I’m exhausted. It’s been a tiring week.
First I read Teaching Tales, Learning Trails by Neeraja Raghavan, Vineeta Sood and Kamala Anilkumar and then watched Ken Robinson’s talk on Do schools kill creativity? And in between, I sat preparing my six-year-old daughter for her monthly review.
Within an hour of teaching, she lost patience. She became distracted and fidgety while I struggled to finish the portion. As we plodded along, my temper rose and so did hers. In reality, she’s a great kid. She’s sensitive, caring, listens to reason, is well behaved and actually is a good student. But at that point in time, none of that mattered. The dam broke. I lost it. While I screamed and she cried, she turned away from me. She wouldn’t look at me, answer or react. I stormed out in anger.
I went and sat at my little coffee table in the balcony upset and hurt. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t just finish her studies and then go play. I would never stop her. I was doing it for her own good. I didn’t want to make her cry but then if only she listened to me! As I heaved a sigh, my eyes rested on Teaching Tales, Learning Trailsthat lay there where I had left it after reading. Moments later, I was even angrier but this time with myself. Soon, guilt followed suit.
The book explores in story format, various instances that highlight the impact of the education system on the lives of teachers, principals, parents, and students alike. The one story that made me cringe was Testing Times. It focused on the dreaded word, ‘examinations!’ Student editors of the school magazine share the students’, teachers’ and parents’ reaction, understanding and apprehension about exams. This story opened a floodgate of memories.
I hated exams even though I’ve never failed to pass a test. Yes, I’ve scored average marks all my school life and my parents never pressurized me to score more. Yet I was scared. I knew I wouldn’t pressurize my daughter either. Then why was it that every time I sat to teach her, we’d end up in a deadlock? Could it be that I wanted her to do better than me? Did I have a problem with the word ‘average?’ Or was I simply reflecting my fear of ‘exams’ on to her?
Correction, please and Let me Dance included narratives that made me realize that perhaps like students, teacher’s performance too was assessed based on the class’s performance as a whole and not how they’ve been able to reach out to the outliers individually and develop their skills. The outliers being those who might have been slow, reluctant, had a learning disability or simply weren’t interested in the subject. From a student’s perspective that makes the most impact but guess from the school’s perspective, it’s not a priority.
I remembered an incident with my daughter. One of the English lessons spoke about a mother going to a fruit seller with her basket to buy fruits. Her notebook read, ‘what did mother give the fruit seller and the answer was she gave him her basket.’ But when I was teaching her she said, ‘the mother gave money to the fruit seller.’ Instinctively, I wanted to correct her but instead said, ‘yes she gave him money and then the basket.’ It was an eye-opener for me. I realized that my daughter was a thinking person and understood that when you buy something you have to pay for it. I also wondered, would the teacher have accepted her answer if she’d only mentioned money on the written test? I don’t think so.
Till date, my daughter has changed 3 schools – two preschools and the school she’s attending now. I was sceptical because I wondered if she’d have trouble adjusting because of the changes but I was pleasantly surprised. She gelled in so easily. Preschools are so much fun to make children love going to school. Teachers are their main attraction and everything they say or do is the gospel truth. Yet as these same children reach higher levels, school becomes a chore. Yes, what teachers say do continue to be the gospel truth but this time it has the opposite effect.
Without asking, I know how my daughter’s day at school went because most often she plays teacher-student by herself. Initially, it was funny but now I know it isn’t. As a teacher at every interaction with her students, she’s either screaming or being rude, punishing the kids and generally not being happy with them. Sometimes she doesn’t even allow them to talk to one another! Perhaps the frustration she feels in school and her inability to voice her emotions gets an upper hand at home. She expresses her anger through play knowing that a teacher’s anger is acceptable. I can imagine how she might imbibe within herself the notion that a person in authority has the power and control to express anger. And I can almost see her battle with that in future too.
When I see her like that, I feel terrible. I realize that I’m doing the same when teaching her. I too take out my frustrations under the guise of her good! And then my mind wandered around all the reasons why I feel frustrated, and it turned out to be more about me than her. And just like that, I understood the story Success or Failure. It shares a teacher’s plight. Irrespective of good intentions, she questions the evaluation process and how she could do right by every child when there are fifty children to look after? She’s concerned that extra attention to one child might have to be at the expense of the others’ learning. She feels guilty just thinking about it. It must be crazy the pressures they go through from preparing lesson plans, activities using different art forms, worksheets, unit test papers, corrections, extra-curricular activities, ensuring their representation at inter-school events etc. It does feel like there’s not enough time in the day. Under these circumstances, how can I blame them for being impatient and dismissive?
Somewhere as parents and teachers, we’re always looking out for the best interests of our children. Yet our methods most often leave much to be desired. As a parent, I do want her to learn at her own pace because conversationally it’s evident that she has a mind of her own and uses it. But when it comes to academics why does her confidence fail her?
If I actually allowed her to perform as well as she could without much emphasis on academics or marks, would the school allow her that leeway? Or would they call to inform us that our ward wasn’t performing according to their standards? Would she feel inadequate if compared with others in the class? Then again, if I did share my concerns with the teacher would she accept them at face value or as the teacher in Success or Failure, would she feel cornered, insecure and defensive?
The book has been an eye-opener. It’s raised some crucial questions for me that have made me rethink as to how I would like to parent my child with respect to her academics. I strongly believe it’s a must read for every parent and teacher who really wants to be mindful about making learning a fun experience. After all, for parents and teachers, understanding the mutual constraints and working together is in the child’s best interests.