Keeping an Identity: Expectations of School

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?

© 2011, Li-ling. All rights reserved.


  • Hi there,
    I used to teach and had great relationships with parents because I was constantly communicating and extending children – but I know there are plenty of teachers who don’t do this. Since having the boys I have done a complete 360 turn about and am more interested in them becoming whole people than just academically focussed. I know academics are important – I totally agree with you there; and I think we sometimes place too much emphasis on them. It might be just too left feild for you – but what about learning to knit or crochet, taking an art class or learning to play chess. Still introducing new things to keep her challenged, but not just more of the same. In the end you’re her Mum and you have to do what you think is best…is a life of academia really what you want – big picture. Playing devil’s advocate a bit here, I know. Hope that it helps and not causes any upset. 🙂

  • …excuse the spelling errors/typos – toddler was trying to help me type!

  • …and I mean 180 not 360…think I might need an early night!

    • Hi Karyn, hope you had a early night 🙂 Thanks for your thoughts. Hhmmm…your comments didn’t surprise me, I wonder why 😉 hehehe
      That said, yes i do agree there is so much more than academics, we go swimming, G does ballet and plays the cello, she loves craft and art and drawing and I got her some felt sewing at the weekend that she really loved.
      I think if i had an option in determining her future, I would wish for her to be either in music or an artist. More a musician i think, I have never been more in awe or inspired as my experience playing in what was a rather shabby orchestra – the ‘oneness’ was amazing!
      That said, at the end of the day, I still very much believe that it is important to be educated to as high a level as possible (not necessarily to be an academic) – I just think it opens more doors and provides more options. Although yes, this is at odds with so many of the world’s super rich 🙂
      So yes, agreed there is so much more to life than academics, but in my experience, it’s a great feeling to succeed academically as well, if you’re so inclined 😉
      Thanks for stopping by.

  • This must be so frustrating for you. I can’t begin to think. It’s funny – I write an educational blog ( and I recently wrote a really popular post for teachers about how to get parents engaged with schools as so many are unwilling or don’t know how to take an active role.

    It seems like you’re super willing but that the school aren’t offering you the support you need. That said, it sounds like you’re already doing a huge amount to support your daughter’s education.

    • Hi there, Yes it has been frustrating to say the least. I am hopeful though that it is based on teacher/teaching differences, so things may change yet 🙂
      I do completely sympathise as well with teachers who can’t get Parents to help/support, I have heard comments from parents precisely to that effect.
      Thank you for your thoughts.

  • I have a really defensive attitude towards my kids’ schools. Having homeschooled them for a few years, I feel like the schools should be lucky to have my kids there, and when they start to evaluate them in ridiculous ways or ruin certain subjects for them, it makes me really angry. It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job working with the system to your daughter’s benefit.

    • Hi Elena, you are right, The schools are lucky to have our kids! Hope you’re doing well.

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