Deborah Hill Cone
Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Oh, to turn the tables on teachers

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I got summoned to the principal's office last week. I have been bad. If there is a national standard for a parent's performance at a "student-led" conference I would flunk it.

I didn't even know what a "student led conference" was exactly, but it seems to be a zhuzhed-up version of what used to be known as a school report but read out in front of the teacher and parents.

This all sounds admirably inclusive and the-kids-are-alright, dude, except that my daughter is 5 and has been at school for less than two terms. It seemed to be expecting a lot to ask a 5-year-old to enunciate her goals. Surely at this early point in proceedings she just needs to be able to sit on the mat? She was rather blurry on what a goal is, other than "when they score at the World Cup".

My daughter's teacher - she once told me off for daring to help my daughter put her chair on her table "she can do it herself" - sat us briskly down with the manner of a chief executive leading an errant sales manager into the boardroom. A boardroom with teeny weeny chairs; you immediately feel at a disadvantage sitting with your chin on your knees.

She produced a complicated chart with my daughter's performance on various criteria for reading, writing and maths. There was no positive feedback or praise. I got the distinct impression my daughter had been found wanting. Me too, in fact.

My daughter was apparently doing fine actually - as far as I could tell - but it was difficult to work this out as all the focus was on her areas of ineptitude. It seems this is what national standards do to you. She is 5. Let me say that a bit louder: SHE IS FIVE.

How did this craziness come to be? When I went to see the principal he said "Well there are National Standards now, you know."

The school previously had a sign outside saying it did not support the introduction of national standards, so presumably this was not being done with especially good grace. I can't help wondering whether teachers bringing in something like this reluctantly are actually going to do more harm than good - "sorry your child just got emotionally lacerated but it's not our fault - blame Anne Tolley".

The real problem here though, is not the national standards but the teachers themselves. I might support the Education Minister's campaign to shake up the arrogant antiquated teachers union with its tenure for all, but damned if I want my small daughter being collateral damage. Tolley may have imposed national standards on them but when it comes to our kids, teachers still hold all the power.

When do I get a chance to turn the teeny weeny table and give the teacher a "parent-led" conference? She can sit in judgment on my 5-year-old daughter yet I get no say about her performance as a teacher? I'd like to sit her down on a small chair. I would tell her it's most important to love kids and show them that learning is the coolest thrill they will have in life. I would tell her moods are contagious - if you have lots of positive energy kids will catch that. They are more likely to learn by having the best fun ever.

I would tell her that at 5 my daughter has boundless enthusiasm for trains and the World Cup and Uno and her Transformers scooter with light-up wheels.And yes, she likes reading books and having cuddles and sitting on the mat. And by those national standards, she is doing just fine.

dhc@deborahhillcone.com

- NZ Herald

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