There's a little girl I know who sits in class everyday and just doesn't get it. She is five, she is year 1, she is summer born. She knows her phonics sounds, she is blending, she can read. On the surface the teacher thinks she has done her job - she has ticked all of the targets off the list. So why doesn't she get it?
I asked her what happens in class:
"What do you do if you don't understand?"
"I put my hand up"
"Then what happens?"
"The teacher comes over and explains, she asks me to try again"
"And do you?"
"I try to but I just don't get it"
"Then what happens?"
"And then I put my hand up again and it is the end of the lesson, the teacher gets us to stay in at lunchtime if our work isn't finished".
Now this might sound like teacher bashing and it really isn't, teachers are the most hard working, dedicated and inspiring people you will meet. As a teacher myself though it upset me that this child felt that she was being punished for not getting it.
Teachers aren't lying when they tell you of the pressures they are under in class to get their children to the right stage. The pressure that teachers are under to tick the boxes is immense. Teachers are observed, their books and marking scrutinised, the classroom environments and displays monitored. Being a teacher often feels like being under a microscope, constantly monitored.
For this teacher she needed work in the child's book, the teaching assistant was supporting the lowest ability children in the class and there was no one to work with the middle ability child that is disengaged but can read and write sentences even if she doesn't know what they say.
Another conversation this time with a parent:
My son loves story telling, his imagination is enormous, he will tell you stories with rich characters and amazing adventures. He started off writing loads at school but now he only writes short sentences. He is so worried about his handwriting and spelling that he just doesn't have time to get his story down on paper.
There is so much division in education right now, between leaders, teachers and parents and even sometimes children. How children learn is such an emotive subject, great parents are emotionally invested in their own children, teachers work hard to try and ensure that children meet their targets and also love learning so where are we going wrong? Why don't we get it yet?
The truth as I see it is that we have moved away from trust both in teachers and in parents. We have moved away from giving teachers the freedom to use their own common sense. So much about wanting to become a teacher is about the magic of introducing new ideas to children but the reality is that so much of what you teach is decided for you that the creativity is all but squeezed out of teaching these days.
You know that expression there is more than one way to skin a cat? Well not so much in the teaching world apparently.
We have also moved away from family, as a society we need to do more to help parents spend more time at home with their children, to not have to go back to work so quickly. Parents are actively encourage to take children to nursery for "their development" and lots of my friends were baffled when I said my first child wasn't going to one, "but won't they miss out"?
The truth is no matter how amazing you are as a nursery worker, teacher or educator you aren't the parent, there is no substitute for love and family.
This is not to say that all parents need to stay home, it isn't for everyone and I have plenty of friends who would choose work over being at home any day. The point is it is about choice and so many parents don't have a choice. The culture seems to be send your child to nursery and go back to work because if you don't...
Parents feel disconnected from what their children are learning at school and parents with preschool children often don't feel they have the support to help their child on the pathway to learning. Some parents go bonkers and buy all the learning books, others focus more on play and prefer to do nothing rather than get it wrong.
As a teacher I have cried, felt exasperated, failed, succeeded and have poured my heart and soul into helping the children as many teachers do. As the focus shifts away from families the teacher role has grown into that of councillor, social worker, speech therapist, even chief buyer for many of the classrooms here in the UK.
For me the focus should be on those early years, giving parents real advice and support and helping them feel empowered. The phonics and maths meetings in reception are great but for some children too little too late.
Early support, trust, empowerment and family should be the focus as well as celebrating the uniqueness of every fantastic teacher that we have who works their socks off most evenings for our children.