Right, this blog post pretty much sums up a current frustration of mine and I also know that it is a frustration shared by just about every parent I have known personally, plus a few more forthright parents of children I teach: they would love to know the exact results of tests that are set in the classroom. Do they want to know these results so that they can give the teacher grief for not working hard enough for their child? No. They want to know these results so that they can give their own child some aggro when it is evident that they have messed up, not paid enough attention, not revised enough or maybe just not cared at all. Once a year to find out some grades or percentages in exams sat in July (if you’re lucky) is not enough.
So much is made of trying to get children to do the right thing, maybe take ownership for their learning and generally try harder, but while many children do possess the right attitude and can see that hard work is the golden ticket to feeling good about oneself and one’s resultant academic prowess, many do not. Of course, schools try to work very hard to get children to a place where they are genuinely wanting to achieve, and this is even evident in primary schools where children are expected to show a ‘genuine love of learning and natural curiosity’ in observed lessons, but what about the children who still seem to be impermeable to messages about hard work? What about children who are just so much younger and need more guidance? What about children who are addicted to computer games?
As you know, I’ve been on a bit of a journey recently that is still far from finished. In my attempt to read all the books about education in the Far East I’ve learned about that higher level ‘je ne sais quoi‘ of motivation that the Chinese in particular have, and it is all to do with this belief that hard work is the key to success, not just because hard (academic) work results in better grades and general intelligence, but because the diligent pursuit of knowledge makes one a better person. Confucius or no Confucius, parents in the Far East are on their children’s cases constantly, watching and positively interfering with everything (impressive considering pretty much all mothers work full time). They can even see exactly what each child does in maths every day because the textbook tells them.
I’m on my children’s case, but I don’t know the full picture. When one of my sons let slide, after one of my daily dinner table badgerings about the school day, that he got 60% in a recent chemistry test, I was horrified. Both my sons are very academic actually, but peer pressure, video games and that laissez faire attitude that comes with seeing oneself as ‘good’ at everything does occasionally have a negative effect. I bet a million pounds that the children who got in the region of 30% for that chemistry test didn’t even tell their parents there was a test, let alone tell them their result. Why? Because they know damn well that there would be consequences. In my son’s case, he initially tried squirming his way out of my visible disappointment by given me some bullplop about how ‘60%’ was one of the best marks in the class, but on further questioning about particular subjects that he knew deep down he had covered in class and therefore should know, his shame became evident and he admitted to me that he was disappointed in himself, that he should’ve worked harder and that he could’ve been more proactive with revision, but it was too late by then because he had scored flippin’ 60% in that test. What could I have done? If I had known there was to be a test, I would have made him revise every day and shown me evidence of his revision before I let him play his precious video games; I would also let him know that I expect his result to be 100%. Then, I would have demanded the results of his test like an excited child.
Every parent I’ve known wants this kind of information! You could argue that it shouldn’t make a difference, and that if parents did the right thing like take their kids to museums, feed them quinoa and maybe read lovely stories to them constantly, then their children would somehow become academically self-sufficient from the age of 7. No chance. You could do the whole general, ‘Make sure you try hard in school today and make me proud!’ but it’s far too woolly. What works best is something specific like, ‘Make sure you get at least 90% in that Biology test about the structure and function of cells, or I’ll show your girlfriend a picture of you naked in the bath when you were a wee baby!’
I’m being demanding right now because I care about my sons’ education and because I know that even though they are generally good boys who do the chores, work *quite* hard and never disrespect their parents or their teachers, my sons still need the odd push from me to make sure that they are putting the effort in when that temptation to procrastinate and play video games is setting in. Why? Because they are not yet adults and because the price they would pay for not being able to act like perfect adults far outweighs the crime of slacking off infrequently.
So, if I could wave a magic wand, what would I change? I would want an automated email from their school letting me know exactly what they are studying at that moment (just one word will do) and when exactly a test would be (just a date); I would make sure I was quizzing my son about mitochondria! Then, an automated email with his test result would be great. This email can be sent from an unmanned account so that parents couldn’t reply (which would stop certain parents having a go at the teacher and maybe instead ask their own children what is going on). All it takes is a a few minutes a day for me to talk to my sons and put a bit of pressure on them to do well. If I don’t know this specific information, they won’t necessarily tell me because at the end of the day they are teenagers and tend to be a bit lethargic with their responses come dinner time. Also, my youngest son is seriously aloof and really struggles to organise his sock drawer, let alone organise himself to revise properly. I have absolutely no interest in what the teachers are doing because at the end of the day it is down to my sons to work hard, listen, ask good questions and they need to accept that teachers can’t make all the lessons mimic funky YouTube clips 100% of the time. I trust the teachers and I know all teachers care about children’s education otherwise they wouldn’t be a teacher, duh.
So, let’s have some more information from schools, some more raw data so we can keep the pressure on our children at home. I really believe this is a cheap and time-efficient way to massively improve results for primary and secondary schools around the country, as well as help motivate those children who are not mature enough to eschew all of life’s increasingly interesting distractions.
Who’s with me?