There’s no zealot like a convert, which is why I’ve been singing the praises of my son’s new tutoring school all day.
I used to be dead against coaching colleges, which drill kids in things like the Opportunity Class and Selective Schools exams. I used to think bright children would get there themselves, and that it was deeply unfair to ‘train’ a child how to study to a test in order to get into an elite school.
And then I had a son enter primary school, and I watched as he spent the vast amount of school time trying to stay out of trouble. I watched as his class sizes swelled from a perfectly manageable 16 in kindergarten, to 30 by year four. And I wondered how my child could score highly in the year 3 Naplan test, but bring home a report card so woeful six months later that you would not think it was describing the same child.
And I realized that with two other kids (one a baby), and a career, a cat, a household to run, and a husband, I could not help him enough at home. I was allowing him to do badly in class, based on my own ideological beliefs.
When I went back to work after my third baby last year, I started juggling the dreaded triple pick-up.
My kids – two in primary school, and one in daycare – are in three different locations after 4pm. So even though I leave work at a very reasonable hour, by the time we get home it’s nudging 6pm, and there’s dinner to cook, and baths to supervise, and pajamas to find, and bags to unpack, and squashed pears to throw out, and lunchboxes to decontaminate.
But homework, especially for an older primary school child, requires parental input. I’ve heard this at five consecutive school information nights for five consecutive years. But how do you provide sufficient homework input when you’re trying to put the baby to bed and it’s already 8pm, and your son is wailing that ‘none of this makes any sense!’ and frankly, all you want is a glass of wine and to watch some mindless television?
The truth is, I am a terrible teacher, so it’s just as well I am a passable lawyer. I can’t remember anything from primary school. I’m hard pressed spotting a collective noun in a word-web, and by now, my son’s maths homework greatly exceeds my own mathematical ability. My ability to explain the proper use of past particles is also severely limited, and my claim that “I know them when I see it” is apparently both annoying and unhelpful.
The answer, I have discovered, is to find the best coaching school you can, and get your tiger mother on. The idea of Saturday school – almost five hours of it – was so utterly repugnant to my son that he sulked for a week. I had to practically drag him into the classroom.
But by the time my husband picked him up, he bounced out like the Energizer Bunny. He’d loved it. He’d made a friend. He’d learnt about the NSW parliament, and scored 24 out of 24 for a comprehension test, and gotten a sticker, which he assured me was “pretty dorky”, but I could tell he was secretly thrilled.
And then today, when we sat down to do his revision, he flew through the work. He didn’t need my help. He told me that for the first time, he understood it. The teacher, who only had four other kids to teach, had ‘properly’ explained it to him what a homonym was, and he’d gotten it (which was lucky, because I had to look it up on my Iphone, pretending to check an email).
And I couldn’t be more thrilled. To see my son excited by schoolwork, and engaged in his learning, feels like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. The cost, although not cheap, is no more than any other extra-curricula activity, and the school was full of kids just like mine.
In the Year of the Tiger, embracing my inner Tiger Mother has been the best decision I’ve made yet. And, in the end, it was one of the easiest. Not least of all, I’m very hopeful it may buy me a little more wine-drinking and television-watching time.
Do you worry about whether you should get you children a tutor?
Does homework put pressure on your day?
How do you manage school work in your family?
Lucy Howes is a working mum of three children aged ten, six and twenty months, who also somehow manages a career as a lawyer.