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 ...