Handling a primary school teacher- sorry quite long!

(68 Posts)
JackyJax Fri 04-Oct-13 15:59:28

Hello. I have a very bright Year 3 boy and we are having problems with the school's inability/lack of interest in extension activities.

I feel as if I have let my son down as I've not really made much fuss. Last year he could do the spelling test in his sleep so the school agreed to give him 2 additional spellings a week. These were pointless words such as 'Natasha' (phonetically regular) and seemed to be given with little thought.

This year I thought I'd be more pro active. I approached the teacher three weeks into term and as a start point said that my son knew all of the spellings for the entire term so could he have some different ones. She started (in a rather patronising fashion) telling me that it was important he knew the words in context, it wasn't just about spelling them correctly, etc. When I assured her that he knew the words in context, she then said well you won't have to worry about learning spellings this year will you.

I asked her how we as parents working with her could ensure he was challenged this year. Her response was that they were studying the Romans in class so if he was such a bright child then she'd expect him to be reading around that subject at home. Fair enough except he has hoovered up books on Romans and there was no mention of what she would do in class.

The last two weeks he has come home with Maths homework that he can complete verbally in 15 seconds (takes about 2 minutes of writing). I sent a polite note to the teacher telling her this and her response was: 'Sometimes the homework will be easy. Feel free yourself to download worksheets from the net for him.'

I feel that whether I 'download worksheets' from the Internet for my son is not the issue. My issue is that the homework she is setting is not appropriate.

I also am now feeling that I have been fobbed off regarding the spellings. Surely she could prepare a separate more challenging set of spellings for him. How can once size fit all?

Additionally the school is trialling a grammar/spelling/punctuation book but everyone in his class is on the same level book. How can this be appropriate when you've got some children who can't spell 'the' and others who find 'pseudonym' easy peasy?

Sorry about length of post.

I want to meet with the teacher and have these outcomes:
different spelling list
more challenging maths homework
different g/s/punctuation book

But the teacher is not very welcoming, quite patronising and dismissive. Feel as if I am failing my son because I'm the antithesis of Tiger Mother: I'm far too reticent and people pleasing. Any advice would be much appreciated. Thank you so much for reading.

FriendlyLadybird Fri 04-Oct-13 16:24:07

Why do you need to get these things from the teacher/school? Learning spellings is not a particularly stimulating activity and I certainly wouldn't classify it as extension work. If your child is good at spelling -- hurrah. As the teacher said, he doesn't have to bother learning any for the rest of the year, giving him more time to do his own thing. You could always get him to learn more difficult words and test him at home, but I can't imagine that would be much fun for either of you. Equally, learning grammar and punctuation doesn't have to be delivered via a book and it's not a linear exercise. As long as he's reading and attempting complex and challenging prose he will be extending his skills. That, incidentally, is where his work in class will be differentiated. If they are doing the Romans, for example, they will be asked to write something. He will be expected to be writing at a higher level, with a more advanced vocabulary and mature structure, for example, than others in the class, though the actual task may appear to be the same.
Remember as well -- there is no statutory obligation for the school to set homework. Most teachers don't like doing it at this level and they do not have time to mark it properly. Her primary focus is going to be on what she does in class. So, yes, if you want him to be doing more difficult maths homework, download some worksheets from the internet. But why bother? If he's bright and self-motivated, it's going to be more beneficial to let him do his own thing.

JackyJax Fri 04-Oct-13 17:19:15

Hi Friendlyladybird. Thanks so much for your reply. I realise spellings aren't the most stimulating of activities but I want my child to have to learn them. His friends are writing them out/using look cover write check/ being tested at home, then feeling slightly anxious about whether they'll get them all right whilst my son is merrily pitching up and getting them all right without any effort whatsoever. It's not the spellings per se I'm worried about it's the cumulative effect of being given work that is so easy that he doesn't have to put in any effort whatsoever. Same story in Maths- his friends (close bunch of 4 of them) have to put in some effort and don't always get everything right. Of course I can challenge him at home but he's really busy with extra curricular stuff and I like him to have down time so he can mooch!

I've seen a couple of lessons the teacher has delivered on Romans and it's very much a case of give the information then tell the children to write about a day in the life of a Roman. There is no guidance provided at all. Children with little ability write one or two sentences. My son will write 4 or 5 sentences as the teacher will never tell him to write more. The other boys at his table are the same.I want the teacher to push him more. I'm a teacher myself (high school) and there are easy ways of managing a class with varying abilities.

Thank you for letting me know re no obligation on school to set homework- I hadn't realised that. I feel as if I'm not asking for special treatment just a curriculum that ensure he behaves like the other children ie learns his spellings, feels a little bit nervous in the test, feels happy if he does well; struggles a little bit with Maths homework, feels a sense of accomplishment when he does well. However, his experience of school is that it's all easy street.

Hmmm I feel that the teacher will refuse to give different spellings but having taught myself I don't understand this. I would give core spellings then dial it up or down for different ability level children/those with SEN/those with EAL, etc.

Thanks for taking the trouble to reply. My greatest fear is that my bright child is becoming unmotivated and is more than happy to go on cruise control!

FriendlyLadybird Fri 04-Oct-13 17:47:06

Why on earth do you want your child to have to learn spellings? I never have -- and I've never forced my children to learn them either. Learning 'stuff' such as spellings has nothing to do with ability: it's about forcing yourself to do something boring. If anything's going to demotivate him it's that!

If you want him to have to work at something, try music lessons. And/or make it clear to him that you expect him to produce something really good on Romans, seeing as he knows so much about them. Much better than worksheets or spellings!

Hulababy Fri 04-Oct-13 17:55:06

Spelling tests have no academic benefit, so feel pleased you can now avoid them and forget about them. They do not actually help a child learn to spell. Lots of research shows this.

I would forget official homework full stop. Let him do it 2 minutes and then move onto more interesting activities at home. Let him lead the way. He knows his school topics - let him explore them in his own way, and if he wants to.

Schools give out homework because the Government tells them they have to. Many schools, especially at primary, would rather not, as at this age they often have little benefit.

The grammar, etc book. You say it is a trial. Maybe they only have this one level as yet during the trial period and it will be extended further if and when school decide to take it up further. It is also not just about spelling by the sounds of it but a whole other loads of stuff too - maybe he will benefit from reiteration of grammatical rules.

Re school work. I assume the teacher knows how he is doing in class and is setting differentiated work. If not, this may be the thing that needs looking at.

JackyJax Fri 04-Oct-13 19:18:24

Oh God, I'm coming across as someone who's obsessed with spellings! Aaagh. I just want him to have the experience of being set a task at school that's a little bit challenging, working towards it and then achieving it. Spellings (and easy Maths) is the only homework that is set.

He does learn the violin Friendlyladybird and I can see the enormous benefits of doing this.

Hulababy, we hang out at the park after school and DS plays football with his friends three nights a week; other two nights he does swimming and more football. When we arrive home the last thing he wants to do is more work. That's my frustration really; he's not stretched at school and if I want to stretch him at home then hanging out with mates after school/playing with siblings will be compromised. I want him to be challenged during the day at school.

At home he does not want to do any school work and to be honest, I don't blame him. Don't think I'd want to come home after working and have to do more work (although obviously in teaching, you have to!).

Teacher favours differentiation by outcome so she'll for example set the class the task of drawing a map of local area and children approach this according to ability. But there's no expectation, no indication of what a bright child might put on the map and what a less bright child (sorry, not well phrased) might produce. When I was teaching I'd have offered some examples of things that might be included on the map, making sure my suggestions catered for whole ability range plus EAL students in my class. Then top students had an idea of my expectations and less able students still felt as if they could do well at the task.

Sorry, think I'm coming across really badly here (defensive? obsessed with spellings? mad?) but I feel really sorry for this little boy who is gradually trying less and less at school because no one demands anything more of him.

clairew74 Fri 04-Oct-13 20:17:00

Is this a problem that you are only having with his current teacher or is it something that has been building since he started school? Although My son is only in year 1 I have had some similar concerns since before he started school but have recently had a meeting with his teacher and the head and I feel so much better now. The problem with having a gifted child is that people,, even teachers, are not always aware of the extent of their abilities and you risk coming across as a pushy parent or even deluded. I have fortunately had the benefit of some very good advice from My mum who is a retired head teacher and from potential plus- check out their website. I'm sure with the right advice and support you will be able to communicate effectively with the school and come to a solution without upsetting his teacher!

keepsmiling12345 Fri 04-Oct-13 21:38:40

OP , you certainly don't come across as "reticent and people pleasing"! I can sympathise completely with your desire t see your able DC given extension work. But I'm surprised you think it should be spellings. Your point about the differentiation is interesting, in my experience, there is some onus put on able children to decide themselves how far they can take a task. Do you think there is a reason why your DS isn't demonstrating a desire to take on more challenging work?

BlissfullyIgnorant Fri 04-Oct-13 21:50:25

Have a read of this stuff
http://sloweducation.co.uk
You might find some useful information on increasing breadth and depth of knowledge, way beyond being quick at maths or getting 100% in spellings.

JackyJax Fri 04-Oct-13 23:29:32

Ha ha Alien Attack-I think you are right about how I am coming across on this thread!

Can't ask for differentiated work except in spellings and maths hence why I've focused on them.
Yes Claire this has been building since he started school. I have three chidren (one of whom is a demanding one year old) and husband isn't around in week so have limited ability to extend son out of school.

I want him to be extended in school. Teacher last year said he'd achieved several levels above age but was making little effort. She then mused that maybe it's ok to go through school making little effort!

Thanks for replies and for website suggestions: really appreciate your time.

kitchendiner Sat 05-Oct-13 07:28:40

I don't think there is anything wrong with the way you are coming across. This forum can be very harsh and I personally do not feel comfortable posting here about my DS. I totally understand all your concerns - they all sound totally reasonable. I would phone Potential Plus and ask for advice - they have a helpline.

MissMalonex2 Sat 05-Oct-13 07:54:54

I have a similar child - DD - if she is not stretched, she'll coast along in school and focus intensely on sports. Becomes demotivated and bored.

However, her teachers have done what you would like done - the spellings are not difficult but she has to write a sonnet in the style of Shakespeare, a limerick, a science fiction story etc to use them in context as homework rather than learn them (some examples of things used in yrs 3-5). Maths - I said something in year 3, and in class teacher wd just give her extra problems to stretch her and encouraged risk taking (she can be a bit boundaried). The set she is in for maths (they stream at her jnrs) are working at level 6 + now - and it does stretch her, is her favourite topic.

So I think in short, your DS's teacher is not being helpful - I see the risk you are worrying about. Btw, DD is in a class of 30+ in a state school, 20% of class in yr 3 had SEN - the teacher who initiated all of this for her was definitely stretched in many directions, that isn't an excuse. I'm not sure what you do about it though! Aren't they supposed to differentiate? I would be surprised if your DS was the only child affected in the class.

clairew74 Sat 05-Oct-13 08:39:34

It is definitely not ok for him to go through school making little effort. He needs to learn how to work at things and to fail sometimes. I agree with kitchendiner potential plus are Fantastic!! I have used their advice service and My son took part in the pilot for their assessment service. It sounds like you really need some support and to feel you are not alone, they will provide this even if you dont join as a member!

keepsmiling12345 Sat 05-Oct-13 09:10:31

I didn't say there was anything wrong in how OP was coming across on this thread either. I think MissMalonex has it spot on in terms of differentiation and is what my DC is fortunate to get at her state school. It isn't just about more difficult spellings or harder maths, it is about taking the same task broader and/or deeper. This is eminently do-able, especially in YR, Y1 and Y2 when they often have topics. So children could be asked to describe their alien...some will write hardly anything, some a few simple sentences and some will explain in detail the look, personality and background of their alien! I think I would approach the teacher more along these lines. I fully agree that your DS should not coast but he will also have to demonstrate he takes advantage himself of opportunities to go further/deeper etc.

beatofthedrum Sat 05-Oct-13 09:17:03

My head teacher would be seriously displeased if any of her staff took such a disinterested and unhelpful approach towards parental concerns. Go to the head teacher if the class teacher is so unresponsive, homework should be differentiated just as class work is, and teachers should really not be presenting such a inflexible approach to parents.

clairew74 Sat 05-Oct-13 09:32:42

Well said beatofthedrum. My sons teacher has the exact opposite viewpoint in fact!

mummytime Sat 05-Oct-13 09:37:24

If you want him to become really good at Maths, try using Maths puzzles. eg. You need 4 L of water, but you only have a 5l and a 3 l jug, how do you do it?

I would be ecstatic that the homework was so easy, so we didn't waste time doing it. Read books, Watch films and critique them, join the RSPB and learn about and really observe nature, try crafts. Do at least one thing he finds tricky.

The less time you spend on homework the more time you can follow his interests and do real education.

Fragglewump Sat 05-Oct-13 09:39:17

Holy smoke if you're the 'antithesis of tiger mother' then the world has gone mad!

Grennie Sat 05-Oct-13 09:46:01

Actually I can understand your worry about him not learning how to apply himself and work. Does he have an interest you could help him pursue were he would have to apply himself? Doesn't have to be academic. Could be a competitive sport or learning a musical instrument. Because yes, I think children do need to learn how to apply themselves, and that not everything comes easily.

Actually I think you have an excellent point- he needs to learn to learn and if it is all too easy he will either switch off or have a god awful shock in the future. It isn't good for a child to find school too easy, and I would focus on that in your meeting, not the actual spellings- he should indeed have the experience of challenge, struggle, failure and persistence.

Grennie Sat 05-Oct-13 09:51:09

I was actually like your son. School work was very very easy for me for the first 3 years of school. I thought I was a genius <blush> It was a total shock to discover I wasn't.

hillyhilly Sat 05-Oct-13 10:04:40

I think that although the responses have been harsh they, and your very articulate response should give you your focus for further discussion with the school, starting with class teacher but then going to the head or governors if necessary. Your son is being let down currently, he needs to find work challenging as these early years set the scene for the rest of his schooling (IMO).
I have suspicions that my y4 dd has similar after a fantastic year last year, it's easy to focus on the spellings (I've been doing the same) as they are one of the few examples of their work that make it home.

claraschu Sat 05-Oct-13 10:08:05

I really agree with Kitchendiner!

My son had this problem all the way through A levels. I found that the schools were better or worse at dealing with it, but never really good. I always worried about coming across as a pushy mother, so I didn't discuss the issue with his teachers very much, unless I felt they were receptive. A few teachers were absolutely wonderful with him, but these were the exceptions.

Over the years my son had a lot of days off school, a lot of travelling and being "educated off site", a term of HE, and whatever else we could think of to keep him from "letting his schooling interfere with his education". I know that people on Mumsnet really disapprove of this approach, but I can only say that no school ever had a problem with his behaviour. He always did extremely well academically, and managed to fit in to the system well enough to slide under the radar.

It was a compromise, and definitely his enthusiasm was damaged at times.

Maybe you will be lucky enough to find teachers likeMissMalonex2's- what a star.

wearingatinhat Sat 05-Oct-13 14:09:57

Another vote for an excellent post by kitchendiner.

JackyJax - I do not think you come across as a tiger mother at all. Also, carrying more weight, is the fact that you too are a teacher; you simply come across, to me, as someone who is interested in education and the quality of teaching. All your points, regarding the work your DS is being given, sound perfectly valid, from where I am sitting.

The 'self-differentiation' of work is of course what all schools should strive for, but this does not always work and it takes willingness, thought and skill on the part of the teacher to make it work. It did work well at my DS's state school in literacy, but the teacher has to encourage and set targets in her marking and feedback, so the child knows what is expected. At his current school this is simply not happening. It is also not a substitute for some instruction at the correct level, for example, challenging a more able child to use more varied sentence openers in homework will not work if they have never been modelled in class

As a teacher, with the right type of approach, I think you are in a strong position to fight your DS's corner and I think you will feel more confident once you have spoken to potentialplusuk. Although it should not be necessary, many of us have found testing really helps, so that you are able to back up what you are saying.

I would also echo what other posters have said about the effects of coasting on work ethic and the damage caused to self esteem of knowing even when you achieve 100%, actually, the work was easy.

FriendlyLadybird Sat 05-Oct-13 15:03:50

Oh dear. I hope I didn't come across as harsh -- I didn't mean to. I get your problem now -- you do not feel that your son is pushing HIMSELF enough in school. In an effort to come up with solutions rather than problems, you appeared to focus on homework and asking for him to be set more difficult homework. In fact, I think a better approach would be to present the problem to the teacher. Say that you are concerned that, having looked through some of his workbooks, he does not appear to be working to his full potential. Engaging her that way might be a better way of handling her -- which is what your OP asked.

Just one thing to think about -- at that age, my DS's main personal focus was on length. He would write pages about a topic, doubtless full of fascinating facts but it was difficult to tell because he did not bother about legibility, punctuation etc. His teacher had to set him a limit in terms of length, to ensure that he concentrated on the quality of his writing. Any chance that's what your DS is doing?

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