By Vita Forest
(All names have been changed of course)
This week I met with the parents of the children with whom I spend my days.
I learned that some children look like their fathers, others get their mannerisms from their mothers. Maria’s mother said school was her “happy place”, that they sometimes talked about moving but she was dead against it. They couldn’t move, not yet, not now. She needed to stay at this school.
I heard that Fiona’s Mum had discovered unsuspected ambitions of future leadership roles in her daughter, had discussed strategies for how to get there, plotted it out. All at the age of nine.
I saw one mother for the fifth time this term. Then the sixth – when she burst in unannounced at the end of another parent’s interview to accuse another child of bullying. Another child who I know to be kind, funny and occasionally bratty. Another child in the list of children she believes are bullying her daughter. Again I repeated the steps we are taking, the way I and the other teachers are watching them all. Something is not right there but I suspect it is to do with the mother not the daughter. Until we can get to the bottom of it, this woman is sucking up my time.
I heard about kids who were happy, who couldn’t wait for school, who were spending their afternoons writing speeches and rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing them for their families. I was told about kids who were in the lowest position in the sibling pecking order and therefore felt the need to flex their muscles at school. I discussed with two mothers the fact that their kids sat side by side in class and constantly bickered and told on each other. I have told them they needed to “work it out” to stop hiding each other’s scissors and “accidently” throwing each other’s pencils in the bin. One of their mothers reported that the other kid had said to her kid that he hoped she had “the worst birthday ever!!” on the day she turned nine. Nice. But then on Friday, I watched as both kids were playing the same game, talking and joking together.
I met Fred’s Mum with her potty mouth, who tells her son his messy homework is “crap” and that he needs to rub it out and start again. (Apparently she also told another parent who didn’t know much about me that I was “frickin’ awesome” – I taught Fred in Year 1 too).
I saw parents who pulled out notebooks with dot points to cover off, parents who took notes on what they could work on at home (times tables, reading analogue clocks) and parents who were laid back “all good” and “he’s happy”. I waited for parents who didn’t show up. I wonder if they do that for doctors too.
I met parents who are genuinely grateful for what we do at the school, for giving their children opportunities, for a well-timed compliment, for encouragement to try something new or do something better.
I heard about Harriet who plays at being a teacher at home – she even has a whiteboard. From Malik’s Mum who has been anxiously asking me for a couple of weeks now about the entrance test for the prestigious, challenging and stressful O.C. class (Opportunity class for Gifted and Talented children) (-notes go out on Monday). About how India’s mother wants her to sit the test too and how Nadia’s Mum doesn’t. I pointed out their children’s artwork from amongst the menagerie of animals that we live amongst in the classroom at the moment.
I learned that some kids were the less smart siblings of high achievers, the less popular siblings of the life of the party, the last child in the family for whom their parents had little energy or time left to give to. I heard about the lovely grandmother who used to bring her granddaughter to school each day, who I used to chat with, who used to be a teacher too, back in the day, who now has dementia and is living in a hospice.
I heard that Tahlia thought she was “dumb” and “bad”, I listened as Marvin’s parents reported that they thought he was “messy” and “lazy.” But the most heartbreaking of all was the tale of Quentin’s despair and self-loathing, the catastrophizing that lies behind his sulky demeanour and hot angry tears. I got his parent’s permission for him to see the school counsellor and talked of other things we can start in the classroom immeidately. Recognising the good things he can do, some strategies for controlling his emotions before they get away from him. Poor kid. (The next day he received praise for his kindness and helpfulness and I circled around him keeping an ear on the conversations he was involved in).
It’s been a rollercoaster of a week, pushing through the utter physical and mental exhaustion with information shared and received and a new protectiveness felt about certain children with their friendship issues, their dreams and their parental ambitions.
Thank goodness we can debrief in the staffroom.