I’d like to begin by telling you what big fans of yours us teachers are! We love your books and your columns. We love your music and your acting. We admire your expertise. We think you are great!
We think it is brilliant you are taking such an interest in what your children are being taught remotely. It would have been nice if you’d been as interested before you were at stuck at home with them but I suppose – like all of us – you only have so many hours in the day. All that book and column writing, all that music making and all the acting must take up a lot of time.
We know children can be quite reticent about what they’ve done with their teachers when they get home and in the rush to get dinner on the table it’s hard to have a proper conversation with them about it. Still – if you ever really want to know what’s on the curriculum we’re always available – just send us an email or call. We think parental involvement is important. We’ll make time.
We understand you have a right to make your opinions heard about what your children learn. Just as we have the right to say what we like about your work, we also have the right to say when we think you’ve done something that isn’t as great.
And we don’t think the newspaper articles you are writing and the tweets you are sending about what children do in school are very good at all. We think they’re poorly informed and recycle old arguments as if they hadn’t been made many times already. Although we are sure you mean well it’s making our job harder at an already tough time.
The first thing you should be aware of is criticisms of what and how schools teach are not new. We’re quite accustomed to celebrities sticking the boot in. Every year Jeremy Clarkson tells all our pupils and us how little exams matter and uses descriptions of all his expensive cars as evidence of it. “I did terribly in my exams and I am rich! Don’t worry if you fail!”
We’re used to Jeremy now but as fond of him as we have grown we feel a responsibility to point out where he’s gone wrong. The thing is passing exams might not have been very important for him. His parents owned a business which meant he had a secure job after school and they sound very much like the sort of go-getters who had the capacity to support him really well in all sorts of ways.
But as you of course understand not everyone who fails exams is Jeremey Clarkson. Most aren’t. Most benefit from the wider range of choices that good exam grades provide.
What I’m getting at here is our school system is not set up just for children with lots of advantages. Children from all sorts of backgrounds sit in the same classrooms together. If a child is lucky enough to be born with natural intelligence, has access to loads of books and has parents who have time to spend reading to her perhaps it isn’t as important she learns about fronted adverbials and graphemes. Perhaps they might be able to learn a lot of the principles behind these sorts of things by a sort of unconscious osmosis – as you may have done too.
Lots of children – actually most – don’t have these advantages. It is these children we worry most about. We use terms like fronted adverbials and graphemes and other things you intuitively understand but not know the words for because they allow us to directly teach the things more fortunate children might already be confident with.
It might also be helpful to consider the concept of expert induced blindness, which happens to us all when we become – as you are – brilliant at something. As experts it is very hard for us to remember what it was like to not know a lot about the stuff we now know loads about. This is why a world class mathematician might struggle to teach someone simple multiplication and find someone else’s method of doing so bizarre. If this happens to you a little humility might be in order – try to remember although you may be an expert in maths you are probably not an expert in teaching maths to eight-year-olds and admitting so in no way undermines your professional standing.
This isn’t for one second to say what schools do is always right or always done well or you haven’t the right to ask questions. Sometimes practice isn’t effective and sometimes you might have very legitimate concerns about what your child is being taught in school. But do remember what I wrote earlier – you could always contact your child’s school and ask for clarification. You might learn what you thought was nonsense makes sense when the way it fits into the wider curriculum is explained to you. Or you might still be unsatisfied with the answer and want closer involvement with the school.
Perhaps you might even consider becoming a parent governor and playing a really important role in the education of hundreds of children?
But we know you are busy.
We understand why you might find time to write an article or tweet a criticism you might not feel you have enough to really get to grips with why things work like they do in schools. If that’s the case perhaps it would be nicer if you demonstrated a bit more trust of the people who teach your children every day of the week for years and years rather than shaming them to your huge audiences?
You have a right to your opinions but a responsibility to ensure they are well informed. Look – we know how hard teaching children is and how stressed you must be but please try to avoid using your platforms to let off steam because the reasons for something your child has been asked to do aren’t immediately obvious to you.
People listen to you. If you are wrong there may be some without the advantages you’ve provided your children who stop supporting their child with tasks they really need to do.
You wouldn’t want that.