parent opinion

'If I were a teacher, there's one thing I would do differently.'

I want to make it clear that I love teachers. I’m still in contact with a few of my own teachers from 30 years ago, because they fundamentally shaped who I am.

I love my child’s teachers, and respect them as a vital part of my child’s life. I know most teachers do so much more than they are required to, and care more about their students than they need to.

But – and this is something I’ve felt for a while – if I were a teacher myself, there’s one thing I would do differently.

I took my child to see movie The House With the Clock In Its Walls on the weekend. It was fun, but one sad scene really stuck in my mind. The hero of the story is a 10-year-old child named Lewis, and one day at school, he’s the last one to be selected for a team in his sports lesson.

The brutal rejection doesn’t happen quickly – the scene plays out excruciatingly slowly. The most apparently gifted sportsmen are selected as captains, and then they, one by one, select a player for their team. The other students stand there, waiting to be picked – hoping they won’t be last.

Lewis is last, and the neither of the captains are happy about having him play with them.

Sure, the movie is set in 1955 – but it’s a scene everyone watching the movie is familiar with, because it’s happened to them – even the small kids. It’s almost a universal experience.

It happened to me in the late 1980s. And it happened to my 10-year-old in 2017.

Apart from the heartbreaking humiliation of children, there’s another thing each scenario has in common: a teacher sets up the situation for this to happen. Because that’s the way it’s always been done.

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Yes, some may argue it’s “resilience” building, and perhaps even reflective of real life. Maybe. I’m not convinced of that.

What I do know is that each time it happens, a child is embarrassed in front of its classmates – and that’s something no one forgets.

Some deal with it like I did – water off a duck’s back. Your loss, mates.

Some, like my child, who used to be at a very sports-orientated school, accept that they are ‘just not good enough’, and they deserve to be last.

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Others, like some girls I recall it happening to, would cry – and sometimes even refuse to participate.

But does it have to be this way?

If I were a teacher, I’d question it:

Why do we always give the power to ‘the best’? Why do we reward the ‘strongest’?

What if the student with the least strong basketball skills was chosen as captain?

And it doesn’t just apply to sports.

What if the student who wasn’t ‘the best’ at reading aloud was the one asked to speak at assembly?

What if the child who wanted to get more responsibility, wanted to learn how to be a leader, but knew she/he wouldn’t get voted as class representative because he/she wasn’t popular enough, was appointed by a teacher to that role?

What if we gave everyone a chance to be first, and know what that feels like, just a few times in their lives? Not all the time. Just sometimes, so that’s it’s not never.

Giving a child a break from being told that the same kids – the most popular, the smartest, the most talented – are the only ones believed in enough to be given responsibility and power, could lead to them having greater self-esteem, pushing themselves farther, and wanting more for themselves.

How could that be a bad thing?

As a teacher, that’s how I imagine I would approach it – I’d at least give it at go. I know a lot of teachers do this already – but there’s also a lot who still do it the way it’s always been done. That’s why I’m writing this – because I hope you might re-think that approach.

At the end of the movie, Lewis finds the power to reject the team leaders when they’re making their selections. But most kids don’t get to have an enriching experience with a Warlock to give them that sort of strength in a couple of months.

So please, if you are the teacher who thinks that this is just life, and survival of the fittest, I ask you to reconsider – and give a less talented, less popular child a chance to change their narrative.

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