness, the encouragement to ask and question of the Western education system, I had seen and experienced enough to know that the issues with low achievement lay not in the methods of delivery for education, but the low, often unsaid, unverbalised expectation of children.
And this was where I fell in, I went along with the low expectations in school, figuring that I could very well just keep up the work and expectations from home. After an honest heart to heart chat with a friend, turns out my perception is completely warped.
After my chat with the TAs, Georgia came home the next day and mentioned that Mr A (the Headteacher) had been in to talk to her to ask her to read (a reading book) and ask if she knew her times tables (which she sang to him). How’s that for a quick response? I was certainly very grateful that the TAs mentioned it to the Head, who in turn took an interest to find out more for himself.
I had at that point, worked out that the next best thing to do was to request a meeting with the Headteacher, not to complain or to moan but to talk about parenting expectations.
So that said, we requested a meeting with the Headteacher, who very kindly met us the very next day. And we learnt that
We could and should ask more and expect more of the school – communicate.
The typical ‘Asian way’ was that you kept your mouth shut and just got on. This obviously wasn’t working. So Mr A very generously explained to us, that the best way forward was really to schedule weekly meetings with G’s teacher to discuss how and what she was doing in class and how we might be able to support her with that work at home.
In his own words, he (the Headteacher) said that the 10 minutes during the termly Parent Teachers meetings was really not enough time to know how she was doing and what she was doing in school.
Realistically though, although that was the advice, and I suppose in many senses the offer, I know very well that to demand that of the class teacher takes time out of her class, and time out of her preparation for class. I was happy to meet with her and chat and after that continue the communication with written notes within her reading notebook (as a friend suggested).
It turns out that she already is in the top set for Maths but not for Literacy, which was rather surprising given that she loves writing and spelling but is not keen at all on sums. I have since worked it out though that the differences lie in the fact that the class/scheme that they use have pretty simple and basic expectations for Numeracy and are pretty advanced for Literacy (which completely baffles me – but time for that in another post).
So anyway, moving forward with better communication and feedback, it has been 3 weeks since the above took place. And where are we?
Pretty much back at square one, I think. Communication has been slightly improved, after I’d taken to writing pages in to her reading book (it is tiny!) about the things we are working on at home. However, I am still really no better off and still do not know what she has been doing in class, or if there is anything that she could be helped with.
Is this really what the rest of school is going to be like? Is there anything else, really, that I can do? Are you absolutely happy with your children’s school?