No princesses around here

By Vita Forest

On Wednesday we had school photos.  We were called out during my maths lesson and marched up to the top grass under the trees.  We were arranged in three rows with me slotted in at the side and Milly gamely balancing on a high step brandishing her broken arm in front of her.  We were adjusted and readjusted – some children just did not want to be that close to certain other children and of course the child who has been known to lash out at others when he gets riled up was placed right in the centre of the group with bodies pressing in on him from all sides…

The camera snapped away and before anyone came to any harm, it was over.

Then we lined up again to have individual photos. On the way we checked our hair and our shirts and our collars, and tried to get our fringes to behave, and tried to decide whether plaits should be swept forward or behind our shoulders, and whether glasses should be left on if they catch the light, and whether the boys shirts should really be tucked in when they really look so much better tucked out…

I led the class in its snaking line down past the play equipment and up the ramp into the hall.  I sat on a stool  with my kids looking on and smiled at the camera and was asked to repeat ‘Cocktails!’ and ‘Holidays’ and ‘Weekend!’ (that is what teachers like apparently).  When I was done, I went out of the hall and found some shade and waited for my line of kids to feed into the production line for their photo and get popped out the other side.

A boy or two ambled up and sat down to wait and then a rather cranky looking girl.

‘What’s up T?’ I asked.

‘She made me say “Princess’” she scowled.  ‘Then “Cheeky Monkeys” but “Princess!”  Alan did you have to say “Princess”?’

Apparently not.  Apparently the boys got to say “Elephant’s Undies” and other such manly things.

The survey continued as the rest of the class trickled out, there were no “Princesses” among the boys, only the girls were asked to say that word.  My sassy girls of eight and nine continued to discuss the outrage of being asked to say “Princess” – I mean, As IF!

We went back to the classroom and continued on with the presentation of their free choice speeches.  The best speakers will go on to the next round and may eventually represent the school at an inter-school competition.  There were some excellent speeches from some of the little characters in my class.  Some of the topics chosen included – ‘why our school should not get a pool’ (the rest of the class took some convincing), ‘Termites and how great they are’ (after this girl’s garage collapsed after, you guessed it, termites destroyed it), and my personal favourite – ‘why this public speaking competition is ‘the worst’’.  Stacey, who wrote and presented this gem ended it by saying, ‘But Ms F, I really would like to get through to the next round!’ (and she did.  She’ll get a merit award for it next week too).

Later that day we were hunted down in the computer room.

‘Come quick Ms F!  We want you to hear the band!’ (The band for our performance group, the band who are rehearsing together for the third time).  Again we left our tasks, again 28 children lined up in two rather wonky lines and again we left the great indoors and wove around buildings and play equipment and garden beds and bins, lured by the fabulous music that wafted through the empty playground beckoning us on like the Pied Piper.  My class sang and even danced as they recognised the song and we moved ever closer to the source of the music.  The band was arranged outside of the hall under the trees (they couldn’t be inside today  – it was School Photo Day) and when we arrived, they began again, with my pal, the fabulous band teacher, conducting them with gusto.  It was peaceful under the trees, the bass player lounging against a wall, the saxophonists blowing gamely into their instruments.  The tune was there and the tempo, it was an exhilarating start!  We all applauded and I told them how thrilled I was.  And then we stood up again and lined up again and walked back to the computer room for a very short lesson…

And later that afternoon we were outside again with our lovely art teacher (because she couldn’t be in the hall because it was School Photo Day – very tolerant, flexible people are teachers) and the kids were painting trees and lying on the grass and talking about mixing colours and the shapes in the bark and how one tree looked like a person or maybe a peace sign and some kids painted the trees red with yellow leaves even though they are brown with green leaves and I just thought, despite how tired I felt, that this was, after all, a good day.

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Homework sentences

By Vita Forest

Actually not by Vita Forest – these are a selection of homework sentences from my class this week…  (the main focus were words that change their form completely when a plural is made).

Men are different to women because they get head lice more often and have bigger feet.”

“Twins are very similar to each other.”

“One man wearing a bright orange shirt stood out in a group of men wearing black uniforms.”

“A teaspoon and a tablespoon have a similar shape.”

“The climate in Sydney is really hot and there is a bit of lighting (sic).”

“I watched some similar YouTube clips they were all about this dude that jumped off London Bridge.”

“Most people in my class don’t have lice.”

Thank goodness for that…

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.