LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Having seized upon the latest issue of Books for Keeps with my usual glee, I am again left feeling completely fed-up and disillusioned by another thoughtless attack on the education system.
I am a teacher CURRENTLY practising and I love my job. I have no rose tinted glasses – I am more than capable of spotting the shortcomings of the system, but I feel that a great many ex-teachers (some now authors) view the past as a sort of idyll to be returned to – I hope we don’t.
I loathe SATs in their current form with a passion and, as a year 6 teacher, refuse to ‘teach to the test’ in any subject. I have to compromise and do some limited exam technique work – I wouldn’t put anyone in for any exam without making sure they knew what they were facing – but I insist on acting as a buffer between my class and any pressure put on me to achieve certain levels. I would be only too delighted if the whole farce was removed, but that is not the issue under discussion here.
I remember only too well the piecemeal approach most teachers and schools offered. The only teacher I remember reading a ‘whole’ book to the class was when I was seven and we heard The Family From One End Street – marvellous book, but I had finished that and the two subsequent books long before the teacher had and spent the rest of the sessions reading other things under my desk!
The National Curriculum is over loaded and under resourced – those are the key issues. The National Literacy Strategy, like all documents prepared by those out of touch with classroom practice, is over ambitious in what it sets out to achieve, but it does highlight areas that were overlooked and unexplained previously. I love Literacy, but no one helped me to improve my written work beyond insisting on basic punctuation and complaining about my spelling – without offering me any strategies to improve. If anyone thinks that giving a class of children a story title and telling them to write that story in silence for an hour with no guidance is creative teaching then I’m in the wrong job and should perhaps be sitting at home writing articles about how it should be done rather than being with the kids doing my best.
As intelligent people, I would argue that most teachers use the Literacy Strategy and other documents to best effect and put creativity and enjoyment high on the agenda. Why else was I pushing a trolley round Asda at 9.30 at night buying food for the Greek day I’d planned? Why else do I spend hours in bookshops browsing, selecting and a small fortune buying and then reading the latest children’s books? Why else did I send every child in the school a postcard recommending a book this year and last year on World Book Day?
As teachers, our first responsibility is to create happy, learning environments that children want to come to. It is foolish to think that you can do the right thing for every child all of the time – teachers are human and need to sleep! – but I would argue strongly that most of us do a great job. It is time that some people realised it is the human interpretation of these documents that is the key and trust teachers to do what they love doing.
Having never previously felt the need to write to a magazine/newspaper, I simply cannot not reply to the article written by ex-teacher Robert Hull in the May issue of your magazine ( BfK No. 158).
As a practising primary school teacher, I find the suggestion that creativity is stifled through the implementation of the Literacy Strategy insulting. The idea that children in my classroom do not have a meaningful relationship with books (whole ones) is risible and I do read them ‘poems, and more poems, and more poems’, as well as books (often whole ones). While I am sure that there are some teachers who do not offer their pupils such experiences, well, there always were.
Many years prior to the introduction of the Literacy Strategy (and the Numeracy Strategy and even the National Curriculum), I was a pupil of teachers of the generation represented by Mr Hull, but I don’t recall the magical English lessons that he seems to be referring to. The fact that I do vividly recall being read, in the space of a year, the majority of the Chronicles of Narnia by a particular teacher, suggests that hearing books read in that way was not a common occurrence.
I was at school while many of our wonderful, established children’s writers were becoming, well, established, and yet I had to discover many of their books years later, as a parent and a teacher. So please don’t hark back to a mythical golden age of teaching – I don’t remember it.
Do us the credit of acknowledging that there are still many teachers who love books and offer them to children with enthusiasm, notwithstanding any Government directives, which we feel we have the professional judgement to interpret as we see fit. As for Looking for a Jamie Oliver , within the teaching profession, you are looking in the wrong place. Many of us have as much imagination, energy and enthusiasm as the most exciting of TV chefs, but we do not seek publicity, we get on with the job to the best of our abilities, despite daft directives and criticism from any number of sources.
Mr Hull, teachers and children can be creative both inside and despite such frameworks. As I am sure you would discover if you came into our classrooms, not to stand on a pedestal as the ‘visiting professional’, or to find fault, but to enjoy.
Hal’s Reading Diary
I really enjoyed ‘Hal’s Reading Diary’ in your January
2006 issue, and fully intended to write to you saying so. I loved its positive tone and particularly the observation that ‘Hal, like a great many children, takes to things when the time is right’. However, on my return from a seven-week holiday (my excuse for not writing!), I ripped open the March 2006 issue of BfK and turned to ‘Hal’s Reading Diary’ to find a change. For the first time in the series, the joy of books and book sharing takes second place to an attempt to define reading in terms of a task or a skill and Hal’s Dad seems downright unenthusiastic about Look at Me . I hope he’s not, because this little book represents the beginning of an important reading partnership between home and school, a partnership which thrives when there is mutual affirmation of and encouragement for the young reader.
Hal’s Dad is aware of what he calls the ‘insidious climate of expectation’ ( BfK No.148) that can be set up even in the most un-pushy home, and I for one would be sorry to see this delightful five-year-old begin to think that he’s not doing well because he cannot yet apply his phonic knowledge to the business of reading. The word ‘look’ is phonically quite challenging. I would have started with his name and moved onto ‘hat’, ‘t’ being a single letter for a sound and letter Hal knows. The current emphasis on ‘synthetic phonics’ and widespread use of Jolly Phonics need not be harmful unless it is just another ‘too much, too soon’ in the lives of English schoolchildren.
Please, Roger, embrace the Oxford Reading Scheme, if that’s the tool Hal’s teacher will be using to guide Hal into independent reading, and please don’t stop reading to him, even when he can go it alone. But above all, please don’t stop sharing his journey into reading with us!
Cynthia Dummett Basingstoke
Some letters have been shortened for space reasons. Ed
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