Parents and Teachers

After I have become a parent, I start to review the way I teach, the things I do, and the things I say. Instead of just being a teacher, I start to put myself in the shoes of the parents, and think of what they really want to hear, and how exactly we can help them.

It is all too easy to say ‘your son needs to pay more attention in class’, ‘your daughter did not do her homework’ and ‘your son is weak in English’. It is as if parents have the magical answers to solve these problems themselves. If they had the answers, they would not need the teachers.

Now that I am a parent, I finally understand how important words can be. I am also able to observe my sons’ teachers, and learn from them.

For example, my son’s former teachers would keep me updated on his progress. They would always have something nice to say when I picked him up from school. When there were issues, they highlighted them to me, but they offered suggestions, and they worked on the problems in school too. Of course, the class size is very small, with 5 to 8 students, and there are 2 teachers in the classroom, so they could really work their magic.

That was big in contrast to my son’s new teacher, who just said that it was the first day of school and she had nothing to say about my son. If there were issues, then she would contact me. I felt terrible when I heard that. Did she care about my son? Perhaps it was because the class size is much bigger at this new school, with around 20 students, and she had too many students to observe in a short period of time.

I had read books that said I should contact parents right at the start, and I should say nice things, but I never really got to it. There are 40 in a class, and with my other subject classes, I had more than 160 students. With all the time spent on lesson preparation, marking, holding CCAs, and attending workshops and meetings, there was little time left. By the time I called, it was usually to inform them about misbehaviours or poor results.

During parent-teacher meetings, we mainly talk about results and behaviours. Sometimes parents take leave to come to the meetings, and they end up hearing things that they do not know how to handle.

I had been listening to How to Talk so Kids Can Learn, and there was a section on how parents feel about teachers, and how teachers feel about parents. One point was quite poignant. Feedback from teachers are seen as a report card on the parents’ parenting skills. So when a teacher calls to say the child has misbehaved, the parent feels as if he or she has been dealt an ‘F’ on the report card.

In addition, sometimes by the time teachers call, it is near to impossible to complete 15 assignments within a week when marks are due. I am guilty of that, and that is why I have made up my mind to improve myself.

Conversations should be two-way. The teachers should find out more from the parents, and offer solutions. In my first year of teaching, my colleague told that to me, and I am very grateful to her for constantly sharing with me.

I had started the year poorly, by calling parents up to tell them their children’s hairstyles were unacceptable. The next round of calls I had to make was not better. The students had not completed their work. I decided to look for something positive I could say about their child, which delighted them, before I talked about the issue. There were really positive things about their child. They had been friendly, helpful, and they had made some improvements from previous years. Of course, I still have room for improvement and I should by calling them much earlier to establish a positive relationship before I have to talk about something negative.

With regards to praises and criticisms, the audio recording also mentions that it is important to describe the behaviour, instead of making judgments on the character. For example, if your child comes home with a good piece of work, don’t just say, ‘Fantastic, you are a genius!’ The child may feel that you are insincere, and he may also feel that he does not deserve it. Instead, say that I am proud that you managed to spell nine words correctly, or you have revised sufficiently for the chapter.

If there is something to improve, do not label the child stupid or naughty. Just state the behaviour.

At the same time, parents should not be over-demanding, or do helicopter parenting by hovering constantly around the child and the teacher. Of course, this is much better than parents who do not do anything.

I am still learning from many people.

El Practises The Piano

It is still early days, but I am seeing some changes in El’s attitude towards piano. After I had posted the post on how it is a struggle to get my child to practise piano on Facebook, many friends gave suggestions on how they get their children to practise.

I think after the concert, he finally saw the rationale. There were opportunities to perform and entertain. He had stated he wanted to perform at the next concert. With a purpose, there was meaning in the lessons. After telling his teacher, she said she might hold a mini concert at her other home to encourage her students to play more.

I guess he needs to see it as a social activity. Some friends have suggested letting him go for group music lessons, but I do not have the time to go for the lessons together, so I will just continue to have individual classes for him.

I encourage him to practise every day by asking him to play a song a day. That would take less than five minutes on a few occasions. This is a trick that I have learnt. When you want children to do something you want, you give them choices that both point to the same result. I ask him whether he wants to practise the first song, or the second song. Both options mean he will play the piano.

In the beginning, I had to coax him that I would only require 3 minutes of his time to practise a song. His attention span is still pretty short, so as long as he goes through one song relatively well, I let it go. The accuracy and precision can come later.

I am also making use of benefits. If he plays the piano, he can do something. Usually he gets to do almost everything he wants, so it was a little hard to implement at first. However, it worked when the reward was something he wanted to do.

Next, I make use of extrinsic rewards. I give him stickers on a few occasions when I feel that he has played well. He is very proud of them. However, I do not want him to ask for them as ultimately, intrinsic motivation is more important. Just recently, he discovered the type of stickers I had, and he asked for a crocodile and a gazelle for practising two songs. He immediately stuck them on his water bottle. I hope he will not demand them every time he practises.

I also praise him directly, and in front of others, when I discover he has managed to move on to new pieces. He came back with a big sticker on one of his pieces, and I pointed that out. He was very pleased.

He was reaching the end of the book, and there was a graduation song at the back. I went through that song with him, and told him that he was graduating from book 1, and going on to book 2, just like how he has graduated from nursery, and is moving on to k1. My mother told me that he played the song on his own during class, and did not want the teacher to help him. He was also able to move forward to new songs in a week, instead of taking many weeks because he did not practise.

Perhaps, I think it helps also that songs in the book became more tuneful towards the end, as they start playing more notes. He is currently able to play C-G with both hands.

I think the greatest joy when I see him rush to the piano when we go to my parents’ place. He would climb up to the seat, and play. Just two days ago, when I came home from work, I took out his book and expressed delight that he had moved on to the new book. He had learnt two new songs, so I asked him whether he would like to play them for me. To my surprise and joy, he played them on his own.

As a mother, I have to set routines for him. It is really hard because I only see him for a short period of time during dinner, but I cannot shirk my responsibilities. I am constantly learning and improving myself. I am glad for the December holidays because I got to accompany him to the lessons, and see for myself how exactly he was faring. Only then was I able to make changes.

Like I have said, it is still early days, but like what his teacher told my mother, he is like a budding flower. I only wish that I do not get any constant interference from other people that may hinder his progress.

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