Thursday, 13 March 2014

Should parents be teachers?

I think most would answer "yes" to that but there is a suggestion on today's page three that the teaching should go far beyond what most people would think of as parental teaching.
It seems parents should be "teaching children fractions while cutting up the potatoes" - or perhaps they should teach them long division with grains of rice? Apparently parents should also go back to school themselves to learn how to teach these things to their children.
Right. Let's just halt it there.
I once taught in a primary school. I admit it was not for very long and it was a long time ago. Since then I have followed the progress of assorted niece, nephews, neighbours, children in the surrounding streets (including Ms Whirlwind) and young users of the library. My teaching time seems to have been very straightforward. There was a classroom. There was a blackboard. The children sat at individual desks facing the blackboard - for most lessons. They did some group work and some individual progression. We used the library a lot. There was a curriculum but, within that, there was enough flexibility for them to pursue something that really caught their attention. We did not bother with debates about what was "fair" - although we sometimes took a vote on what would happen.
All but one of the children I taught could read well by the end of the year - in fact, when I took over the library the following year, I had trouble keeping them out of the library when they should have been in the classroom. Even the non-reader seemed happy enough in the library.
My niece and nephews seemed to get some of the classroom discussions about "what should be done about what should be done" as my youngest nephew once neatly put it. They were always irritated by the waste of time. In reality there was very little of it in their schools. I doubt the parents would have tolerated that sort of thing. They were paying for the children to learn - and learn they did. They all have at least one university degree.
The Whirlwind has similarly seen very little of it in her school. Work there is often intense. It is seen as an "academic" school. It suits her - and most of the other girls too.
But the Older-boy-next-door has just started his third year at school. He complained to me yesterday that it was "boring". On inquiring a little further I discovered that, yet again, there had been - in his view - a lengthy discussion about something "but we didn't do anything".
He gets homework - reading, spelling and maths problems. His mother is not a native English speaker so he sometimes comes to me for help. His father is well able to do the maths - but not in the way the child is being taught to approach the problems at school. I have seen some of the other work this child is supposed to be doing - all part of an apparently tightly controlled curriculum.
I know the amount children are now expected to know has greatly increased since I taught but I wonder if it is all really necessary. At least some of it seems to be there because "it's politically correct for children to know about these things".
Personally I would cut almost all of it out. I would teach the children to read and then let them loose in a library with real books and the requirement that they read. Of course I would teach them to use a computer - and even use it for research. It's the way many things happen now. But, I would still let them loose among books and guide them gently when they needed it. They could report back. They could report the thrill of discovery without the confines of "work sheets".
But the idea of turning the peeling and cutting of potatoes into a maths lesson because school is full of other things disturbs me. I doubt parents have time even if they had the desire. It is not the sort of teaching parents should be expected to do. Who wants to eat a maths lesson?


Miriam Drori said...

I remember a piano teacher telling me off because I hadn't taught my daughter to read music. After a full day at work and with two other children to look after and meals to prepare, I was supposed to teach something I knew but had no experience of teaching, using different terms from the ones I was used to. I didn't.

catdownunder said...

Um...wasn't that the job of the piano teacher? Sister Stephanie taught me to read music even though I wasn't learning to play an instrument.
I wonder why they think children go to school.