The School Post

So Conor begins writing his final matric exams this week. Layla will be in Grade 6 next year and my nephew Logan is going to Grade 1. Lots of school-related happenings and so I’m thinking…

We have been very, very lucky their schooling (Conor’s & Layla’s) has been happy, stress-free and successful. One of the most stressful, debilitating and worrying challenges for a family is having a child unhappy at school. After 12 years as a school mom, the one thing I know for sure about schools, teachers and successful learning is this:

Your child’s school report (and parent-teacher conferences) should contain nothing you didn’t already know.

Cannot stress this enough.

Especially at preschool level, and most especially when it’s to do with behaviour and personality. Sure, there may be new issues that your child is having with a particular set of work (for example) – but if it’s big enough to have been mentioned during the end-of-term report as a worrying issue, it’s big enough for the teacher to have drawn your attention to it before.

If your child comes home with a baffling report, with comments on behaviour, personality, strengths or weaknesses that just make you go “HUH?” – then either YOU have missed something in your knowledge of your child, or your teacher has.

Before you  jump on your high horse and shout at the teacher – it’s time to ask yourself some hard questions.

*Could* it be me?  *Is* what I know about my child in fact not the full story? Do I have this wrong?

Chances are, if you even get *this* far in the conversation with yourself, it’s NOT you. People who DO miss things, who do have unrealistic, incorrect or just plain patchy ideas of what their children are like are not likely to be questioning themselves. Parents paying enough attention to their children’s reports to realise that something seems off, are likely to be parents who are paying enough attention to their children full stop.

So there’s that.

Ask other people around you, who KNOW your child (and preferably people who value the same traits as you do) – AM I wrong about this? Think about it hard, before you run off to the principal’s office.

Then – when you realise that you’re NOT wrong – go with your gut. If YOU don’t have it wrong, that means the teacher does.

***

Conor’s first preschool was a dreadful place. I only realised this when I’d spent a few months working there as a preschool teacher myself, and had spent a great deal of time with the teachers outside of the “mommy role”.

He was reading and writing at 4. Not because he was pressured, taught or otherwise forced. He started reading because he was ready. Just as he’d weaned himself off bottle and nappies at 18 months, started walking at 10 months and given up his daytime nap at a year. He did what he was ready to do, and he was supported in his development. Pretty simple. Layla is different. She went at her own pace. She has different strengths and weaknesses to her brother, different talents and challenges.

Logan too, goes at his own pace. All three of those paces are PERFECTLY OKAY.

Conor was a quiet boy, well-behaved, hated being in the spotlight (and so would never volunteer to answer questions), wasn’t very *ahem* coordinated, and didn’t make friends with his peers easily.

The teachers at his school told me I should stop pressuring him to read and write, noted that he wasn’t forming his letters correctly anyway, told me not to let him bring his own reading books to school, chastised me when he cried because he didn’t want to go to school, and told me that his hobbies (at the time) of identifying rocks and minerals was “showing off”. The fact that he was “shy” (stupid word) – was a “problem”.

I was an idiot and I listened to them. For a while. I allowed myself to be confused. I can kinda forgive myself for this because I was inexperienced and thought they would surely know  better. That was my biggest mistake.

Eventually got my head out my bum and moved on to a new preschool and he shone there. His entire primary school career – not a single niggle. Not a single issue with a single teacher. Not a single report where I thought – “Hmmm, this seems wrong”.

Every teacher knew that he was introverted. Every teacher could identify his strengths and weaknesses correctly and understood that he was an individual with an individual personality. Their job was to work WITH that personality to help him bring out his potential. And they did that. The best little school in the world.

The first year of high school wasn’t fun. We went for the local high school because of convenience and cost, knowing that we might be looking for somewhere else later. He wasn’t well suited to the environment and needed more than they could give.  But we decided to give it a chance. 6 months in to Grade 8 it was clear that it wasn’t working. Huge, huge stroke of luck to find the high school he eventually ended up going to. 

There he was happy for 4 years, once again due to the fact that his teachers KNEW him.

Now that Layla is in Grade 5, once again I’m struck by how lovely a school it is. Her teacher understands her, we all know what her challenges are and understand how to help her. She is accepted for who she is and does not have to change to be noticed. Both the teacher and I realised that she was having issues with maths at around the same time. Her maths report card was not a surprise, because both teacher and I were paying attention.

It’s nearly time for high school for her and it’s a tricky question. She wants to go to the local high school and it’s probably the sensible choice to try it for her. She’s a different child to Conor and being with her friends is much more important to her than it ever was for him. So probably, again, we’ll give it a chance. That said, I wish she would be happy to go Conor’s high school because it was lovely.

So all this waffling has lead me to my point (eventually).

Your child’s happiness and success at school requires that both parents and teachers are on the same page. Both sides need to know and accept your child for who they are, and understand how their personality type influences the way they learn.

Teachers are trained to spot learning related issues that you might not know to recognise. They are the ones who will know how to teach, so that your child can learn. They will also have insight into how the child behaves outside of the home. But you are still the one who knows them best. You ARE, aren’t you?

So next time you get a confusing report, or come out of a parent-teacher conference feeling frazzled, unheard or ignored – ask yourself if you could be wrong. Go home and watch your child. If it IS you – if you HAVE missed something – then fix it.

If it’s not you, then it’s time for that same hard conversation with your child’s teacher.

 

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