"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
- Neil deGrasse Tyson
As a teacher, how do you deal with Easter, Christmas, and Halloween in the classroom? What are your thoughts and ideals about those events?
I have seen Neil deGrasse Tyson described as a national treasure and he is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect. He is not highly intelligent, but he has the ability to explain often complex concepts in a way that makes them accessible without talking down to people. He has always come across in interviews that I have seen, as being an incredibly down to Earth and ordinary man.
As some of us do, I have some quite strong beliefs about a number of things as an individual that influence how I would like to raise my daughter, but which I am struggling to reconcile as a professional in my teaching practice. I would like you to think about some of the sensible beliefs and practices we, as teachers and parents both, work to instill in our children.
If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to go back and watch the above interview with Tyson.
"That's what it's all about right? That's what it's always been about! Gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts! Do you know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me...in your garbage. Do you see what I'm saying here? IN YOUR GARBAGE! I could hang myself with all the bad Christmas neckties I found at the dump! And the avarice! The avarice never ends! "I want golf clubs!" "I want diamonds!" "I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored, and send it away to make glue!" Look, I don't wanna make waves here, but this WHOLE Christmas season is STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!"
- The Grinch (from the 2000 movie)
I do not like Christmas. The idea that we have to spend so much money people whom we often do not like to show them that we like them and that we can afford to spend money is just ridiculous and the wastefulness during Christmas both materially with packaging and wrapping paper, and with Christmas Cards that go in the bin only a few days later is phenomenal. As parents, we get cranky with our children they demand particular toys, or if they sulk when they get what they want. We do not let them go up to strangers and ask for things. We get cranky when our children lie.
But at Christmas time, we encourage our students to demand things from a fictitious man who we have lied to our children about the existence of by having them write Dear Santa, this year for Christmas I want.... We then take our students for a photo with a complete stranger we know nothing about, often forcing them to be in the photo, often forcing them if the number of photos I have seen with screaming children are anything to go buy. If they get sulky because they did not get what they want at Christmas, it is often called cute. Societally, we then tell people that what they gave us was not good enough by spending, in 2017, $2.4 billion dollars on stuff at the Boxing Day Sales (source).
That said, I love Christmas because it is a guarantee chance to spend a few hours with family. This past Christmas was amusing as we spent Christmas day with my wife's family and both of my brothers-in-law have daughters who were born six and eight weeks respectively after my daughter. Three little girls who are all cheeky in different ways and were all toddling around the house was incredibly cute and you could see the joy on the the faces of the family.
As you may have guessed, I do not plan on doing Santa with my daughter and it is something my wife and have been debating the handling of for a long time. But where I am finding a professional dilemma is in the classroom when it comes to the lead up of Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. As teachers we should not be imposing our beliefs on students. And so I have struggled with those events. It has been made easier the last few years as I have been either job-sharing or team-teaching and simply allowed my partner to do any activities relating to those events.
It is becoming something that I am feeling increasingly uncomfortable with; due, I think, to becoming a parent and feeling the way I do. The way that Neil deGrasse Tyson addresses it seems like a reasonable compromise, challenging the students to think critically for themselves. Is that an approach that could be taken in the classroom without causing too much uproar, do you think?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this, and whether you agree or disagree about the inculcation into the capitalist-fantasy world of the Easter bunny, Santa, and Hallowe'en.
Thank you for reading.
"The classroom should be an entrance into the world, not an escape from it."
-Attributed to John Ciardi
I have heard many times since I entered education, phrases akin to our classrooms should have glass walls, meaning that we should be communicating what is going on in our classroom to parents all the time, that our rooms should be completely transparent. On the surface, that sounds fine, and I agree that our practice should be transparent. We should have nothing to hide as educators.
Enter the apps and websites. Class Dojo, Edmodo, SeeSaw, School Circle, Class blogs, class websites, class social media accounts, the list goes on. I have used a number of them myself and they can be great ways of communicating with parents anything from remember to send in the permission note this week to please call me when you have ten minutes, or of providing students with a voice and a way of communicating with a genuine audience what they are learning about. I have seen and heard, however, of this trend going even further, with hourly updates and photos of what is happening in the classroom. A few years ago, I had about half of my parents engaging with me via Class Dojo in a range of ways, Gertrude will be late tomorrow due to a Doctor's appointment, Bob's drink bottle leaked, can you please tell me what was on the now water-ruined note? etc. and I used to wonder why the other parents were not interested.
There will always be a range of reasons, but I discovered a new one recently. The day care that Ms One goes to is low-tech. No communications through the day that show what the kids are doing etc., and only a summary sheet of when she ate/slept/wet or soiled her nappy etc, along with a two-minute conversation she had an average day today, was sooky and wanted cuddles all day etc. At the end of the year we were provided with a portfolio with some photos, work samples, notes about why they engaged in particular activities etc. and I realised that I was completely happy and satisfied with that.
I realised that I did not want the updates during the day about what was going on. There is an element of trust that the staff know what they are doing and will contact me if they need to. The other aspect is that I did not want the updates because I wanted a mental break and to able to focus on whatever I was doing without getting distracted (or judgemental!) about whatever they were doing. I want them to be focused on the children, not ensuring they are getting the photos and captions sorted (one our of friends has their child in a Centre with hourly updates)
Early Childhood, Primary, and Secondary are all very different in terms of parent expectations about how their child will develop, what they want communicated, even the worry or anxiety levels, and so I am not sure what impact this will have on my own practise if/when I return to a classroom role. I will, however, be more understanding of those parents who choose not to engage. When Ms One moves onto Kindergarten and beyond, I will probably only want the necessary communication and will look forward to the various masterpieces that come home.*
What are your thoughts on the way in which we communicate to parents? Those of you who are parents, do you feel it is too much? Not enough? What do you want?
* I of course reserve the right to change my mind and be a super clingy, anxious, I want to know everything that happens parent, however, I do not think my general attitude to life would tend that way.
In this week's Friday Freebie, I offer a Google Form that you can utilise to allow Parents to request a meeting with their child's teacher. The question asking for the child's class can be modified to input the actual class names or teachers. This can then be utilised to generate e-mails to those teacher's automatically, or to the administration staff to forward on to the relevant teacher/s.
If you are not familiar with using GForms, or setting up e-mail notifications, please check the FTPL playlist dedicated to Google Suite by clicking here. For the full list of Friday Freebies, please click here.