Or, things ain’t what they used to be.
I went to a parents’ evening the other night. It’s not usually something I look forward to, seeing as there is too much hanging around sitting on too-small chairs for my liking, but I was keen to go to this one. This one was my first as the parent of a mainstream secondary school child. And I was impressed.
The chairs were the right size, there were plenty of people shuttling around who I knew from toddler group days (oh, my, haven’t they grown), the heating was on nice and high (a little too high in one room) and, joy of joys, not every teacher was younger than me. (When we went to have a look round it was rather disconcerting to find myself a good fifteen years older than some of the young whippersnappers who have the temerity to work there.) And there, sat in the corner, demonstrating a refreshing lack of respect for the data, was a Proper Teacher. A proper teacher with a proper tweedy jacket and a proper beardy beard (none of this bushy business the young folk seem so inexplicably fond of for this gentleman) who taught a proper subject. Mine.
The conversation between us dashed about, leaving my younger son somewhat squirmy and my elder nonplussed and I got up from the table feeling like I had reconnected with my tribe. Here was the sort of teacher I recognised. His enthusiasm for his subject, and his love of teaching children, in particular ones, like my son, who got his jokes (although he sees nothing funny in calling him Mr T), fizzed from him. Here, thought I, here was the Real Deal. This man would carry my son, and other children like him, on a journey into academic study on the coat tails of his infectious enthusiasm. They would be inspired.
But it was more than that. Every single teacher gave me the strongest impression that they knew my son. Not only did they know who he was, he wasn’t a faceless speck amongst the many floating through their classrooms on a weekly basis; to them, he was a person with strengths and weaknesses that they knew and cared about. It was both a pleasure and a relief.
You see, those big secondaries are just so different to Primary. Sometimes I feel as if A has stepped onto another planet. There, he shuttles from room to room, here, in my world, they are based in one, with little to no chance that they will lose their pen or their ruler, or anything else they need for learning. There he has access to specialist classrooms and teachers with in-depth knowledge of their subjects that we just don’t. Our modes of operation and our specialisms are, well, different.
In primary it doesn’t take til half way through the school year before we have the evening that lets the parents know how they are getting on, whether there’s anything we ought to be communicating between us. We get to know them so much quicker, so much better in primary. I mean, as Teachers of Everything, we see the children in a much more holistic way. We’re the ones who sort out the playtime squabbles, make sure they’ve eaten their lunch, direct lessons on ‘how to be good friends’. We make connections with their learning across the curriculum, from Maths to Science to Music to English; we see it all, we are in charge of it all; we can comment on it all.
Well, apart from PE. We might not teach that if it falls in our PPA time. Or Science, or D&T. Or French. Any of those defined subjects it’s easy for an unqualified teacher, but specialist nevertheless to take. Like Music, if we have a dedicated music teacher, because playing an instrument doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite of a primary life any more, what with all that you can do with the internet and an interactive whiteboard these days.
Oh, and those children who go to another set for English and Maths. We can’t really talk about them because they aren’t in our set. What with sorting our own groups out, we haven’t time to go chasing round the school finding out what they’re doing for other people and what they think of them, no. Or the children who go out for an intervention with the TA. It’s a pity that we don’t get much time to talk about what she’s doing out there all that time, but, after all, she’s not paid to be here before or after the children, even though she does, and what can you do about that? What matters is that the children are getting the support, doesn’t it?
Oh, and there’s those ones who go out to work with her where it’s quieter and they can get more attention, it’s so easy to overlook them, you know the ones with SEN. I mean they spend so much time out there and the TA is so capable, so experienced (she was here years before we were, back in the days when a classroom assistant washed the pots and put displays up), she knows them so well, she always gets such lovely work out of them and it leaves us classroom teachers more time to devote to the rest of the class, to give the others the attention they, too, deserve. The classroom is so nice and quiet when they are out with her, I sometimes forget they are there, the rest of us are so busy.
But still. We still know them better than they do. Don’t we?