Don’t Judge Their Learning If Their Margins Aren’t Straight

ImageMany, many years ago, when I was teaching a Year 6 class, we had what we called “School Appraisal”. It pretty much was an inspection of everything that was “school” in our school. The Principal, the staff, the policies, the classroom programs, the playground structures and the list goes on.

At the time, I was asked to submit three exercise books of students in my class to showcase learning to the Education Office inspectors. So I  picked a student whose work was perfectly neat, margins straight, pictures proudly coloured and the “pass the school appraisal waffle” goes on. I also picked another book, similar but not as “perfect” as the first book’s status. The last book I submitted was by a boy called Lance. Lance was a tiny boy who always had grubby hands, looked like a mouse and was not your “ideal appraisal” student. But I handed up Lance’s work with the greatest pride because I knew where Lance started the year and I knew where he was at in his learning now. Were his margins straight? No and never will be. Was his work colourful and bright? No and he wasn’t interested in colourful or bright. But Lance had committed himself to making himself a better learner. And I could see it in his work.

Lance bought to the class table experiences of a hard home life and personal issues. These were strongly influential in his learning, as they would be to anyone’s learning. But he knew that the classroom was a safe place for him. He would be supported, encouraged and never ridiculed for what he thought was a good effort. Never ridiculed for time and commitment he gave to his learning.

My Principal at the time insisted that I not hand up Lance’s book because it was “embarrassing”. I stubbornly challenged him and said that it was Lance’s book or no book. I was a proud teacher of a student who was learning…yes, a student who was learning!

So where does this post take me next? I have mentioned in other posts that I am in the middle of university studies. I am the learner and being educated. I study extremely hard while looking after a young family and other major responsibilities. I dedicate every spare minute to my studies and I, like Lance, am learning.. a lot. But I now ask, is my academic work “appraisal material”? Does it  have all the requirements to supposedly show I am learning?  And what one educator sees as wonderful learning another educator sees as needing  support.

Sometimes I think of Lance when I am studying myselft…you try really hard but for some, with extremely narrow views of expressions of learning, it is not good enough. For others, with vision as educators, it’s wonderful! You either “draw neat margins” or you’re not learning.

So, what do I take from this experience of being a student? I have to ALWAYS consider my students’ individual learning and understanding to be on a personal continuum. That each student will come to the “educational table” from different experiences, with different expectations and with different methods of learning and understanding. I must give them varied opportunities to demonstrate their learning and different times to remind me of their progress.

If I fail this, then I may as well have given up three “perfect exercise books” at that appraisal and said “This is all we learn in our class. We all learn to draw perfect straight margins”.

*** And by the way…Lance’s book was “accidentally” placed in amongst the other books that went for appraisal. I had to, Lance’s work was good in my eyes!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Don’t Judge Their Learning If Their Margins Aren’t Straight

  1. What an amazingly emotive post. It bought tears to my eyes. I could relate to the lack of understanding of students home life, by some.
    Thank goodness there are teachers like you. Students like Lance need to be fought for. What a gorgeous boy that he even bothered to learn, its much easier to give up.
    I had a student just recently as part of my New Arrival Program with refugee status, on a protection visa due to violence. He is one of 11 children. All of whom have been given away. This was the second time we had had him in a year. He had moved many schools and he had been recently given to a sister who then gave him to an Aunt.
    He would get into trouble for;
    *being tired and not concentrating. I told his teacher. I’d be tired too, sleeping on a lounge amongst a household of drinking adults.
    *being late. I told his teacher its amazing he even makes it to school.
    The list of silly things he got into trouble for went on and on.
    I met with his teacher and reminded her of the fact that he escaped from a tiny little island, in secrecy, at night, got on a plane, (he thought his chest was going to explode on the way up)came to Australia and is here learning in another language. The classroom is his only safe place.
    I don’t know a braver boy than that. He wrote his story for me. I cried reading that too.
    His teacher’s empathy grew thankfully.
    Kylie

  2. fin

    Kylie, my eyes welling up from my end, too. School has to be safe. It has to be a place where they are recognised. Where they are respected and loved. “I don’t know a braver boy either”…I would love to make a movie about this boy!

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