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.

GoodnessKnows Sat 30-Nov-13 06:59:00

I'm a teacher, by the way.

GoodnessKnows Sat 30-Nov-13 06:57:46

Also good to buy: Maths on Target (Year 3) - these come with differentiated exercise columns. Give teacher a copy for Xmas. Lol

GoodnessKnows Sat 30-Nov-13 06:53:36

Teacher sounds crap. You're not pushy. Your son is there to learn.
Make an appointment with the HT. Write off this academic year and do stuff at home.
Google Wigan Maths Assessments and buy yourself the book 'The Essential Spelling Lidt' by Schonell (Amazon).
Teacher sounds patronising and incapable of differentiating - hence power games in her responses to you.

JackyJax Fri 29-Nov-13 21:04:35

JJ Flash (another great name!) thanks for Brain Academy and Super Maths suggestions: will have a look at those. Think you're right re it not being acceptable to not try your hardest. (sorry, double negative)

theendgame- yes the school has recently had a visit from OFSTED and their report did mention the school not challenging children sufficiently at the top end of the scale. Can also understand your frustration re being promised differentiated material but it never being forthcoming. Hopefully your daughter's new school will be just right for her.

Neverhere- interesting to hear a (primary) school teacher's perspective on homework. I've also seen it reported many times that homework has little impact on progress which seems counter-intuitive to me but I accept that this is what research has found. Had to laugh about homework not representing child's ability. I once gave a B and a lengthy explanation to one of my English literature students for an assignment. Mum kept phoning me telling me I'd made a mistake, it deserves an A, etc, etc. It came out later, of course, that mum had done the homework herself and was quite put out by the lowly B grade!

Neverhere Fri 29-Nov-13 17:40:54

Tbh I think you could use that homework and extend (easily) yourself. Finding half of a number could lead to interesting discussions about fractions and correcting the sentences could easily lead to a discussion about irregular past tense/adjectives/adverbs.

I know your unhappy with your child's teacher ATM but tbh homework is very low on my list of priorities as a y3 teacher (lots don't do it - some don't have pens/pencils at home, - many have no parental support so struggle to even read the homework to remind themselves what it was, some have so much help it has no resemblance on what they can do at all) I set standard homework for the majority (including my g&t) which is differentiated by outcome (though I would comment if I had a piece back that I knew hadn't been given any effort). I differentiate for my SEN children as they can not access all of the homework set (they do when they can to a certain degee).

However, in class everyone is pushed and expected to be working their hardest because I have control over what happens in school. Apart from nightly reading (which has a huge impact on learning) homework, unfortunately, makes little difference to progress.

theendgame Fri 29-Nov-13 16:59:00

We've been through a great deal of the same things as you, Jacky, over the last couple of years. There is quite a lot (!) I could say but I'll try and keep it brief.

I actually think you are right to worry about homework, as it reinforces your child's perceptions that school work is easy and not challenging. This, as we discovered with DD, doesn't just mean coasting, it also meant that she was just guessing the answers to maths questions that she could do easily, and in short not thinking.

But as cornflake says, the main point is that the teacher is not differentiating appropriately in class and this needs to be sorted. Was it OK in past years or not?

In your case I would go to see the teacher then go up to the HT if necessary. Take a look at their OFSTED. I will lay money on it saying that they need to differentiate better for bright children (all reports do). Remind the HT of this.

However the main thing that I've learnt is that a) a weak HT cannot make a teacher change if they don't want to, and b) that you cannot change the culture of a school. If it's just a bad teacher this year, you might want to ride it out. If it's the whole school culture, I'd really think about moving. We have asked and asked and reminded and reminded but differentiation that is promised never actually turns up. So she's starting a new school in Jan.

JumpingJetFlash Fri 29-Nov-13 16:57:01

I know that it doesn't solve the problem at school but I love Brain Academy Maths missions and Supermaths by Rising Stars. They can be extremely challenging as children are expected to look and identify patterns/ rules in maths and they are done rather a sort of James Bondy type theme so very motivating. I had an extremely bright child who loved them and also for the first time could see why work needed to be organised which made a HUGE difference to her accuracy. They do English and Science as well but I haven't ever really used those.

I think your son also needs to know that not trying his best in things like Literacy is not on really and maybe the consequence to that is of he doesn't show his true abilities he misses out on something to redo it (??? Might be too harsh for his age group but worth a thought?)

JackyJax Fri 29-Nov-13 16:14:17

Thanks cornflake, that's such a sweet post and very insightful about h/w diverting attention from the more important issue. Thanks also for quiz suggestion: much appreciated.

cornflakegirl Fri 29-Nov-13 13:56:54

I know what you mean about homework - it's all that we see! I just think that, if the teacher is being dismissive, then complaining about the homework diverts attention from the more important issue of appropriate challenge in school. (My son also gets unchallenging homework, but I think the school is generally doing right by him, so I let it slide. Sometimes I make him do something else - like this quiz from Aquila, as I'm trying to get him into the habit of looking stuff up that he doesn't know. Or a problem from the nrich website. Sometimes I don't.)

It must be horrible to be dismissed by his teacher like that. But your concerns and proposed solutions sound entirely reasonable, so don't be afraid to be that parent. You have the backing of Mumsnet! wink

JackyJax Fri 29-Nov-13 12:44:27

Hi cornflakegirl (great name!). Thanks for taking the time to reply. I'm not worrying too much about homework. The reason I mention homework is that it's my only concrete indicator as to what they are learning in class. The h/w is designed to consolidate class learning. So if the homework is far too easy then it worries me that class work is also too easy.

Your point about whizzing straight onto extension work is a really good one. The teacher's perspective is that he has to plough through the entire exercise before he's allowed to do the extension work even though he always gets the easy stuff right and never has time to get onto extension work. I will mention this to the teacher so thanks for confirming in my head that this is a sensible way to go.

Hi Milly Thanks also for your response. Yes there's no sense that the work is being differentiated. From the teacher's response, differentiation in Literacy is through outcome and in maths my son is in a top set so that's the way the school is differentiating! The top set has a wide ability and yes the teaching does seem to be pitched at teaching to the middle. I'm a teacher myself so understand that but I would also have extension activities for brighter students and cater also for those who were struggling.

The teacher is very keen for me to do maths sheets at home but this is a 7 year old boy with lots of interests (footie with friends, reading, violin, playing with brother, etc) and I'm very careful not to turn him off learning. I do some stuff with him but I'd like for him to be challenged at school.

I feel so ridiculously disempowered by all of this as if I'm a minnow fighting against an entire system! I asked the teacher yesterday for an appointment to see her and she almost groaned, saying, 'But we've just had parents' evening!'

I've only met with her once this term (for 7 minutes so hardly taking up lots of her time) and I'm really careful to comment on all the positive aspects of his learning with her but she is very dismissive.

Think I will have to toughen up.

Thanks for your suggestions.

MillyMollyMama Thu 28-Nov-13 00:40:11

Really the problem here is non differentiation of work. The teacher is not setting challenge within the curriculum she teaches to the brighter children so she then does not know if a challenging curriculum could be met. She then sets work with little challenge because attainment is not especially high. It is just a mediocre meander and attainment is probably flatlining! Go and see the Head. Find out what his progress is this term. Sounds to me like you have a bit of a duff teacher. What children sit and work with your DS? What do the parents of the other bright children think? Assuming there are some. If there are not, are you in the right school? Could this be an ongoing problem of teaching to the average level and not thinking about the needs of the brighter ones because she is not used to having to do that. Just some thoughts....

cornflakegirl Thu 28-Nov-13 00:01:30

I think you're still worrying too much about homework. Forget it. It's not at all important. Is he being appropriately challenged in lessons? It's a bit worrying that the teacher says there us no tone for extension work. If she is teaching something that your son is secure on, then he should be straight on to extension work. Eg if she's covering subtraction, then she might do her talky bit using 2 digit numbers, if that is the level of most of the class. But then I would expect her to give the more able students questions using more digits, or decimals, or whatever is appropriate. Not expect them to churn through a load of two digit work first just because everyone else is.

JackyJax Wed 27-Nov-13 23:43:23

Thanks umbrella - will check that out and bean- completely agree. I spoke to teacher at p.evening and said maths was too easy (it's so easy my yr 1 child can do the h/w). Teacher said maths lessons go quickly so never get time to do extension work. My child is now saying not only is work too easy but he is bored. For tonight's hw he had to calculate the difference between 6 and 8- this for top set maths! Am going to request second meeting with teacher asking (begging!) for maths work to be more challenging. Some maths is taught by student teacher -don't know if this is relevant or not? Feel as if I'm letting my son down by failing to secure anything for him in my 2 interactions with the teacher.

jrabean Fri 08-Nov-13 13:56:11

The switch from "fill in the answers to 20 questions" to open ended stuff like "write about someone famous" requires a lot more self motivation from kids.

In theory it is better training for real life, but I'm not sure how many 6 year olds have the self motivation to really stretch themselves on this kind of challenge, so many just write a few lines and stop.

The challenge is to get your kid to understand how they can stretch themselves and explore the challenges fully, rather than waiting to be prodded by a teacher.

umbrellasinthesun Fri 18-Oct-13 22:17:57

bit of an off shoot, but have you got an i pad? If so then try 'stack the countries' with him. Might give him some interesting learning that isn't school stuff. My DS loves it.

wearingatinhat Thu 17-Oct-13 12:48:34

Some excellent ideas NervyWervy but do you think the HT would really let you see the weekly plan and lesson plan? Of course, an open HT that really respected parents and wanted to show just how much they did for more able learners would be only too proud to illustrate what went on in school. IME, the HT saw parents as people to be fobbed off with platitudes. 'Little Jimmy is doing very well' was the stock phrase to anyone who dared to ask.

Obviously the OP is in a much stronger position than most, being a teacher, but I think we would have got more than a 'hard teacher stare', if we had asked for that - even NC levels were considered a state secret!

NervyWervy Thu 17-Oct-13 10:36:06

www.fromgoodtooutstanding.com/2013/09/ofsted-2013-matching-individual-needs
The above makes interesting reading re differention.
I would wait for parents evening (should be soon?). Specifically ask his teacher if she thinks he is coasting, and what his targets are. Does your son know his targets, does he know if he achieved his last targets?
Ask what she can do to help him be challenged. If she is still brushing you off that's when I would go to the HT.
I think it would be better, if you get as far as the HT, to write her a letter with your concerns first and then ask for an appointment so that he/she has time to collect evidence and work out a strategy. You could also ask to see some examples of the weekly plan, for say maths, too see if there has been any other differentiation than simply outcome. Check the lesson plan to see if the homework tallies with that actual lessons taught in school. Cross reference with your sons actual exercise book.
Also, when is Ofsted? And remember the current catchphrase "every child matters"!

Brockle Thu 17-Oct-13 10:22:36

my Ds is in year three. the class is split into four groups based on ability with a lot of flexibility in moving through the groups. their homework is set according to their group. all the homework is on one sheet so if I feel that ds2 can do his maths easily then we look at group one's work in the week. it works really well. they have only started this method this year but its worked really well.

parents were invited to a maths training session last year. they talked through the methods they have to teach the children. the homework ds2 has focuses on the method rather than the result. perhaps whilst the mental arithmetic is easy it could be the method they are looking for.

both DS's have targets set each term but if they are not reg met in class then they remain as their target.

simpson England Thu 17-Oct-13 10:21:31

She is new to the school (this school year) and has not been seen since parents eve (not surprised!)

She is supposed to be back after half term but I am not holding my breath! Somehow I don't think DS is going to have a great year sad

tumbletumble Thu 17-Oct-13 10:05:07

DS1 is also in year 3. He (and 2 other boys in his class) do their maths lessons with year 4.

tumbletumble Thu 17-Oct-13 10:03:58

OP, has your school had an Ofsted inspection recently? Now I'm not Ofsted's greatest fan, but one thing that might work in your favour is that they are now much more focused on progress than achievement. Pupils are expected to show a certain amount of progress between year 2 and year 6 for the school to get a good rating.

Did your DS get very good SAT results at the end of year 2? If so, the pressure is on for him to get excellent results at the end of year 6(whereas previously if he got good results then that would be all that was required, even if they didn't show a huge improvement from his starting point).

It might be worth mentioning this when you talk to his teacher?

wearingatinhat Thu 17-Oct-13 09:50:34

Simpson - I think your teacher gets the award for setting the most useless and irrelevant targets! Unless, that is, someone can top that. What a depressing thought!

JackyJax Wed 16-Oct-13 22:10:05

simpson- I'm staggered by your son's numeracy target! Must admit I'm a bit gobsmacked by the literacy one too.

Pistillate, thanks for advice re not raising anything really important at parents' evening. Ours is very 'cheek by jowl' due to lack of space so lots of polite smiling and parents saying very little.

Think it will be useful to know what the targets are although slightly nervous after reading simpson's post!

simpson England Wed 16-Oct-13 00:38:10

My DS is in yr4 and his targets this year are: numeracy - to do his homework every week (he always does and its too easy), literacy - to write cursively (he always does).

When I queried this, I was told all the kids in his class have the same target (so pointless - teacher has gone off sick since!)

DD (yr1) has individual targets for reading, literacy and numeracy which are all totally correct for her.

Pistillate Mon 14-Oct-13 22:11:08

Yes, these targets are for literacy, numeracy and general in our school. They are discussed and agreed at parents evening. I will be fairly pissed off if she has not moved onto something else next parents evening. However, it is something she is still inconsistent on, if I am honest, and I have had a chat with her about it. (she is not t&g).

I would definately be asking about the targets, and probably not wait til parents evening, because that is the teachers chance to tell you what they think, in my experience, and for you to ask one or two questions. Not for having even a polite disagreement. That would be embarrassing for the teacher, and probably for you too.

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