Classroom Secrets

If you haven't watched 'classroom secrets' yet on iplayer, you definitely should. It will give you a new respect for primary school aged children all over the country. It's about a school where they allowed cameras to follow a class and showed parents their 'real' (although obviously somewhat edited) behaviour throughout a school day.

It's interesting that my husband and I both saw this documentary from completely different perspectives. He immediately sympathized with the teachers (being one himself I suppose it's natural) and said he found it amazing that anyone would want to work with a group of primary age children that size (he has worked in a junior school before, but with much smaller class sizes). He pitied the teacher for having to try and manage the kids day in, day out.

I noticed a few things too, but from a completely different angle. I could see the teachers were exasperated, even tired. The was an example of one little boy, called Corey, who had a one to one teaching assistant for two hours every day. The teacher only had one child to deal with (although there were still other children present) but she allowed him to get away with wasting hours of time messing about 'getting a drink' or making himself something to eat, despite the fact he told her openly he was doing it to avoid class! I understand the teacher being at a loss when she has a large group of children to control, but one-to-one for two hours, surely you could keep a closer eye on what the child was doing. Especially if it's your sole object with no other distractions. It's not like she's an exasperated mother who has to finish making dinner, tidy up, do the laundry and get the child to concentrate!

The second thing I noticed was how annoying it must be for children who do want to work in that environment. It reminded me of 'The Office: An American Workplace' I always thought it would be so hard to get anything done with a boss like Michael Scott

or a colleague like Dwight Schrute


but being in primary school is like trying to get on with work surrounded by 36 Michael's and Dwight's constantly. It's no wonder they get despondent and/or lash out.

One of the teacher's strategies was to place disruptive children next to children who were less 'distractable' (read 'disruptive'). This instantly flared up an objection in me that wanted to say to her 'you are punishing compliance!!' By placing children who are 'good' next to children who are 'naughty' you drive the good child insane and surely lower their productivity, and therefore the standard of their education too.

Then I thought a little longer and realised that placing all the disruptive children in one place would basically be writing them off. They would never get anything done or have the inspiration to improve their behaviour as they would be distracted by other disruptors constantly. Although the compliant children would be happy.

It's a no win situation, and to be perfectly honest, it's one of the many reasons I believe the best education is a home education. I doubt there is any parent in the world who would have less more than 36 children (although, if you do, fair play! That is very impressive). Most families have at most five with the average being below three. This means that children can truly get an individual education. Children who want to work will be allowed to get on, instead of being sat next to disruptive children in an attempt to improve the productivity of someone who generally does not want to work.

Instead of a disruptive child being allowed free reign because the teacher is dealing with someone else, the parent who knows and loves the child, and desperately wants what is best for them, can do whatever is necessary to get the work done, including carrying discipline over into other areas of life, not allowing them to 'leave it at the school gates'.

That was something else that I picked up on. One of the boys responded so well to praise, and yet his mother didn't know about it. The school had picked up on it, but because he spent more of his waking hours there than at home, his own mother had no idea that affirmation was his love language, and couldn't understand why he was coming home with stickers all the time.

Another little boy was regularly receiving awards and certificates for positive contribution. His mother had no idea, because he had never brought them home. The school really wanted her to back up their affirmations with praise for his efforts, but she had no idea that he had received any recognition. I thought it was so sad that his mother had no idea how he was doing.

It was a recurring theme throughout the programme. Particularly one set of parents who said they weren't sure who to believe out of their daughter and the teacher (their girl had been accused of swearing, amongst other things). The documentary showed her swearing and also writing the word 'F***ing' on a whiteboard, and her parents were shocked. She had always denied swearing at school, and they had clearly believed her. The consistency in the theme of parents not knowing what was going on was what saddened me the most. Children should not be able to live two lives. We train them in honesty, but unless we are there to catch them, how can we know if they have really learnt the lesson, or if they are just clever enough not to get caught? How can we encourage accountability when we allow them to leave so much behind when they leave home/school?

The fact that the documentary was even proposed shows that, as a society, we just accept that parents don't know what is going on in our children's lives. That we have to film them to find out how they behave on a daily basis.

I'm resolved in my decision to home school (for more reasons than just this) but if anyone out there is unsure, I suggest watching the documentary, and keeping an open mind. The choice to educate your own children is always available to you.

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