Same team, not opposing team

hteacher problem

This image has being going the rounds for some time now and it bothers me because (a) I have been on both sides of that desk and (b) it misses the point about teachers and parents. Teachers and parents are on the same team: team "Make it possible for your child to be happy and successful".

Someone in a comment thread for asked me about becoming a teacher: whose fault is it if a child gets bad marks?

This was my reply

It's a fabulous job, but very, very demanding. I think it is not really useful to talk about whose "fault" it is if teaching a child did not succeed.  I have students who it is hard to get through to, but that is actually the job: I am trying to present material and diagnose problems in understanding the material in ways that will work for all my pupils. If that did not work it is a function of my presentation, the medium it passed through and the ability of the student to receive it.

I do not always succeed, in getting through because the task is complex and it changes for every student in every lesson and literally with the weather outside: try teaching exponents to tired teens on a Friday afternoon after they got cold and wet and had a tough gym lesson. Try understanding factoring quadratics when the boy you like is obviously obsessed with your best friend.

I have found parents to be supportive and helpful and they have found me to be an absolute fan of their child rather than a harsh critic. I have been on the other side of the table and loathe those conversations in which a frustrated teacher is unloading about a classroom situation that you have never experienced at home.

A class recently said to me, in several individual voices,  "we are a not a very nice class are we?" and I responded with all the passion and conviction that I possess that I liked them very much, that we did not always get on behaviour-wise, but that did not mean that they were not great kids and fun to know.

If you do decide to become a teacher, be aware that it will draw on your deepest reserves and teach you a good deal about the kind of person you really are. It gets very close to home and you will sometimes shed tears of all kinds.




Today my class cheated.

After the classes are over  on Friday at my school we all get together in the staff room, have a drink and talk about the day, about the stuff that happened, about our triumphs and mistakes. It is a nice way of shedding the week, not taking too much home. There is a fierce commitment in this job, a profound idealism that is not easy to wear, not handy to take home, so we talk it out.

So I was not expecting the head of the senior school to take me aside and tell me that my kids were cheating.

She had been called by a parent, because their child had received a photograph of the test paper, the test I had given today, and warned them. The two classes involved are pretty good kids, but I am under no illusions. Kids can be individually absolute sweethearts, but collectively fairly merciless.

Smartphones make this possible. All  my students have them (which is a wonderful thing) and it only takes a moment of inattention for a photo to be taken and shared. I was keeping an eye out, but also working on a stack of marking: looks like I missed a trick.

It was otherwise an easy day the day, only two classes, both taking a test and I was well prepared. The room was not very quiet - the older classes were getting a disco-themed lesson on sexually-transmitted diseases just down the hall, but their real problem was question 7. Question 7 was s a chunk of real mathematics, real problem-solving, look at this from a couple of angles challenge.

The deputy was sympathetic and pragmatic. "Don't worry too much", she said with the cheerful gravitas of the very, very experienced. "This happens and it even happens to very experienced teachers." We did a little damage assessment and it looks like I don't need to do any marking this weekend.

It is dumb. Whoever did this will probably cause his or her class to take the test again. Mathematics, certainly the way I teach it and mark it, is not very much about a singular answer, but a great deal about using the right process, building the right steps. if you copy my test paper and work out the perfect steps, perhaps with the help of one of my best students, you have actually just educated yourself. You cannot apply the advantage you gained without doing quite a lot of learning.

So it looks like I have the weekend off and my fourth-years are in for a tough time.



angry schoolgirl

Renata is a bit of a pest. You name it, she has a comment and a judgement that rubs Danny (smart, short-fuse) in the middle row the wrong way. Her snapping black eyes follow me and her sharp tongue is ready with a complaint if something in the lesson does not suit her view.

She scolded me roundly about the test: I had had it more than two weeks (marking really backed up something wicked) and Renata was not pleased with me. It was all the more annoying because she was right and I felt guilty about it, but I suppressed my irritation and after classes were over, finally got everything marked.

She had worked hard. The test had been laid out, diagrams and steps with painstaking precision. It beautiful and logical. She had obviously studied hard, so on the way home, groggy and slumped on the bus I bit the bullet and called her parents.

There is always a slight pause when teacher calls and I made it a little worse by starting with "Renata was rather cross with me today," but I hastened to add "and she was right. You should tell her, she got a 10 for her maths test". Her mother sighed with relief, "Thank goodness, she sets the bar so high and worries so much. Would you like to tell her yourself?"

So I did. I got to hear that sharp little voice soften with relief and swell with pride. Renata is hard on me, but harder on herself, so it looks like we both caught a break today.