Monday, January 28, 2013

A teacher's worst nightmare

When I picked up Jordan from school one day last week, she was in tears. It didn't take me long to figure out that it was something that had happened in her creative writing class. She had said she wanted to learn how to make stories and the school was offering an after-school creative writing class so we signed her up for it.

But when she came to me sobbing about how her entire piece of work got cancelled out and how she was no good at it, I questioned how creative it actually was. Granted, the girl can't spell to save her life although I give her credit for trying to sound words out phonetically, but there had to be a better way of encouraging creative writing. What made my blood boil was her attempt at self-flagellation where she had written on the back of the page in awful spelling- "I am not good at writing."

Evidently, the teacher saw her crying and saw us talking to someone from the school (on a totally different matter, but she didn't know that) and figured she had better follow up with us.

Points given to her for calling us.

But when she did, that was when her day got very bad, very quickly. I think she thought that she was going to skate by, asking after Jordan and declaring that she would keep a closer eye on Jordan.
What she did not expect was someone on the other side of the phone well versed in pedagogical approaches, who proceeded to grill her on how she ran the class, what processes she used to get the children to come up with ideas for the stories and how she provided scaffolding for the children.

The reason why I did that was because of the  mental strife that was battling on in my head.  My instinct was to rip this teacher, who made my daughter cry, a new one. But as a teacher, I knew how a parent like that could entirely spoil my day and I would spend the rest of the day pissed off and muttering under my breath. So to prevent myself from spiraling into a Mommy monster, I employed the  false calm, the type of calm one learns after having had to deal with parents who think the world of their kids and to treat her like I would a trainee teacher, grilling her on the execution of the lesson. 

By the end of it, she sounded wobbly even though I had not raised my voice, spoken calmly and rationally and had mostly left her to do the talking although interjecting to ask a question here and there.

My suggestions to her, all the while employing techniques learnt in counselling to affirm the individual, were to perhaps ask the child how the child got to that point in the story and since she claimed that she had had time to go through the story with Jordan, to point out the mistakes to Jordan so that she could erase it and do it on the spot rather than have large segments cancelled out in red. I asked that she try to encourage the children, who were only into their second time doing this creative writing thing. I also pointed out to her that there was a difference between 'supporting' and 'encouraging' and that putting a whole bank of words on the board was the former rather than the latter.

My comment to Packrat after that was that I had taken for granted that everyone knew how to scaffold and knew how to carry out Socratic questioning. And by the end of it, we had both decided that Jordan would finish this term of Creative writing but we would take over after this.

I had sat with her to do corrections. CORRECTIONS; that the teacher demanded of her (even that boggled the mind)! But that was beside the point. When I sat with her and did it with her, asking her questions, getting her to write down the sentences and getting her to spell phonetically the words that she could, she came up with a nice little story that flowed and had hints of the Very Hungry Caterpillar.

She was so proud of the piece that she read it to Packrat and she stuck it to the back of her original piece; covering up her deprecating comment about her own ability.

She did ask me, however, if I could clean off all the cancellations off the original. That, Packrat and I had already decided that we ought to leave there because while we are protective and hate that the teacher made her cry, we also need to teach her that the consequence of her distracted, unfocussed mind would be the need to accept corrections.  

Yet another reason why teachers make terrible mothers!

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  1. Oh, poor Jordan! I think some teachers get so bogged down with stress from managing kids and their paperwork that they forget that they're supposed to be nurturing young minds. Alison's Chinese teacher has been telling the class repeatedly that they are going to fail their PSLE. I suggested that the teacher might be employing reverse psychology but this was roundly rejected by Alison. I know it's not easy to be a teacher but I wish teachers wouldn't take it out on hapless kids.

  2. Wee Stories, I think Primary school teachers are under an inordinate amount of stress. After all, they are made to take mock PSLE Math papers etc. But that said, I agree. Teachers should never take it out on the kids. They should take it out on the administration! Mwhahaha!

  3. That's great! I learnt a lot from this entry of yours. Thanks for sharing the pedagogical approach. I love the happy ending and enjoy Jordan's second version of the story. Even the handwriting was immaculate!
    Yes, glad you decided to spend the good money on something else when clearly, the best is to take over when the term ends.

  4. Impressed that you kept your cool! I don't know much about teaching approaches, but I fail to see how red lines and cancellations have their place in a creative writing class!

  5. Evelyn, in my head I was hurling obscenities at her. But on the phone, I was desperately trying to keep the condescension from my voice. I think that helped me keep my cool, being distracted by another hard task!


  6. Ivy, her writing is immaculate and I think that's why she was so upset the teacher cancelled out half her stuff!