No. You don’t. Neither do I. That mom down the street who gets a weekly update from that other school thinks she does – but does she really? How to communicate the ongoing events in a classroom with parent is a question often considered by educators, and came up recently in an online teachers’ group to which I belong.
Some schools offer parents tidbits of daily or weekly information: Our class watched this movie today; The students wrote a paragraph about their weekend; We learned how to calculate the area of a triangle. Parents come away thinking they know what their child has done in class. But let’s examine a little further, shall we?
Our class watched this movie today – ok, fair enough. Did my child enjoy it, or was he too busy staring out the window? Did he learn anything from it? Was there a discussion before, or afterwards about the context in which he watched the movie? Does the teacher know him well enough to know why he seemingly could not answer a question about the movie afterwards? Was he ashamed by that? Such details are rarely included in classroom updates.
The students write paragraphs and learn about triangles. So does every other student at that age level at a school that follows the Ontario curriculum. Quite often, the updates that parents get are copied word for word from the Ontario curriculum documents. And what does that really tell you about your child’s experience with the lesson? Does it tell you if your child understood the lesson? If he grasped the concept, and demonstrated understanding? How many problems they did, and how long they spent on it? How was it taught? How does the teacher know your child learned it? Will the teacher even know whether your child learned it before the test or homework assignment?
Most importantly, to me, is that none of these updates address the issues about which I am most concerned: Is my son happy? Does he have good friends? Is he learning how to make up after a fight? Is he demonstrating leadership skills? Is he able to generalize what he learned in the lesson? How are his transferable/soft skills developing? Is he confident? Is he finding relevance in the things he is learning? What is he worried about? What does he love to do? These are the things I know, through my own research into boys and cognition, will actually serve him in higher education, and when he leaves school. I also know that one of the most important things for a boy and his school success is his relationship with his teacher. Weekly updates of the general type do not reflect how well the teacher knows my child or how much he or she cares about him.I don’t necessarily get frequent formal updates about what my son is doing at MJDS. But when I do run into his teachers, they are always eager to spill the beans. And the things they tell me are always specific to my son, and his whole development. That’s one of the things I love most about this school – the teachers really know my son, they have a genuine affection for him, and they want to see him succeed. They know when to push him, when to hold back and let him work something out, and when he needs a break. They can support him in a very powerful way.
At a parent evening earlier this year, the Upper Elementary teacher took me aside and told me about the way in which my son took his sweet time answering a particular question – how he really thought about the answer, and came up with something surprising and deep. She explained how that showed her that he not only understood the question and the lesson, but that he made it relevant to his life. She tells me about the jokes he makes, and about how his social presence in the classroom affects the other children. She also tells me sometimes about his math work, but, really, having learned math the Montessori way, I know from personal experience that his math will be far stronger than if he’d done it any other way.
My son’s French teacher explained to me how, in her arts-based classes, he is often hesitant to commit to his work, because he does not feel he can bring to life what is in his head. What impressed me is that not only did she notice that he is hesitant, but she took the time to observe, talk to him, and work out why he hesitates. And knowing that, she was able to help him overcome that. The next piece of work I saw his handwriting was messy, and his painting colourful – and his teacher and I both knew that this was a breakthrough for him.
I don’t know what my son is doing every day. I have read the curriculum that MJDS puts out every year, and my own experience tells me that he will have all the academic knowledge, skills and know-how he needs to succeed all the way through a PhD, law degree, or specialization in medicine should he choose to go any of those routes. I see him come home from school happy (when I can get him to leave, that is). I see him at school performances, poised and confident. I read his reports. I ask for meetings when I need to. I have never been told I cannot speak to a teacher when I ask to make an appointment. Every time I speak to a teacher, I learn more about my child – not about the class, what the teacher taught, or what the curriculum tells them to do, but about my beautiful, precious boy.
And so over my son’s 8 years at the school I have learned to trust. To trust that his teachers will know what to do, and how to do it. To trust that they know him well enough to ensure that he is growing and developing and learning. To trust that he will learn what he needs to learn, and that while some of those lessons will be hard (like how to deal with life when the only other boy in your grade is mad at you), these are the things that will make him a strong, resilient, innovative and confident man. I don’t know what my child does, and that’s ok, because he is more than ok.
~ Andrea Lulka has spent her whole life in and around Montessori, the last ten years more formally than the rest. A certified 3-6 teacher, working towards 12-18 certification holding an MEd. in Montessori Integrative Learning, Andrea also has experience in various capacities with every age group from Toddler through to Middle School as well as with parent education and school administration. By far her toughest and proudest role in the Montessori community is that of mother to a Montessori boy.