School saga

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.

 

 

A gypsy caravan, a fire balloon and a Baby Austin

By Vita Forest

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This week was the 100th Birthday of that master storyteller, that teller of tales – Roald Dahl. We are reading one of his novels at school at the moment.  It’s probably my favourite, though not his most famous, it is Danny the Champion of the World.  It’s a kind of love letter from a boy to his beautiful Dad, with even a little preview of the B.F.G. thrown in.

This book holds many personal memories for me too.  When Max was about to turn six, he broke his arm falling up some concrete steps.  After visiting the hospital and being given a temporary splint, we were told to return in the morning for his bones to be set.  Max spent a painful night falling in and out of sleep until he just couldn’t sleep at all.  So to distract him, I curled up beside him and read to him through the night.  I read aloud of Danny’s adventures in Hazel Wood, of fixing cars, and of living in a gypsy caravan with his Dad. We read nearly the entire book in that one sitting, Max’s eyes wide above the covers, his arm strapped over his heart.

I have read it aloud to two classes now, the first being a Year 1 class a couple of years ago.  That class contained Frederica, an amazing young writer, who created a quite startling “innovation on the text”  adding another vignette, using the same characters and setting and taking the story in a slightly different direction.  She wrote a whole sequence based on the villain Mr Victor Hazel, who dropped his “aitches” but then attached them to other vowels.  This seven year old girl worked out how this tick would operate and wrote with relish – it was very impressive!

I remember reading aloud a scene in the woods with pheasants, and keepers with guns, and Danny and his Dad creeping about in the twilight.  As I read, the kids acted it out, scampering about the floor under desks, around chairs, necks jerking as they pecked at imaginary raisins flung into their midst by Danny.

That year, and again this year, some kids have independently  borrowed copies of the book from the library (which they keep in their tote trays with their own personal bookmarks to follow along as I read).  Miss Dahlia, who recently turned 7, even spent a precious birthday book voucher investing in her own copy of this marvellous book.

We have made our own gypsy caravan artworks, they currently festoon the walls of my classroom with their brightly decorated exteriors and even 3-D shutters from which images of my students peer out.

We have learned new words – gypsy caravan, pheasant, filling station, Baby Austin and fire balloon.  We have imagined visiting Danny and living with him in the gypsy caravan, eating apples from the tree and walking through the countryside to Hazel’s Wood.  And we have compared ourselves with Danny on a Venn Diagram, noting that we are lucky enough to have a Mum, while Danny only has a Dad, he already knows how to drive, but does not appear to play soccer, but Danny and my class all like apples.  One boy thought that Danny’s life was exciting while his was not (he has already forgotten his recent ski trip).

We have been driving with Danny in the dead of night through the narrow country lanes in the Baby Austin, hardly breathing as he struggles to change gears and eyes wide in alarm as a police car roars by just as he nears the turn off to Hazel’s Wood…

It’s never too early or too late for Roald Dahl.  Happy Birthday!

What are your Roald Dahl memories?

Overheard… in the classroom

By Vita Forest


Mahalia: Guess what?

Me: What?

Mahalia: My tooth fell out!

Me: Oh my goodness!

Mahalia: But I lost it…

Me: If you write a letter the tooth fairy usually understands.

Mahalia: I actually know how to write fairy (leans in and whispers) you just write tiny…

Class Term tooth tally so far: 7

Year tooth tally: 60

Overheard… at Pambula markets

By Vita Forest


As the figure above (who did bear a more than passing resemblance to our current prime minister) strolled among the stall holders…

From a taciturn stall holder watching grimly, “Bloke said to me we should push him in the ocean… I said – Nah, I wouldn’t do that to the fish.”

From a small child in a stroller pointing, “Look Mummy, it’s that scary man again!”

To a stall holder at a stall featuring a lot of cutting implements – “Hey Donnie, you got a good deal on scissors ay? Buy one, get a million free.”

And at another where a stall holder had just returned from a wander – “Mike saw me coming, he said – don’t you start in on your bargaining or I’ll double the price right away!”