Friday, February 02, 2007

Too cool for school

The playground is a bit like high school. Scratch that: a lot like high school. And in the sea of cliques, this ten-years-younger-than-the-others, no mortgage, shared parenting mum is somewhat of a loner. A bit like I was in high school, really.

Which is why I was so incredibly chuffed that I spent half of Thursday in really interesting conversation with two mums from school. J's daughter was in F's class in prep, and we've actually quite liked each other since we discovered a shared passion for Idol back then, but barely spoken in the past year, as our kids have been in different classes (still are). We got chatting in the schoolyard post-drop-off today and ended up moving to a bench in the quadrangle, where we gossipped and giggled like, well, schoolgirls for about an hour.

This is when M scuttled breathlessly across the yard to join us, emoting about being a bad mother because she'd forgotten her kid L's lunch and had just dropped it in. We laughed and told her some of our own Dumb Mum stories and told her she was a good mum for coming back with it.

The long-overdue sense of kinship with other parents really kicked in, though, when we started talking about last year’s school performance – particularly the item that caused me to write an angry letter to the school, the Year Ones’ performance of Aqua’s Barbie Girl. I’ve never really spoken about this to other parents at the school, mostly because no one else seemed to be bothered by it, so I was delighted to hear that both J and M had found it incredibly disturbing. What was even more fascinating though, was that M’s son had been in that class. M talked about dreading the school concert after seeing the lyrics that came home and the suggestive choreography that accompanied it, and really, really not wanting to see her son perform the song. She said that she knew a couple of other parents in that class had felt the same way.

What’s more, she told me some other things she’s witnessed with this particular teacher, who I’ll call Bogan Princess. Things that made me both pleased that I’d complained about her (in the context of the performance) and justified in my decision that I would rather pull F out of school than ever have her teach him.

1. Bogan Princess was in the habit of breezing into class (of Year One children, remember) and asking stimulating and highly age-appropriate educational questions like: ‘SO! Who knows who got killed on Home and Away last night?’

2. Bogan Princess had a tape recorder in the classroom and would often put on pop songs (yes, along the lines of Aqua’s Barbie Girl) and invite the kids to get up and dance. An emerging clique of princesses-in-training would leap up and push to the front, swaying and shimmying to the music, swivelling their little hips. The shyer kids – and most of the boys – would either sit, embarrassed, or half-heartedly wiggle along so as not to be left out.

3. One day, M’s boy L, a sensitive soul, came home quite distressed. That day, a boy called T had been misbehaving in class. So Bogan Princess asked the class: ‘Who doesn’t want T to be in our classroom anymore?’ and called for a show of hands. The boy was voted out and banished, on the basis that his classmates didn’t want him. ‘What did you do?’ asked M. ‘I put up my hand’ said L, ‘I didn’t want to, but I thought I’d better.’ L felt deeply ashamed and upset because he’d been part of ostracising this kid. Apparently, other children had come home that night with similar stories.

4. At the first parent/teacher interview night, Bogan Princess began her interview with M as follows: ‘You know, these last few weeks have been really hard for me. I’ve had parents complaining all the time and I’ve been coming home in tears almost every night. It’s been really hard fitting in and I’m just learning.’ M was a parent who had complained a couple of times. She
apologised, and didn’t complain again. ‘I felt like saying,’ she told us, ‘that L had been coming home upset at night too.’ Because it’s all about the teachers, isn’t it? It’s sooo professional to begin a client/service provider meeting by the service provider telling that client in advance that complaints make them cry and that they’re just learning. That would, in other professional situation, get a person sacked. Or at least disciplined.

Bogan Princess is playing dollies with these kids. She is teaching them how to form cliques, how to be cool, how it’s important to like the right things in order to chat about them at school the next day, and how important it is to be part of the crowd. Don’t be yourself, be like everyone else and fit in.

Oh, and half the stuff she’s using as reference points is TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE FOR YEAR ONE KIDS.

M and J did remind me about one aspect of Bogan Princess’s concert item that I’d HATED at the time, but overlooked in the face of the bigger evil of the sexualised lyrics and dance routine. It was a ‘time warp’ theme, and when each decade rolled around, a kid would read out a list of things that defined the decade. And the lists consisted of things like, for the ‘80s, Days of Our Lives, and for the ‘90s, iPods (and, yes, Home and Away). It was mostly pop culture reference, ‘cool’ stuff. Zero educational content.

And my last Bogan Princess reference (sorry, I can’t stop now …):

When the school principal rang me up to discuss my angry letter, she read me an apology from BP. It read, as I recall: ‘Dear Mrs [!] X, I am sorry about the concert item. My background is in dance and drama and when I chose the song, I wasn’t thinking about the lyrics, I was thinking about the music and the choreography. And I took out the second verse. I am sorry if I offended you.’

How can you not think about the lyrics when choosing a song to teach six-year-olds to sing?
Obviously she did think about them just a little to take out verse two, the MOST offensive. Which still left lines like ‘make me walk, make me talk, do whatever you please/I can act like a star, I can beg on my knees’. And much more.

ANYWAY, my companions of the day, J and M, were very very pleased that I had complained and promised that next time they would write similarly outraged letters so that the school would know it was more than one person bothered by it all.

Hooray! There are other people at the school who both think and have morals.

And as for the title of this post: we’re obviously too cool for a school that gives out rewards of Playstation X-Box keyrings to boys and make-up to girls (I'm still talking Year Ones) for good behaviour – something F let slip in conversation last weekend.

But Bogan Princess is definitely too cool for school. In a different way. If she wants to create mini coolsies, she should start a dance academy or something. Or run kiddie beauty pageants perhaps. But how the hell does someone like that get to be in charge of impressionable (six-year-old!) minds for a year at a time? In the guise of TEACHER?

** I should mention that I have the greatest respect for teachers in general. Real ones. I think the job they do is enormously important and that is why stuff like this makes me so angry. Sigh. Retreat ...


meva said...

I agree with you about most teachers being professional and responsible about their duties. It's a tough job.

But given that, one bad teacher can make such a difference in a kid's life. BP sounds like a complete idiot! It also sounds like this was her first year teaching, and hopefully she'll learn by her very bad (and plentiful) mistakes. The Principal needs to set some boundaries for her, I think.

Ariel said...

100% agree. (And yes, it was her first year.) I'm very dubious about the school in general given that this has been allowed to go on.

lucy tartan said...

I'd be dubious about the school too. Leadership sets the tone in educational institutions like every other kind. The principal's job is to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen. As for giving out computer games and makeup to little kids as bribes for good behaviour....double wtf??

MadameBoffin said...

I'm an ex-teacher and I'm completely on your side Ariel.

What I want to know is, when the principal read out BP's apology letter (which sounded like it was written by a 10-year-old btw), then did the principal consider the matter closed?

How is BP still working at this school? I can't believe she's the product of 4 years of tertiary education.

Out of curiosity, is this a state or a private school? I'd be particularly concerned if it was a private school and all the money from school fees is going into paying women like BP's salary :P

Ariel said...

More agreeance.

And the principal's reaction was that from now on the school will more closely supervise the content of performances and that this teacher would have some professional development sessions about appropriateness. All good stuff. But, judging from what I've heard about her ongoing everyday classroom behaviour, it doesn't seem to have made much of a dent. Or maybe only where public performances are concerned.

And yes, sounds like a 10 yo letter. She acts like a 10 yo. sigh.

ThirdCat said...

The aqua girl post was the first of your posts that I read. I meant to say then how impressive that I'll say it now. It's how I knew I would like you.

Ariel said...

*blush* Thanks TC. Wow, I never thought anyone read the blog in those days. How very nice indeed.