Seize the day, parents, don't tell us how to do it

5th September 2003 at 01:00
I blame Robin Williams. Not just for some of his more maudlin film role choices but also for the entirely unrealistic expectations he has created for both teachers and parents. Yes, it's the Dead Poets Society effect. For those of you who missed the film, it's about a rebellious but brilliant and charismatic English teacher who brings literature to life in a stuffy boys'

boarding school. I forget exactly how he did it - I think it involved John Wayne imitations - but I know that it engendered the expectation that every English lesson should create an overwhelming desire in adolescents to read 19th-century poetry and unleash their collective artistic souls.

Of course, we do get to teach some pretty wonderful stuff, but there are also basic skills to learn and exams to prepare for. Believe me, I try.

Hot-seating, debates, media units, ICT and drama games are all standard practice. Most students make progress. Many are reasonably content (or only a little surly in the case of my Year 9s), but that doesn't keep parents from wanting more. So I have composed a list of comments they should avoid:

* "Ferdie hasn't enjoyed any of your assignments (debating, poetry, pre-20th-century prose, film studies, Hemingway, autobiography, brochures and letter writing so far this term). Could it be that you don't encourage him enough?"

* "Why does Jack have to read Jane Eyre Lord of the FliesOf Mice and MenA View from the BridgeTwelfth Nightanything worthwhile on the syllabus? I hated it when I was a child."

* "Correcting Celia's spelling mistakes is making her hate English."

* "Damian is upset because he only got A-minus on his essay and I understand at least one other child got an A. Could I see your mark scheme?"

* "Bridget doesn't understand her homework. Did you explain it in class?"

* "My daughter can never finish her lovely stories that she writes on little scraps of paper at home. She seems wonderfully creative. I wondered if you could start a writing club to help her fulfil her potential?"

* "I know you can't read Alexander's writing and he doesn't manage to get much down on paper, but, take it from me, he's extremely inventive."

* "Why shouldn't Wayne laugh when Gloucester's eyes are poked out in King Lear? He's a free spirit and that's his honest reaction."

* "Jeremy just doesn't like to read. Do you think you could recommend a book which combines his love of skateboarding and Jack the Ripper?"

* "In junior school, Jemima (now 15 and preparing for exams) used to write the most charming little fantasy stories with talking bunnies. It's sad you don't seem to do much of that in the curriculum these days."

The writer, who wants to remain anonymous, teaches English in London

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