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Thursday, 7 July 2011

I just want to let you know ...

Teachers nowadays are encouraged to send motivating notes to their students just before their GCSEs.  The purpose, I presume, is to give the kid a last boost of feel-good before the big day, a pat on the back for all their hard work.  What a lovely idea.

I found out about these when clearing out my son’s room, discovering one of them in his bin.  It was a postcard, the first words I just want to let you know… were pre-printed. 
This is what the teacher had written next:   “…that you have been very lazy but if you learn the key words you should be able to get a decent grade in the exam.”

There is a sub-text to this, about the curriculum, playing into the hands of those that argue (I am amongst them, actually) that GCSEs and the modular curriculum is a dumbing down, that the stuff they have to learn is banal, boring and largely basic.  But what I tackled him about was the main event.  “Lazy!!??” I screeched.  "But I thought – you told me – don’t you realise how important these – your future - blah blah water off a ducks back blah – you said you’d pulled your socks up - blah." 

“I have,” he said, in his laconic drawl, and to prove it he fished out another of the notes he’d received and read it out to me:
“Dear [identity protected for legal reasons]
I just want to let you know that although at times you seem half asleep and ask me questions that make me worry, you have been a pleasure to teach and deserve to do very well in your exams.”
Again, there was a glaring sub-text – or not so much that, but a irreconcilable paradox. I mean, how can a kid like that be a) a pleasure to teach, and/or b) deserve to do well - very well?

"And you're trying to convince me this is proof that you’ve mended your low down ways?" I wailed.  "Don't you realise – blah – future – education opportunity – how many times do I have to - university very competitive – water off duck’s back – blah – nothing worthwhile you don't have to work for  – blah."
He looked at the note again, then at me, raising his shoulders, holding out his palms in that way that signals, how come you can't even understand this?
Half asleep,” he said, “not actually asleep.  Seem,” he said, “not are.”  He paused to check the text.  "At times," he said, "not always."
"But that doesn't make any sense," I shrieked.  "How can you - what do you ...?"  And that was the point when I realised that the contradiction was reconcilable afterall, and that he'd demonstrated exactly how in the last couple of minutes. 

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