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Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Parent's Guide to Going Back to School

Another school year! Seeing old friends; making new friends; new opportunities, adventures, and challenges. The beginning of September is always an exciting time. Children are eager, nervous, ecstatic, or (outwardly) nonchalantly glad to be one step closer to being finished. Parents are eager, worried, relieved and hopeful.

Here are a few simple suggestions for parents to make the first few weeks of the new school year smoother. It is very important to acknowledge that there are several people all working to give your child an education. Things go best if everyone is going in the same direction. Much more gets done through cooperation. So the first point is to understand the separate areas of responsibility.

Parents should be responsible for having their children ready to learn. This spans all the way from being fed and well rested to supporting the school and teacher. Children, especially young ones, although it is also true for teenagers, pick up their cues from the adults around them. If an adult is disrespectful of a teacher then it will be nearly impossible for the child to learn from that teacher.

You know your child best, that goes without argument. So help the teacher to understand your child. But remember that the teacher has many other students whom she is trying to learn at the same time. Patience is required. The class each year has its own dynamic. It takes a few weeks for a pattern to be established. Be patient and help your child to be patient. Teachers are super people but they don't have super powers!

The child is your responsibility but the classroom is the teacher's. They are responsible not only for your child but also for the safety and education of all the children. They are also trained professionals who are using their education and experience to give the best possible learning environment for all their students. Compromise is a part of any classroom, or indeed any group activity.

If, however, the compromises that you feel you have to make are too big or too crucial, then you have a responsibility to your child to act upon this. You can discuss the situation with the teacher, the principal, or the board. If that does not give satisfaction then you might have to consider other options, such as home schooling or private school.

No system can meet all the needs of all the children. The public system strives to meet most of the needs of most of the children. If you or your child want something different, it is up to you to find it. The worst thing to do is to complain about a teacher or school but do nothing to rectify the situation. You not only waste everyone's time but your attitude will rub off on your child and you will merely fulfil your fear that your child will not be well educated. Education does not rest solely on the shoulders of the teachers. The parents and students are vital participants.

So pack up the new pencils and backpacks. Kiss your child as they leave the nest again. And keep your usual watchful eye open. Change what you can change. Accept what you cannot change. And be wise enough to know the difference. (Serenity Prayer)

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Education Reform - Is it Possible?

Recently I completed my Masters of Education and the thing that really surprised me was to find that all the things I had complained about public education while my children and their friends were growing up had been discussed and commented on by education experts over 50 years ago!  If they knew the system didn't work back then, why do we still have the same system now?  Why does serious education reform seem to be impossible?  (I am not talking about the latest "flavour of the month" reforms which come and go all the time.)

There are, to simplify things, two main reasons change does not happen.  First, those who have the power and benefit from the current system are obviously resistant to change.  This might include bureaucrats, union members, tenured teachers, curriculum developers, textbook publishers, etc.  Second, is a basic human fear of change.  It doesn't work; it didn't work when we were in school; but at least it is familiar.  "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't."  Right?  Problem with that is you are always stuck with a devil.  Staying with a bad system leaves no hope for a good one to arise. 

I am not really an anarchist.  I am not advocating completely destroying the public school system and scrounging around for a substitute.  I am saying that if, as a society, we truly want to reform our education system, we are going to have to give up some of the safe secure (but failing) practices that we know. 

A way to start is to ask questions about the current system.  Just take a moment and try to think of your answers and if they are relevant.

1)    Why do we put children born in the same year all together?

2)    Why do we teach the subjects separately as if life is compartmentalized?

3)     Why do we see learning in school as separate from learning in life?

4)     Why do educators seek standard best practices for teaching when each child is different?

5)     Why does the student who blindly follows orders and does what he/she is told succeed the most in school?

6)     Why is imagination, breaking out of boxes, free expression usually frowned upon in class?

7)    What does school have to do with life?

Reform will happen one teacher, one administrator, one parent, one citizen at a time, if we want it to happen.  Otherwise, we will continue to fail our children and our society.   Or we will remove our children from the system and let it die - which would be the worst tragedy of all.  Except the tragedy of sacrificing another child on the altar of the "same old, same old."  Private schools and homeschools are there because the system is not listening.  So yell a little louder!