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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.

claraschu Sat 05-Oct-13 15:15:31

What I found is that many teachers will pay lip service to differentiating the work, and make a few gestures. My son's teachers, in general, didn't follow up on things and make sure they were actually challenging him. It would have taken some real effort and thought to do this effectively in his case. I can understand that they might not have had the time or the interest, but schools are not honest about this.

ipadquietly Sat 05-Oct-13 16:21:49

If ds is a really good speller, why does he need spelling lists and spelling tests? IIWY I'd just ignore the list he brings home, heave a sigh of relief that he has to do less homework, and pick up new words to spell and learn from his reading books?

I don't see why people get so hung up on 'getting the right level of spelling' - spelling practice is something you can do anywhere, anytime, anyhow.

clairew74 Sat 05-Oct-13 16:43:20

I have to say I agree with wearingatinhat about testing. Although it shouldn't be necessary, I have found it to be invaluable. I had evidence to back up what I was saying to the school and I have to say they have responded very positively. His teacher admitted that although she was aware My son was advanced she had no idea of the extent of his abilities especially in maths, she has completely altered Her planning for him as she realised what she originally had in mind was not going to stretch him. She also said that it would not have even occurred to her to assess a year 1 child to level 4 goals.I have been very lucky as he does have a fantastic teacher!

JackyJax Sat 05-Oct-13 17:04:41

Thanks so much to those who have posted: it's really helpful to have found this community.

Kitchendiner-thanks so much for your words of kindness
Miss Malonex- your child really sounds similar and some of those ideas eg using words in a limerick sound great.

My frustration is that I know how to extend him- my specialism is Special Needs children (I taught for last 13 years in Oz and this is the term we used- not sure if it's used over here). I'm really good at working with children on both ends of the spectrum. I can teach a class of 30 feisty students and ensure I tackle those of low ability, those in the middle and those who need extending.

However, with the best will in the world I don't have time to fully extend my child at home. I want him to be pushed in school.

Life at home is really busy (as I'm sure it is for everyone). We often don't get home until 5:30, then I make dinner, deal with screaming baby, sort out book bags, pe kits, etc for next day. By now it's 615, I listen to middle child read whilst bathing baby. At 645 (his reading takes a long time in between ensuring baby doesn't drown). Then I'll get baby down by 7:15, turn around clear up dinner dishes, sort out school notes, etc. Finally oldest child gets a look in. I supervise violin practise (20 minutes). We might play card games. Then all of us will read together for half an hour or so (we love reading). By now it's 8:45pm, boys are in bed and husband arrives home. I'm just not sure when I can extend him? I'm also up 3 or 4 times still in the night. Baby wakes at 5am and boys wake at 6am. I'm not complaining: I feel really blessed to have healthy children (have spent a lot of time working with children with very special needs).

So I am not sure when I can extend my child. Obviously at weekend there are opportunities but surely the biggest opportunity is during the school day?

Claire and kitchendiner- thanks so much for suggestion of potential plus. I'll give them a try on Monday.

Beatofthe drum- if I had responded as this teacher has responded I would have lost my job!

mummytime- love your suggestions but my issue is a severe lack of time. With 3 children it's a very busy (but lovely) househould.

Grennie- think you are right. Son loves chess. I can't play unfortunately and his dad isn't around to play but maybe I can find something online.

claraschu- lots of interesting points in your post, certainly food for thought.

Fragglewump- I don't know why you think I'm a tiger mother.

As I've said most afternoons after school my child plays footie with his friends. He loves this as he gets to let off lots of steam and hang out with his pals. If I was a tiger mum he'd be at chess club/at home doing extension activities/conjugating Latin verbs and writing iambic pentameters!

At home he spends lots of time on Match Attax (footie cards album in case you don't have boys) which again he gets a lot of pleasure out of but which doesn't really extend him. I read with him a lot- purely because we both love reading. And I wrestle with him a lot on the floor purely because he loves it- not because it teaches him about forces, weights or any other aspects of maths or science! The only pushing I really do is making him do violin. Otherwise he gets lots of chill out time.

Last year the only concession the teacher gave to his ability (upon which she always commented) was to give him 2 additional spellings a week. If I was a tiger mum surely I would have demanded more. As it was I only went to the teacher once as I didn't want to seem pushy.

And I do give back to the school by volunteering in both of my children's classrooms a couple of times a week which I love (really miss teaching!). I also help out in a remedial reading programme (sorry if terminology incorrect) which I really enjoy doing.

Friendlyladybird- umm I did find your comment a bit harsh but having re read my original post I can see why you wrote what you did! I think I'm really anxious about all of this and felt so dismissed by the teacher that I am possibly coming across badly. When I saw the teacher I tried to position it as 'what can we do' ie as a team. She just wasn't interested and said well in the classroom, everything is fine, don't worry about spellings and expect maths homework to be really easy for him. Then I was effectively dismissed. And even though I found your comment a bit harsh I figured that a) I deserved it b) you take that risk when on a public forum and c) you were genuinely trying to help me.

I've found all (well most!) of your comments really useful with lots of food for thought. I really do appreciate those of you who have responded and have taken on board suggestions.

Just wish there were more hours in the day!

OhYouBadBadKitten Sat 05-Oct-13 17:11:35

You are right to want him stretched in school, otherwise he's not learning how to learn when things get difficult. One day, whether its in a levels or uni things will get tricky and unless he has developed strategies for keeping going when it is hard he is potentially going to find it difficult to cope.

Pistillate Sun 06-Oct-13 22:17:55

What the school needs to change is not his homework, but his targets. In our school these are reviewed once a term, agreed with child and parent at parent evening. If you think your child can already do the target set, challenge it.

Just ask teacher if she can talk you through this terms targets.

These targets are agreed with the child, so the teacher should have an opportunity to explain in detail the level of work required from the child.

If you want to teach self motivation to your child because he is happy to coast, there are ways of doing this with non- educational tasks.

You do sound extremely busy with three children.... Good luck balancing it all and making sure your children learn what they need to learn

Icantseeit Mon 07-Oct-13 16:23:15

Is there any way that he would be able to go into Yr4 on a regular basis for a few of his literacy and numeracy lessons. I requested this for my child and they now go up to the next year for extra support.

This obviously depends on the school's attitude etc.

hillian Tue 08-Oct-13 08:45:21

I know the conversation has moved on to what you can do about it, and unfortunately, I don't have any answers for you. However, I think it is very important that you do succeed in making a change because of my personal experience.

DS2 (now in year 5) was just like your son in year 2 and 3 wrt maths.. He'd had a very positive experience in year 1 where the teacher did not feel the need to hold him back and he just flourished as a result! He used to love going into school and he completely expected to find the work interesting and challenging.

Then in year 2, the teacher told me he was too advanced for her class, so he'd spend the year revising what he already knew and helping the other children.

We changed schools and in year 3, the teacher made some effort, although DS had to first spend time proving what he knew but had not been recorded by the year 2 teacher. he got about a term's worth of work though before it was back to the revising.

The year 4 teacher, incredibly, said the same thing as the year 2 teacher had said, except apologetically. I met with the HT who made sympathetic noises, promised a follow up and then did nothing except give DS a gold star at assembly for being so good at maths (which was nice but didn't address the problem).

I haven't even tried for a meeting with the year 5 teacher yet because she seems a bit unbalanced so I am worried that it will make things worse for DS! A recent homework though, was a revision on the 3x table (which he mastered in year 1).

What DS has learned though is that it doesn't matter how much you try to do everything well. Also it doesn't matter what you attain in tests etc or how often you put your hand up to give the right answer because you are just going to get the same work again and again. for most of year 4 (and some of year 3), DS tried to challenge himself to do the work in record time, beating his previous personal best. So, he was doing a 30 minute task in under 5 minutes. Sometimes, he makes silly mistakes but he doesn't care, because he knows that he knows it and every one else does too.

So DS has become lazy. He's lost the drive to learn and he has no idea what it is to struggle, never mind how to cope with failing sometimes.

I tried to extend him at home last year, but with all his clubs etc, and the fact that he was only 8 years old, it was like pulling teeth. He kept asking me if he couldn't do the work I was setting him during school time? I even asked the school but that was another suggestion the head ignored.

This year, I've had enough and he has to do 3 hours per week with me whether he likes it or not. He's going to learn how to lay out his work, rather than just jot down the answers and how to show workings. I'm going to teach him things from level 6, which seems to be where maths opens out.

cleoowen Tue 08-Oct-13 09:05:15

Get him to put his spellings in a sentence so he does know the context. Perhaps get a thesaurus and get him to find alternative words that mean the same as the ones he gets for spellings.

As a parent I would probably be worried about this too as you don't want your child to get disengaged and not bother putting effort in because he's not stretched. As a teacher I have seen this happen and a good teacher should stretch a child. When I taught year 1 we had several children who were learning year 2 words.

But also as a teacher it's very difficult to cater for all abilities and takes time to set separate homework for individual children which she probably doesn't have. Plus if she does it for your child she could end up doing it for more and more children until it becomes unmanageable.

Personally in her position I would add an extension task to the end of the homework. That way she's not setting individual homework for certain children

cleoowen Tue 08-Oct-13 09:07:35

Oops! pressed too early.

So ask her to do that and she might find it more manageable. Plus, rather than just taking your word for it perhaps she wants to check your ds can really do what you say.

wearingatinhat Tue 08-Oct-13 10:12:05

DS is at a fee paying school and is working several years ahead of the most able in his class (I'm told). When I asked for homework at his level I was told, rather as Cleoowen has said - 'it would take too long to differentiate DS's homework at his level; all children have to have the same homework'. As you can imagine, it did not go down too well (understatement), particularly as it is a 'prep' school which supposedly prepares some children for some of the most selective schools in the country. I think it is achieved through lots of personal tuition. The idea of letting some poor child plod through lots of work that they could do easily years ago, and then get an extension task 'on top' of that work, is not a solution; the bright kid gets to do extra homework. By that stage, the brain is in neutral and the child is disengaged.

What really concerns me, is that teachers admit that they are too busy to differentiate; what parents of bright children have known all along! The system does not work for some children and although not ideal, they need to access work from the higher level classrooms. There needs to be more teaching to ability rather than grouping children by age, when provision within the year group is not satisfactory.

Really, the other point is that the homework is the tip of the iceberg; it is often the only bit visible to parents. One can only assume that teachers are too busy to differentiate to the extent needed for some children, during the school day too!

PiqueABoo Tue 08-Oct-13 11:56:09

"the bright kid gets to do extra homework"
Mmm.. state school DD gets extension tasks and by-and-by said, "But I don't think it's fair that I have to do more...". We've long had the same with assessment e.g. two sets of optional SATs (current year and one from above) and "missing out" on the entertainment provided for the children who didn't do the harder stuff.

[Cue weak parental waffle, usually about being fortunate. I always find that kind of conversation really difficult because I don't want the child to become a smug little bleep or feel too trapped by labels and parental expectations.]

Meanwhile I'm a pragmatist and this is mass education: Politicians, watchdogs and educationalists can spin "differentiation" and "potential" until the cows come home, but with 30+ children in a single-form entry primary class there is clearly only so much you can reasonably expect from one teacher. That's before you throw in some of the behaviour they might have to manage, possibly without much support from their SLT.

DD does get differentiated work at school and is often left to just get on with it in the company of a similar child. Part of me objects to the relative lack of teaching and they occasionally stumble down blind alleys because of that, but on balance becoming accustomed to genuine 'independent learning' is probably for the best.

wearingatinhat Tue 08-Oct-13 12:19:05

PiqueABoo, totally agree with the mass education comment and the difficulties in a single form school, but I think there is a resistance, even in the larger multi form entry schools to group similar ability children together. I know that it is incredibly hard for a teacher teaching 30, but where there is a will, there is a way, and I often feel that the 'will' simply is not there. Quite honestly, my DS would love a bit of independent learning at school - it is often what he does at home, purely self-motivated anyway.

JackyJax Fri 11-Oct-13 13:37:57

Hi Everyone. This is turning into an interesting (although rather depressing!) conversation. Glad I'm no longer being seen as a tiger mother!

Oh...Kitten- totally agree. I want my son to develop life long strategies re being given hard work and having to find methods to deal with this.

hillian- I think you are me in the future. I can completely relate to your post. Teachers in this school (and they are lovely, school is lovely) also just pay lip service to extension. My son is also learning that it doesn't matter how much you try to do everything well because everything is so easy. My son also tries to challenge himself with record times for maths. I keep saying that's great but don't forget about accuracy. My DS is also in danger of becoming lazy.

The teacher has just sent home some more Maths and literacy homework both of which are too easy. In Maths my son has to 'find half of eg 50'; in literacy he has had to correct sentences such as .'I brung my books to school.' He sees it all as nonsense as it's so easy.

hillian I find the same problem with after school clubs, playing with friends, dinner, violin practice, there is little time to extend my son. I like your idea about a 3 hour weekly challenge.

cleowen the spellings are so easy it's pointless putting them in a sentence. For more challenging work this would be a good idea. However, this is me setting my child's homework isn't it? When he was in Year 1 (the age range you taught) he could do Year 4 spellings but wasn't allowed any other spellings than year 1 because 'otherwise what will he do next year?'!!!

Totally agree with comments regarding bright children having to do extra work in order to be challenged ie my son seems to coast all day at school, his friends don't do any extra work at home but he needs to do so because he is not being challenged.

The literacy, maths and spelling homework this week seemed so easy. My year 1 child even thought they were easy (he's bright too) and I'm sure the baby (age 1) could have had a pretty good stab at the tasks (only joking for those of you who want to re label me as a tiger mum!).

Maybe I should say to the teacher- the homework is too easy, I'll set my own! But a) then I am setting and marking homework and b) my fear is that the homework reflects what they are doing in class. If it's that easy then I can imagine major boredom setting in soon.

Thank you so much to those of you who have commented and shared your experiences. It's so good to talk with others with similar children. I can't really talk to my school friend mums as it wouldn't come across well complaining about a bright child!

Thanks again.

WowOoo Fri 11-Oct-13 13:47:39

I would certainly ask for a meeting with the teacher to ask about targets and also ask to look at the work he's producing in school in that meeting.

Then, you might get more of an idea what's going on in the classroom.

That 'what will he do for next year's spellings?' is silly. Ds1's spellings are from the year above and they have challenge tasks for homework. Our school doesn't find it a problem. (It's not a perfect school, but it does try to stretch the children)

Kemmo Fri 11-Oct-13 13:56:45

Lots of good stuff on here.

The spellings etc would really worry me. Not because I could care less about learning spellings but because homework is often the only window we get into what is going on in the classroom. If there is a lack of differentiation in homework then there is likely to be a lack of differentiation in the classroom.

Pistillate Fri 11-Oct-13 17:43:36

What the school needs to change is not his homework, but his targets

Just repeating myself in case you missed it.

My dd has had 'use captials and full stops' as one or her targets for 2 years solid. What are your son's targets?

JackyJax Mon 14-Oct-13 20:53:24

Gosh Pistillate those aren't very challenging targets! Two years- yikes.

I didn't realise primary school children had individual targets: these targets have never been mentioned. Are these for each subject? Teacher is so unwelcoming (in an austere kind of way) that I can't imagine questioning her on these. Will need to develop some mettle.

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.

simpson 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.

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!

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!

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?

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.

simpson 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

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