I am working with a few children throughout the summer holiday period doing one to one tuition. I love this. I love this because in an ideal world, you ask any busy classroom teacher, any teacher would love the opportunity to be able to work one to one with a child for just 15 minutes let alone half an hour! You can do soooooo much in this time. This got me thinking about ‘teaching and teachers in general’ It got me thinking about how to realistically help the dyslexics out there because as I stated in a previous post there are 2 sides to every story, and perhaps in order to make the biggest difference we need to consider the teachers side. With the best will in the world are classroom teachers realistically in a position to do all that needs to be done and make the changes necessary to support a dyslexic learner?
For me personally teaching is one of the most magical, fulfilling and privileged things to be able to do. When asked to teach we are given the permission and the power to shape, stretch, inspire and teach an eager brain which is like a sponge desperate for water, a brain is desperate for knowledge. This is why I went into teaching and this was what I loved and lived for in my first few years of teaching.
Slowly but surely though it became so difficult to hold on to those initial thoughts and feelings and I forgot what I was there for because of the pressures of class size, curriculum delivery and let’s face it unrealistic government expectations. My judgements and love for teaching became tainted and a love-hate balancing act took over.
This love-hate relationship began because I knew I couldn’t give all the children what they needed all of the time and this was frustrating. Actually it was infuriating and soul destroying. I was an intuitive teacher and I didn’t see potential levels in front of me, I saw eager faces all with different needs and different stories to tell that would affect their performance on any given day. Also their experiences of life would affect how they comprehended what I presented and what I could realistically expect from them. I could see the children that needed pushing, I could see the children who were coasting and I could see the children who needed extra support. The trouble was there was only one of me and at least thirty of them.
Being a teacher is exhausting… Never let anyone tell you any different. 30 kids constantly asking questions, having misconceptions, needing the toilet, wanting to tell you something, falling out, not getting it, getting it too quickly, not getting it at all, feeling poorly, talking too much, not talking enough, sharpening pencils, looking for erasers and amongst all of this we are supposed to teach a set curriculum and specific skills to an outstanding standard for 6 hours, roughly 5 lessons a day! On top of this primary practitioners need to be experts in English, maths, science, music, pe, art, design, computing, languages, geography, history and the list goes on. Oh and have expert knowledge in how to support pupils with additional needs… I know the flippant remarks and constant facebook slandering which suggest teachers having a cushy 9-3 job and 13 weeks holiday a year, but let’s not rehash old controversial debates. They are irrelevant to this post because I want you to see if from a teachers perspective. Just for a minute I want you to stand in their shoes.
Yes we get 13 weeks holiday, but a good teacher will either be working at least half of these 13 holiday weeks planning, preparing a classroom, marking, assessing and reading for professional development. If they are not working during their 13 weeks it will be because they ploughed in 65-70 hours a week in term time, parents evenings, report writing (these take roughly 45 mins a pupil, not to mention the proof reading) planning, marking, assessing, staff meetings, inset and so on… and are so exhausted they are sleeping! Most teachers don’t moan about this, they just get on with it. We accept it is our job, and the profession which we chose. Yes we did choose it and the majority of us love it and are dedicated to the point of often sacrificing our own family and children’s needs in attempt to be good at our jobs.
So imagine this… a state primary school teacher is juggling all this mentioned above and I come along with my blue sky vision exemplar specialist dyslexic teaching strategies… It is no surprise that it doesn’t filter through… A teacher is exhausted, a teacher doesn’t have space in their head to take on new ideas quickly and more to the point how on earth does a teacher fit it into an already bursting at the seams timetable? In my experience most teachers are willing and desperate to make a difference and learn more about dyslexic difficulties and other additional needs wanting to know how to help them.This is not the barrier.
The barrier is how they fit another ball into their juggling act without dropping one. Another need, another set of strategies and approaches when lets face it, in reality, most teachers have levels and ofsted in the back of their minds ALL the time and are doing their best but are constantly told or it is implied by government guidelines delivered by school improvement or the head teacher that their best is not good enough or can be improved upon. Good progress is now not good enough, we need to be aiming for outstanding? So when I go in with my blue sky vision of exemplar dyslexic teaching and all the changes and adaptations they need to make to meet the needs of between 5 and 3 pupils in their class how far do I push it? How far can I push it?
Teachers are rarely told they do a good job! I know… it’s a job you say. You are all saying that no one appreciates the job you do either. I am not expecting you all to gush and constantly praise us. This is not what we want either. However to recognise and acknowledge when we have made a little difference would go a really long way. As human beings we need to feel fulfilled and motivated, and in order to feel motivated and fulfilled we need to know we are moving forward or getting something positive out of what we are doing. If teachers are constantly berated and told to improve all the time it makes the job feel fairly relentless and takes out all the enjoyment but more importantly than enjoyment is the enthusiasm. All of our enthusiasm is sucked into a spiral of our best is never good enough. We know children don’t and can’t learn in this way, being told that what they do is not right. We know when we teach children we need to focus on the positives, so why on earth do we think fully grown adults will learn by being told what is wrong… Surely we need to push teachers forward with praise rather than pointing out all of the flaws in their teaching.
Interestingly the children I am working with this summer are not children who have parents who pile pressure on their children to work harder, they are not pushing them. The children and parents work really hard in term time but are conscious they are behind and want to keep up so in the autumn term they can begin feeling like they have a chance of keeping up! They are children who have glowing reports for effort but weak attainment and the parents report that the class teacher has done the best they can but as parents they acknowledge that the teachers do not have the time to do what is needed to meet their child’s individual needs. The parents know they can’t PUSH the class teachers anymore… It would be an unrealistic and unfair request
This strikes a bit of a chord for me because I was very divided for a long time over whether to get additional tuition for my son. He has never hated school, but school was hard for him. I have always been pleased with his teachers and I know they have done their best for him. Often gone beyond what I could have asked for or expected but I knew he needed some additional help and support. I was also divided because I knew from being a teacher in a busy classroom that the teachers were doing all they could and I did not want to upset them, but he needed a bit of one to one and more than they could offer. That was not that the teachers were not doing a good job, but they could not realistically deliver what he needed in a classroom of 30 pupils! I was divided because I didn’t want to be a pushy mother and attempt to turn him into something he couldn’t possible ever be, he also is exhausted at the end of a school day. I knew though that if I did not push him a bit he would flounder… He has been having 1 hour of tuition a week for 2 years now, he loves it. It is the best money we spend each week because he is so keen to go and has grown in confidence massively. Alongside this the gap between him and his peers is finally closing slightly. I needed to push for this to happen, but I had to think about who to push and in which direction to push.
This got me thinking even further… Perhaps supporting dyslexics and raising the profile is not solely about skilling teachers up! Perhaps teachers already know and see and are already willing. Perhaps it has little to do with knowledge at this point. Perhaps it is a way bigger issue than this… Big being the key word. Perhaps it is about class size. Teachers in state schools are expected to do so much with a class size of 30 it is becoming nearly impossible. Perhaps rather than campaigning to raise the profile of dyslexia I should be campaigning to have smaller class sizes. Smaller class sizes would allow teachers to do what needs to be done.
I always feel uneasy when discussions about pupil progress at independent schools happen when I am around. Not because I hate independent schools but because I feel sad. Children in independent schools all make good to excellent progress and they should… after all parents are paying for it, but Independent schools are funded totally differently from state schools and generally have much smaller class sizes. It is not that the teachers in independent schools are better than teachers in state schools. It is not that teachers in state schools are bad, it’s just that what they, what we are expected to do with the resources and class sizes we have is nothing short of a major miracle!
This leads me right back to the title of this post… To push or not to push… and in which direction… Who should we be pushing to meet the needs of dyslexic pupils? Should we be pushing the pupils to work harder? Should we be pushing teachers to work harder and be more empathetic? Should we be pushing the parents to do more with their children at home. Should we be pushing the government to make class sizes smaller?
To push teachers we would see teachers fall even further into stressful unmanageable situations placing extra pressure on them? Pushing dyslexics into big class sizes sees them fade into the background and their needs unable to be met, and them not able to fulfil their potential. This pushes parents to seek tuition and push their child further, sometimes against the child’s will or best interests.
Perhaps together we should be pushing for smaller class sizes… Then teachers could push their pupils in the directions they needed, and parents could push teachers to better support their child by identifying the dyslexics and successfully doing something about it.
It’s tricky but I think we need to reconsider the direction we push because perhaps we have all been pushed and backed into a corner. Perhaps it is time to push in another direction… However to push in that direction is going to take lots of us. It’s thinking outside the box but if I am going to raise the profile and change the way dyslexics are supported then I think I need to be thinking differently. We together need to use a different approach. I see willing teachers but I see them unable to help because of situations beyond their control.
I might have it all wrong and I would really appreciate your thoughts and ideas on this post?
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