Last week I had parent-teacher interviews at my daughter’s school. She’s just started year 7, so this is a first for me. In primary school there was one 10 minute meeting, once every 6 months with one teacher. I’d walk in, greet the teacher, tell her how lovely the room looked with the children’s work presented on the walls. It was all the same. Perhaps a different style of writing, or a student that hadn’t fully completed their poster. However, they had still been coerced to have their work displayed. Unfinished. Hmmm, I wonder how that child felt? Then a little small talk, “is it still cold outside? Sorry you had to wait, I’m running a little behind,” she’d say to me. She’d shuffle around some papers and find the ones that related to my daughter. Referring to the paper, she would tell me about things they had accomplished during the last semester. I would hear about the things I already knew, such as “gosh, she really enjoys reading doesn’t she?” And “She works well in a group, perhaps she could share her ideas a little more with the rest of the class…” Then it was all over. In and out, job done.
Well last week was different. I didn’t have time to change after work, I picked up my daughter and we headed straight there. I had to see 7 teachers, all in the gym of the high school. Each interview was 5 minutes long and there was certainly no students’ work lining the walls for parents to peruse as we waited. I felt like I had just walk into my own year 12 exam. Right. This was serious now. But honestly, what could they tell me in 5 minutes? These teachers had only known my daughter for 10 weeks. Perhaps seeing her for an hour or 2 a week. Once we got past the small talk, what could they possibly tell me in 5 minutes that would make a difference. I looked at the screen shot on my phone to see which teacher we had first. The room was filled with at least 70 teachers. We looked at the map on the gym wall to find where her teachers were located and we were off.
The first interviews were for Science and French. The teachers, I could tell, were passionate about their subject. Not veering off topic for a second. The science teacher telling me what they had been doing for the term so far. The French teacher impressed by my daughter’s ability to pick up the language so quickly. We moved on to the English teacher. This is where things took a turn.
He looked straight into my eyes and started by asking me “So….. what did you do?” I panicked! Oh no, had he discovered that when I was in year 7 I didn’t even read the prescribed text, I just took notes in class of the conversations that took place so I could get a general gist, (I got an A for that assignment!). Or did he know that sometimes we had cereal for dinner as a ‘treat’ on a Friday night? I was in trouble now. I sat silently, fidgeting, unsure what he meant. He said, “You have raised a wonderful human being. How did you do that?” ME? WHAT? He went on to tell me I had a daughter who had a passion for reading and was very imaginative and creative in her writing. He asked about her early years in education, and what I did to encourage a deep love of literature. Phew, this wasn’t about the fact that I didn’t read Bridge to Terabithia or that we had Special K for dinner. I told him that during her early years we relocated and she went to a few different Kinders. He looked at my uniform and said, “you know there’s more to it.” I said that I read to her every night. “I knew it!” he declared, with a little gleam in his eye. “And how did you encourage her imagination?” I told him I didn’t do anything. I just let her be. She could be whomever she wanted to be.
As a child my daughter would play. She would play indoors and out. She would do painting and playdough, she would pick daisies and pretend they were people. She would make them a house in the stones in our backyard. She would help me dig in our garden as we planted potatoes, and I would try and explain the different between a plant and a weed. “But why don’t we like weeds? They are just growing too.” I would answer her endless questions. If I didn’t know the answer we would find someone that did. An expert. Perhaps her dad might know? We could call him. Or my parents? Or the library? Or her aunt and uncle might be able to help? Some of my favourite questions from her early years were “what’s the difference between an antelope and a cantaloupe?” and “Why did all the dinosaurs die?”
Then her questions got more intense.
“Why does that lady have no home? You only gave her $2 and said that was all you had. But I know you have $50 in your wallet. You just went to the ATM. Why did you lie to her Mum? We have a spare room at our house. Why can’t she just have that?” How do you answer those questions?
As parents we don’t have all the answers. People think that because I’m a teacher I have all the answers. Nope. I don’t. I couldn’t answer all those questions back then. All I could do was lead her down the path of finding the answers she required, whilst learning a thing or two myself along the way. I could pass on to her my love for learning new things. I could encourage her to make a difference in the lives of others, and I could role model appropriate ways of being, acting and doing in a society that is so focussed on material possessions, the perfect body image and violence.
My daughters English teacher was right. She is very passionate about reading and writing, and I like to think I had some part to play in that by reading to her every night. But what she is more passionate about is justice. When she writes, she writes with purpose. When she reads it is something of value. She can identify when someone is being treated unfairly and will display acts of kindness and compassion where she feels it is lacking. Isn’t that what we all want for our children? The knowledge that they are making a difference in the world. That is why I do what I do. Because I want to guide others to make a difference in the world.