No clever pun.
The Princess has spoken and I almost missed it.
One of my units this semester is Multiliteracies (Birth -5 years). Studying this subject has caused me to reflect on my past teaching and my current parenting philosophy and what Ruth Shagoury (2009, p. 59) refers to as ‘teachable moments’.
The idea behind it and the plan
The Princess was booked in for summer school at the end of last school term. Nothing major, The Princess has a little trouble understanding some maths rules and needs more time to explore them. Mainstream schooling doesn’t always allow for this. We had decided together to take the online option that was offered. Now that I am studying and considering what happened last year (January floods) and the heat that is our Queensland summer gift, we thought it would be the way to go.
What actually happened
At 9.30 am last Monday, I get a phone call from the Principal of Summer School. Yes. I forgot. Actually, I forgot the date and was wondering why our online package hadn’t arrived. Oh, I’m sorry but online isn’t an option. Huh? We decided to start The Princess the very next day and she could catch up on what she missed easily. Excuse me? Oh, and you won’t need to bring anything, morning tea and drinks are provided for the small break of 15 minutes mid-morning. Sorted. Oh dear.
The next few hours resulted in The Princess stomping through the house. Tears and tantrums turned to dishes noisily being unstacked from the dishwasher. The vacuum cleaner roaring away upstairs. Articles of clothing being tossed across my line of vision somewhere in the vicinity of the downstairs laundry. Back and forth she went. Cleaning spray and a cloth in hand busily scrubbing every surface within an inch of its life. Chairs scraped on the floor. All accompanied by hrrumphs and sighs.
Princess, you don’t have to clean the house. You do have to go to summer school. I don’t want to go to summer school, I hate it. You’ve never been. I want to do it online. You can’t do it online, they’re not doing it. But my friend is doing it online. Why should I have to go to summer school, it’s the school holidays. On and on it went.
Two hours passed. Can I go to K’s house? Sure, be back in two hours. Have fun. Off The Princess trotted to her friend’s house across the road.
The Princess roars through the door at 4pm, excitedly asking if she can stay over at K’s house. No honey. You have summer school in the morning and you need an early night. I want to stay at K’s house but I can’t because of DUMB summer school.
Insert two hours of tears. I never knew you could make so much noise feeding a cat. Apparently there are several ways for opening a tin of cat food and putting this with biscuits in a feed bowl that can make an enormous amount of noise. Add to this doors and cupboards slamming, dirty dishes thrown in to the sink from a distance and plenty of exaggerated groans and you have yourself a party.
Half an hour later, I realised the house was silent. I was concerned by what may lay ahead. I knew that assignment #2 was not going anywhere right at this moment and put down my books. No Princess. As I attempted to shut down my laptop, a small maths grid book was slid under my nose. There, in all it’s glory was a full page of maths sums. All neatly written in red pen. All correct. When all else had failed to grab my attention, convey her implicit feelings and render the required result, The Princess had produced a note. The message inside was unmistakeable and I almost missed it.
Later that evening before dinner, I overheard The Princess tell Master 6 that he had better do his homework or he’d wind up in summer school too. In a last-ditch attempt to avoid the horror, The Princess dragged out her old Year 6 maths books and busily started working through them again, employing the aide of Bieber and Red the maths whizzes in our home. I knew I had to approach this carefully. I had seen this before.
After dinner, The Princess and I sat down for a quiet moment. I softly asked her why she didn’t want to go to summer school. The answer suprised me. It had nothing to do with her giving up her freedom in the holidays. It had nothing to do with missing out on a sleep over. It had nothing to do with waking up early to walk the 2.5 km to school in the heat. It didn’t even have to do with her feeling ‘stupid’ (which was my biggest concern). No, the answer was simply this: I don’t know why you can’t teach me Mum.
A ‘teachable moment’.
Shagoury (2009) reminds us that, as educators and parents, we must be careful not to miss these little moments with children. It’s hard to always understand the meaning behind everything that children do but, we can try. Knowing the child, their background, their interests and strengths is just part of the equation. Asking questions, taking quiet moments out in a busy, hectic day,listening and observing are the ingredients for ‘teachable moments’. These opportunities serve us well on two levels. We learn so much by really listening to children and expanding on what they tell us. These little insights are ‘miracle windows’. We also learn a lot about ourselves and the way we teach.
The next day, The Princess went to summer school. She had resigned herself to the fact that she could at least give it a go, in keeping with the family motto and then return home and recount all the problems/issues/atrocities back to us in her utterly guilt-inducing and unshakeable explanation of why she shouldn’t go back. Here is her argument:
- You took me to the wrong classroom
- The teacher had to walk me to 4 different classrooms to find out where I was meant to be
- If you just listened to me in the first place, Mum, we wouldn’t have been late
- The work is ridiculous
- You know that 15 minute break? NO FOOD
- I walked around the school yard for 10 minutes by myself
- I didn’t know ANYONE and nobody talked to me
- The teacher really didn’t help me much, he was focusing on the other kids more than me
- You never asked me if I even WANTED to go in the first place
- You said I could do it online
- You can still teach me yourself, you know
That last point was the kicker and she was right. There was so much more to The Princess not wanting to go to summer school. My time.
Amazingly, after it had been decided that she would not return in the morning (and that the Cowardly Mother was to be spared the shame making THE phone call to the summer school Principal) all these little stories emerged of how she had a male teacher for the day and now ‘I’m not so worried about having a male teacher this year’. I found out that she was playing ‘Moshi Monsters on the computers in the air conditioning. The Princess also came home with a gift bag containing a ruler, and other stationery items. This little bag of goodies contained a bright, yellow sticker with the word FUNLAND with a crown over the ‘a’ (I know, the irony didn’t escape me either). The sticker has since been squarely slapped on to the front of the paper goodies bag and placed on my desk as a reminder of what I have done. You know the nobody-talked-to-me-scenario? Debunked! ‘Two boys talked to me and one was nice. One asked me if I’d had enough sleep because my eyes were all puffy. One told me not to drink out of the bubblers because it was all hot. I didn’t know what to say to the boy about my eyes’ (she had cried a lot the day before). However, she did have plenty to say to me about her lack of provision for nourishment and water in the 3 hours she was there. I am a terrible mother. I needed to write this post. I have just read it out loud to The Princess as she sat near me, smiling with every word. This is why I am now sitting here, close to The Princess as she writes her own curriculum for summer school under my direction. Yes, I am the teacher.
P.S. There has now been yet another huge discussion about Home Schooling. The Princess begs me at least three times a year to Home School her (usually after holidays). Bieber firmly responded with a ‘No’ and wants to know why I always want to ruin his life. Master 6 emphatically responded ‘YES’! which resulted in a ‘high -five’ from The Princess. When I asked Red his thoughts, I got this :’Why does my opinion matter?’ (in a painfully whiny tone) which I translated to mean ‘Please stop talking to me and interrupting my gaming time… and ruining my life’.
In the middle of all this, my husband says to me ‘It’s up to you Bub’ and passes me a note , written on a used envelope:
I Love u c u r m q t
I look at him in wonder. ‘I bet you can’t work out what it says’, he tells me. The note, decoded reads:
I love you ’cause you are my cutie
Once again, all is right with the world.
Shagoury, R.E. (2009). Raising writers: Understanding and nurturing young children’s writing development. USA: Allyn & Bacon, Pearson