Hey! How are you? It’s been a while. How am I? Oh, you know, good. Well pretty good anyway. Well actually there is something that’s been bugging me, and since you asked I suppose I should tell you really, so here goes.
I should be feeling pretty good right now. It’s November, and things are going pretty smooth in the DC household. Our youngest – Rafael – has settled really well into his first school year and has actually managed to learn (thanks to my wife, Loly) around half of his alphabet in the last four weeks. Today was a milestone. Rafa spelt his first whole word on the magnetic letter board. C-A-T, cat. Incredible. He followed up this little gem with the big one, yep you guessed it, D-A-D and I don’t mind telling you there was a couple of tears shed over this one.
OK! OK! I hear you, enough with the syrup. I just needed to share that with you. You are very important to me, you understand?
Our older two, Aisha and Marcus have just received their Interim School Reports. It’s the first formal update on their academic progress since September, and I have to admit, things – touch wood – are going rather well. But, there is a niggle here and it’s a big one. The children are marked on their current educational attainment, their predicted end of year grades and the level of effort the teacher feels that they are putting in.
Marcus’ report was almost exactly what we expected from him and there were no real surprises, and no concerns. But at the top of the list of subjects on Aisha’s otherwise excellent report was Art. and Art had a great big glaring ‘3’ under the ‘effort’ heading. To put you in the picture here, 3 means ‘passive learner’ which is current speak for ‘could do better’.
Ok, she is 15 and you expect a few bumps, but we haven’t had many and this just isn’t her. Art is her favourite subject, and it is a subject that she goes to enormous lengths to do well in. She is constantly striving for improvement and spends many hours working on pieces of coursework, both in lunch times and late into the night at home, with I must say some excellent results.
To understand why I have been slow boiling my way up to outrageous indignation at this I need to give you a little background here. When I was a boy between 10 and 14 years old I desperately wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I would spend my spare time making pencil sketches which I would ink in later, or attempting to reproduce the fantasy art of Frank Frazetta or Boris Valejo, and generally dreaming of my future life in the Big Apple working for Marvel Comics drawing super heroes for a living.
For two years I had a wonderful teacher called Mr Emery, who was incredibly miserable, but who’s fabulous talent left me spellbound, and occasional grudging praise ecstatic. Why? because you knew he really meant it. Mr Emery was a skilful teacher. Strict enough to maintain your attention, possessed of a commanding personality, and talented enough to demonstrate that he really knew his subject. He treated us like young adults, and just for him, for four hours each week, we would behave like young adults. Life was good.
When year 10 began, and I embarked on my ‘O’ level art course, I was dismayed to see that I had been placed in Mr Kimber’s class. This was something akin to death to me, or at least it began the slow suffocation of my dreams and aspirations. Mr Kimber was old, not just old but really OLD. At least five thousand years old, I would estimate.
Mr Kimber might as well have put me in a straight jacket for two years. Art lessons became bland and uninteresting, focusing on Still Life, or sometimes if he was feeling adventurous – Still Life. I spent two years drawing fruit bowls and flowers until eventually I became so bored and demotivated that I lost my love of Art, and with it, I lost my way in life.
Fast forward to now and you can see why I am worried. It’s not that I want to live vicariously through my daughter, she has her own plans. I have almost met this teacher, Miss Gears. I was collecting my daughter from her Art trip and I was seven minutes late arriving to pick her up. There was only Aisha and Miss Gears there as I pulled up in the car.
I got out of the car to apologise to Miss Gears and was shocked when she turned around and walked away from me before I could even speak to her. Ok, I know I may have made her late, she may have been in a hurry, but really? You should have been there and seen her angry face, it was shocking.
So here is my point. My entire life took a different turn because of a teacher. Teachers have been huge figures in my early life and carry enormous responsibility in their role. A good teacher can ignite a spark within a pupil that can shape who they become and what they go on to achieve. Life changing decisions are made by young people all over the world inspired to a love of a subject awoken within them by their teachers and mentors.
Who would Alexander the Great have been without Aristotle? Who would Aristotle have been without Plato? Of course we will never know the answer to those questions but we all know how much everyone needs someone when we are young to help us find that thing that fires us. Seeds need to be fed and watered and a sprinkling of sunshine if they are to flourish.
Miss Gears if you ever read this, get to know my child, she is very precious to me. When my daughter spends hours of her free time with an Art textbook learning to draw a nose, or the fingers on a hand, or to recreate the natural movement of a body, that is not passive learning. That is a passion for learning that needs recognition and encouragement, not an ill-considered label from someone who doesn’t seem to have taken the trouble to examine a coursework book already brimming with highly detailed and carefully executed work.
And just in case you don’t read this little rant, I have written to you in much the same terms as I have written here and copied it to your Head. I don’t want to make your life difficult, but if it’s got to be you or my girl then I think we both know who is winning that one. Your Interim report is in Miss Gears and you just got a 3 for effort, and we both know what that means – don’t we?