Tag Archive | Education

Who the Hell Am I?

My eldest daughter, the Hippie Child worries, she’s 15 and doesn’t know what she wants to do for a career. The pressure starts early now. My hollow reassurances that she will figure it eventually are of little comfort.

The process of discovering yourself, creating a life, establishing a career is a never-ending cycle of success, failure, regret, optimism, defeat, getting it right, royally stuffing it up – but probably not what she needs to hear right now.

I worry I’m pushing her into a creative, arty life, after all that’s what I like. She’s good at art, textiles, writing (although spelling remains an area of concern she’s certainly a child of the spell check generation).

Then I remember some 13 years ago standing in the Montessori pre-school while the teacher demonstrated the maths equipment and I had a light bulb moment “oh my god I would have understood maths if it was explained like this”. Later the teachers would be concerned because Hippie Child had no interest in learning letters and sounds and reading. Wrapped up in imagination she turned every lesson into an exercise of creative storytelling “this letter is P what starts with P?” “Princess starts with P, the princess lived in a beautiful castle on the top of the really big hill and the man on the horse came to rescue her …” it was a tedious process trying to get her to focus. If she wasn’t making up stories she could be found in the practical life corner, grating soap, peeling boiled eggs, pouring water between containers – it’s the first stage in the Montessori system and by your final year you really should have moved on. But Hippie Child liked to go back and help the little ones and most days could be found there. Eventually the teachers discovered she didn’t mind maths so that became her focus. By accident one day I discovered she could do basic sums in her head, she was confident and correct. Then she went to school and poor teaching, coupled with a pretty inflexible education system led to her deciding she “was no good at maths”, that label has stuck.

We were all surprised when in the first year of high school, she did well at Science, and really enjoyed the subject. The interest has waned a little in the past couple of years, it is clear that she responds to individual teachers, she likes it when they tell stories, fire up her imagination, she wants to know why things are, how they work, she’s kinesthetic and visual. Exams, and deadline driven assignments, pressurised homework  to a set criteria tend to dull her enthusiasm for subjects, yet left to her own devices to read and explore she will spend hours working stuff out.

What if? What if I had got her maths tutoring? What if I had been more proactive with her teachers? What if I had sat down with her and continued teaching her maths the Montessori way? What if her Science teachers had continued to inspire her? What if I had chosen a school that didn’t have such an emphasis on homework and exams? What if I taken the Tiger Mother approach and just refused to accept the “I’m no good at maths” and drilled, and practised until so help me god she was good at maths?

Perhaps she would end up a nuclear physicist? Or an accountant? Oh please not an accountant. See putting my own prejudices into the scenario.

Throughout life choices get made, your own and other people’s, shaping who you are and what you do.

At 44 the woman standing here has worn countless labels through the years,  daughter, sister, wife, mother, student, secretary, researcher, producer, executive PA,, coordinator, unit leader, partnership broker. How many were truly representative of who I am? Probably none, because your personality is a complex mix of circumstances, genetics, talents and foibles.

I know my picture of who I am is still a work in progress. However, it is clearer now than what it was as a starry-eyed teenager who believed everything was going to end up perfect. I know it’s much, much clearer than the murky years of the 30’s when a tired, overwhelmed mother didn’t know which way was up and had no idea how she was ever going to find herself again.

Along the way through adulthood you encounter things which make you tougher, you figure out there are lots of things you can handle, because you’ve dealt with worse in the past.

The elusive search for identity continues but you know yourself better. You know where you are strong, you know where you are weak.

The appearance of who you are can alter and recalibrate in different groups, different environments. But the core of who you has probably been assigned in those childhood years, your sense of right and wrong, your talents, your beliefs, have all been shaped during the years over which you have no control. Even the bad experiences can remodel into good when you take those lessons to the essence of who you are and make yourself stronger, more empathetic, kinder.

Right now who I am is predominantly a mother, an employee and a woman using her mid-life crisis to try to recapture a childhood dream of being a writer – hello blogging! But tomorrow that could all change.

You own free will allows you to reinvent yourself many times in a single lifetime, life would be very dull if we didn’t grow and change with new experiences.

How do you convey that to a 15-year-old? Obviously, you can’t. You have to let her go out and figure it all out for herself, with the hope she can find her passion early and get to nurture it for life, with the wish the rocky patches aren’t too bad and the happy days outnumber the sad.


Eden posed the the question “Who The Hell Are You” at her blog. Click the icon below to see how others took to the theme.

A Letter to My Daughters About NAPLAN

Dear Girls,

The Government decided that all students would be tested in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 to monitor their levels of literacy and numeracy. In theory it seems a good idea. Parents get a sense of where their child sits in relation to other kids, schools can identify problems and so on. In practice, teachers teach to the test. Endless hours of practice for the one exam. We’ve moved the pressure of the HSC onto eight-year-olds. Children recognise when they don’t do well and wear the “label” of no good at maths or spelling or grammar in their classroom for the rest of their education.

I want you to know NAPLAN reflects just one or two days of your life. It may reflect that you were coming down with a cold that day and couldn’t concentrate, it may reflect you developed a stress headache and the words went all blurry so you just guessed your answers, it may reflect you forgot to take the necessary equipment (seriously Hippie Child if you don’t put that maths set in your school bag NOW), it may reflect on that particular day you were on fire, remembered everything your teacher had ever said and managed to nail a great result.

What NAPLAN doesn’t show us is your talent for creativity, for music, for art. It doesn’t show us your love of books and the diverse range of reading you do. It doesn’t let us see your kindness when you help the old lady at the shop who has dropped her purse, or when you make the day of an eight year boy by letting him  join in the fun of jumping off the town wharf with you and your friends.

NAPLAN won’t uncover your ability to question, consider and formulate your own opinions on a wide range of subjects – oh the conversations we have had!

NAPLAN can’t tell me about the hard work and perseverance you have shown when faced with a difficult task you really, really wanted to get right.

NAPLAN doesn’t capture your strength when times are tough.

NAPLAN will not display your sense of fair play and your ability to work in a team.

NAPLAN doesn’t define who you are. It doesn’t determine your level of success in either literacy or numeracy – it is just your level of success on one given day – you can change the result in the many other days you have in your school life.

I hope you finish these eight years of education able to write a coherent sentence and work out how much change you are due at the shop but I also hope you leave school with a continuing desire to learn stuff, a curiosity about the world and an ability to examine things for yourself and come to your own conclusions about their validity.

By the time we get the results of NAPLAN we will all have moved on (it takes five months after all), but if you have aced it we will celebrate your success, if you haven’t gone as well as you hoped we will celebrate having a go. Whatever the scenario we will find a way to celebrate ’cause you know your mum likes a party.

Good luck today Hippie Child (and next year Princess Child)



PS Here’s an interesting article on the NAPLAN

Take The Kids To Work Day

Meeting Kate.

Once upon a time my children and I lived a completely intertwined life. I worked from home and they saw first hand exactly what “mummy’s job” involved. As they grew older and went off to school we still kept close, I was at the school doing maths groups and reading time. Our lives were glued together.

Then they got older. I went back to a mainstream job. There wasn’t any time to put in appearances at the school. Their sense of the work I did faded. They were busy with finding friends at lunchtime, surviving the battlefield of the school playground, keeping teachers happy and trying to understand the latest lesson.

When I worked from home they saw me interact with customers and team-members, they attended meetings and training sessions I ran, (in their PJ’s hiding in a cubby under a table because their Dad was a shiftworker and couldn’t always be home to look after them), they learnt how to put up and pull down promotional stands or set up a room for a workshop because the whole family had to come along to help me do those things.

When I went back to work they had no idea what I did for a living, “it’s some radio thing” I heard them tell friends once but details were sketchy. They didn’t meet the people I worked with for a very long time. Work and home were separate lives. Never the twain should meet.

I left “the radio thing” and went to an office job which was even less of a concept they could understand “she helps kids do work experience”.

Recently, I was helping organising an event for local students. A Building Aspirations – Get the Life You Love forum where guest speakers were brought in to help the 800 students attending find motivation and inspiration in planning their future goals.

I took the girls out of school for the day because I felt they would benefit from hearing what the speakers had to say. It was the first time in several years they had seen me at work. They were called in to help with blowing up the balloons, putting up posters and anything else that needed doing. They saw me handle a couple of challenges, they watched me silently freaking out when our two keynote speakers were still grounded in Sydney due to bad weather and the event had started, they overhead conversations with a variety of people, reassuring nervous local speakers, meeting and greeting politicians and chatting to the young musicians about to perform.

They were particularly thrilled to meet  an actress from Home and Away, Kate Ritchie. I was particularly relieved that Kate was a gracious, kind woman who gave each student she spoke to her undivided attention and respect.

I’m not sure what the girls took away from the day, but I know I felt good letting them have a glimpse into my working world (maybe not a typical day in the office but a day that utilised a lot of work skills nonetheless). I hope they see that when we are apart there’s a lot going in my life and I hope it allows them to understand a little bit more about the working world and how you function in it.

Do you think it’s important our children understand what we do? Can it help them gain skills for their own working life to spend some time witnessing yours?

Homework an Exercise in Futility

How much homework goes on in your house? Are you a fan of the after-school revision, assignments and projects? Or do you resent the impact homework is having on your family life?

At the risk of launching into a full-blown rant I have to state my view of homework, it is simply an exercise in futility.

It’s been ten years since we first experienced the joys of homework. Since we began with the nightly readers and spelling sheets of the early primary years. The first rule of homework was learnt early when we arrived at school with our “car” that we had made out of some of our old packing boxes. Our car was great, made by Princess Child with some helpful advice from Dad. It quickly became obvious that the child wasn’t supposed to have made the vehicle – as shiny, well put together, expertly painted models made their way into the classroom I thought I had mistakenly wandered into a Mercedes dealership. I’m sure the Mums and Dads were proud of the “A’s” they scored. Did the kids actually learn anything? I doubt it.

Last night on Today Tonight, psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg stated that 22 per cent of kids tell him their parents have done their homework for them – and that’s just the ones honest enough to admit it. Carr-Gregg is a strong opponent of homework saying it’s the modern day equivalent of cod-liver oil, everyone thinks it was good for you but in reality it does nothing.

Speaking from personal experience homework has caused our family a large degree of angst. It has impacted on family activities, created arguments and led to disappointment and a sense of failure (for all of us).

While there are guidelines to the time that should be spent on homework the reality is that many children won’t fit into those guidelines. They struggle to work independently or without direction, they fail to grasp the task, they are overwhelmed by the information. While parents aren’t teachers, they get frustrated at being unable to explain the concepts in terms children understand. The guidelines are a false recommendation while in practice even a simple worksheet can take double the time you would expect in a classroom.

There is no doubt in our home homework has at times made stressful situations worse. When my husband was undergoing a double heart-bypass my mother was looking after the children (both then still in primary school) she soon became aware that Hippie Child was not just worried about her father but frantic about homework and assignments she had due. Nana Shambles headed into the school and explained “I can get these kids fed and dressed and to school on time every morning but when it comes to homework I’m useless. As far as I’m concerned a powerpoint is where you plug in the kettle I have no concept of how to turn one into a presentation”. While the school said they would give extra help,  busy teachers and a child reluctant to speak up meant that help didn’t arrive. We also had the incidence of Mr Shambles flat on his back just days out of the surgery trying to explain maths concepts over the phone to get that week’s homework sheet finished.

Later in the first term of high school we were living with my Aunt while desperately trying to owner build our house.  The wireless internet connection was pretty much unusable most of the time. The maths teacher required homework to be submitted via the on-line Moodle system. At the parent/teacher interview in term one I explained our predicament, only to be told in no uncertain terms that my child was responsible for getting her homework done regardless of personal circumstance and she would need to spend lunchtime in the library to complete it if necessary. I may be odd but I actually wanted my daughter out in the playground developing social skills and growing a friendship group at the start of high school, guess I’m radical that way.

Homework is one of the most socially unjust features of our education system. When educated parents with access to resources are struggling to help their children succeed what chance does the child from a lower socio-economic background have? When parents are unable or unwilling to participate in the nightly homework routine, when books and computers are absent from the home how do those children manage with the tasks allocated? Knowing each morning they would have to face the ire of the teacher for not completing the given assignment is there any wonder they are giving up?

Carr-Gregg said last night that homework has more than doubled over the last ten years. Are we seeing increased benefit from all this extra work? Well according to the recently released Gonski Review of Funding for Schools

“over the last decade the performance of Australian students has declined at all levels of achievement, notably at the top end. This decline has contributed to the fall in Australia’s international position.In 2000, only one country outperformed Australia in reading and scientific literacy and only two outperformed Australia in mathematical literacy. By 2009, six countries outperformed Australia in reading and scientific literacy and 12 outperformed Australia in mathematical literacy.

In addition to declining performance across the board, Australia has a significant gap between its highest and lowest performing students. This performance gap is far greater in Australia than in many Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, particularly those with high-performing schooling systems. A concerning proportion of Australia’s lowest performing students are not meeting minimum standards of achievement. There is also an unacceptable link between low levels of achievement and educational disadvantage, particularly among students from low socioeconomic and Indigenous backgrounds.”

Richard Walker, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Sydney, said in an article that the research shows homework doesn’t improve the achievement of children in the early years of primary school,  has negligible benefits in the higher grades of primary school and very limited benefits in junior high school. While at the senior high school level, homework benefits the achievement of about 45 per cent of students.

Over at Mojito Mother Caz Makepeace wrote a brilliant blog on this topic yesterday and I loved her version of what homework should be.

“You have a new project for homework tonight and every night. It’s called ‘Play, Follow your Dreams and Let yourself Breathe’

From now on,  you must spend every night talking with Mum and Dad about anything you like, playing with your toys, taking one step towards that dream of yours, and then sit in a quiet space on your own, close your eyes and breathe.

I’m not going to check in on you that you have done it, because I believe you will. ”

In a world where children are being increasingly asked to follow an adult timetable, not getting home until 5.30pm or later then being expected to sit down and start work again it’s time to reassess the whole homework debacle. Our children need time to switch off, not be bogged down in responsibilities beyond their ability to manage.

What are your thoughts on homework? Has it been a good thing for your child? Or do you find it a stressful add-on to an already jampacked day?