Secret Diary of a Teacher: Standing in the picket line, I was surprised by the number of supportive beeps

Secret Diary of a Teacher: Standing in the picket line, I was surprised by the number of supportive beeps

You know the lyrics: “We don’t need no education/We don’t need no thought control/No dark sarcasm in the classroom/Hey, teachers, leave them kids alone.”

Last week that’s exactly what teachers did.

Throngs of secondary teachers across Ireland left “them kids alone” and went on strike for equal pay. Standing in the picket line, I was surprised by the number of supportive beeps.

I stood alongside colleagues, all of us wondering how our students were getting on at home; whether they were using the day off during their pre-exams to catch up on much-needed study.

On such days as these, it’s possible that you’re the parent of a child who won’t exactly race to the books after their Weetabix.

I know I am, even if she’s not long out of nappies. She screams most mornings and I fear it’s set to continue. But it’s also possible that this lacklustre approach might not mean failure.

Change is happening and this ‘I’ll do it later’ child might be the one to take advantage of it. When I was studying English for my Junior Cert in 1996, I had to be ready to quote the length and breadth of my chosen texts.

I knew the line, the scene, the act and the hour. Without the internet, knowledge had to be internalised and accessible.

A lot has changed and for good reason.

According to Forbes, we’re in the fourth wave of the industrial revolution (top marks if you can identify the other three) and so, we need to rid ourselves of rote-learning. Your child doesn’t need to pace floorboards reciting “Wherefore art thou Romeo” anymore.

Instead, they need to be creative about understanding and discussing the text; they need to have emotional intelligence.

Think about it. A generation ago, the only source of information I had was my textbook. I had to know it cover to cover.

Now it’s more important for students to navigate the internet correctly. They need to know a certain amount of course, but they don’t need to retain as much information.

In approximately five years, a third of essential skills, relating to our workplaces, will have changed. This is according to the Future of Job Report from the World Economic Forum.

We’ll soon be bumping into robots at the water-cooler, so we need an entirely new approach to learning and productivity. Creativity is at the heart of that approach.

This means that parents can really help their children prepare for exams at home, without the textbooks. They can do this through the old-fashioned art of human conversation.

Let me give an example: I’ll stick with English. Say little Tommy is revising Romeo and Juliet for the Junior Cert.

Sit down and watch Baz Luhrmann’s film with him. If you’ve got the time, watch Zeffirelli’s offering too.

At the dinner table, ask them open questions. An open question is one that cannot be answered simply; it requires thought, critical and creative.

For example, “Who is to blame for the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet?” Fight it out.

Any opinion they have, ask them to qualify it. Ask them to provide examples from what happens in the play, what characters say to each other.

Don’t worry so much about them understanding every line. Together, over your family lasagne, consider the age-old themes of love and betrayal. Your salt and pepper shakers will soon become Montagues and Capulets.

Then you might engage Tommy in a conversation about why Shakespeare is still around. Is it his characters? What is it about them? Examiners are more interested in his well-argued musings than they are in testing his recitation of the prologue.

Settling into dessert, ask him to compare the two films. Which director did a better job? Do you think the LA backdrop worked for Romeo and Juliet? Why? Why not?

The following week why not move on to history? Start your Monday breakfast with a controversial opinion about World War Two.

See what they have to say about it. Get them to come up with examples, to think about consequences and antecedents.

If your child has one jot of natural creativity, feed it as you would a teenage boy in hardcore training. Bring them to galleries, read them stories.

Give them a length of string and ask them to come up with 40 uses for it. These are the skills your young person needs.

If they can tell you how many boats were used in World War One — great! But what was the significance of it? In short, don’t panic if they’re not chaining themselves to the desk every night in fear of dropping a percentage.

Those days are thankfully gone; at least they should be. I’m not saying their minds can be creative vortexes. They do need to know their subjects and they should learn short key quotations in English for example, but flexibility of thought is more important in the long run.

If there’s any issue with literacy and numeracy, they need to fix that too. So, work on getting them to a level where they can communicate clearly. Then, let them fly!

We’re well past the age of sculpting a child to be “just another brick in the wall”. We want them to paint the wall. Design the wall. Be the wall, if they feel like it.

Because in tomorrow’s world, that’s what’s most likely to get them a job.

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