Today’s inspiration derives from an overheard conversation at our local carnival:-
Small child (rattling coins): “Mummy, I’m going to have a go at that!”
Mother: “You won’t be able to do that so no you’re not”
Since “that” was one of those standard fairground games involving lobbing balls at cans to win some giant soft toy or other, the mother is probably correct – these things are set up to look much easier than they are. But really … why stop the lad trying? It was obviously within the allowance of money he’d already been given, so not a financial decision. Was the earth going to fall in if he tried and failed?
Probably the mother thought she was protecting him from being disappointed by his failure – but think what messages are being conveyed:
- We only attempt even silly fun games if we think we’ll be good at them
- Failing at something is in itself so horrendous that we mustn’t risk it even if the only cost is a wasted 50p
- All decision-making must be checked by someone else who knows better
Then we wonder why we end up with teenagers and young adults who can’t make decisions, who always blame someone else, and who think any failure to achieve what you set your heart on is the end of the world. All you parents out there – please please please let them experience minor disappointments and failures, let them make daft decisions on a small scale, let them do things they are not good at – these are all training for dealing with the bigger decisions and bigger disappointments that are part of life.
I was also a bit perturbed by the child’s passive acceptance of this. Obviously, as a teacher I would rather kids were not automatically going to kick against everything I said – but surely any child with spirit will respond to “You won’t be able to do that” with “Yes I will!” I know as a kid I would have done (probably still do, come to that).
In other respects, our local carnival is a lovely opportunity to see kids acting like kids always have – going on rides, shrieking in the “haunted house”, getting their faces painted, buying daft things from stalls… It is great to see so much unfocused and purposeless fun, as opposed to those constructive “activities” so many are channelled into. It’s also good to see that lots of parents appreciate that the occasional afternoon stuffing their faces with candyfloss, burgers and suchlike rubbish will not, in isolation, turn their lively healthy child into a flabby and rotund couch potato.
Talking of unfocused fun – we’ve recently had a lovely staff social event, involving a mass delivery of fish and chips (or pasties and such for the awkward customers like me) and and old-style “school disco”. As with many such events, quite a few of us owned up to thinking during the day “Oh no, I want to stay at home, why did I say I’d go”…. and then having a brilliant time when we got there. Letting your hair down by having a few drinks and a chat and making a complete fool of yourself on the dance floor (er… that’d be me… two left feet, incapable of dancing, but I forget all that when they play the hits from my schooldays) is fantastic for reminding you that you really do like most of your colleagues, even if they have occasionally got on your nerves. A cohesive staff makes for a much happier working environment, and despite what some of the more foolish OFSTED folks have said, that does mean a more successful school. If you enjoy coming to work for the most part, you’re much more likely to give of your best in the classroom, since – again whatever OFSTED say – good lessons aren’t just about the planning, teaching is personality driven. Not that I feel the need to justify enjoying a social occasion with my colleagues in terms of its impact on teaching and learning – but yes, I do think it has one.