After writing my first submission for Chatters Matters, I was fortunate enough to catch up with Marty Ogle, the teacher I mentioned in my piece and I thanked him once again in person. We reflected on the fact that he is just one among many teachers doing an amazing job in an increasingly difficult profession. I have, however, been fortunate enough to meet so many of the other amazing people who put pen to paper for Communicating: The Heart of Literacy; and listening to their passion to rid Tasmania of this wicked problem I started questioning myself, rather than just my profession, as to what more I can do?
The first thing I wanted to do after having these thoughts was read my son a story. A task so simple yet so rewarding: as I put on the voices, the over-the-top Sam-I-Am, and the unnamed Grumpy bugger who does not like green eggs and ham. Even now, typing this up, I am smiling as I can hear the joyous eruption of laughter coming from my son as he joyfully proclaims, ’but he does like them daddy’. It delights me that he now constructs his own narratives from…well, anything really. His own books told his way, something as outrageous as a jungle adventure featuring dinosaurs, a giraffe and a doughnut which he had interpreted from a change of banking details form we got for his swimming lessons. I love to question him on his narrative, to be told that everyone is running away from the dinosaur because they don’t know he is friendly, not scary, is a beautiful thing to hear. Then being told that the dinosaur wanting to share his doughnut with all his friends is not about saying, ‘I’m a perfect parent’, and modelling perfect behaviour – because I would never share my doughnuts! But, when I do hear these stories and I choke back tears of pride (as a biased parent often has to) I do think back to the fact that my child is learning and expressing through communication.
So what more can I do? That was the question at the start and the one that I have reflected upon since November last year, and the simplest answer I have been able to come up with is: to be more present. We are not all educators, and the last time I wrote, I touched on the importance, as a working parent, to find time to engage. Now I know a heap of people that 2018 was not very kind to, and this seems to be a continuing pattern every year, for one person or another. I certainly found myself in this situation as well. I’m not about to tell you that everything ended happily – it didn’t – but from my own story I was able to focus on the character I wanted to be, and the ending I wanted for 2018. That being said, I started to be more open, I tried harder to connect and share myself with my friends and family, and most importantly, my son. It is certainly a hell of a lot easier now that he can speak in full sentences (it’s shutting him up now that’s the problem!). But to get him involved in what I am doing or involving myself in what he is doing has been fantastic. So for now, what more can I do, is to focus on a person that needs my support at any given time. Later I’ll try supporting two, but I don’t want ambition and goodwill to get in the way of results.
So I want to put this out there for any and all parents to ponder over your next hot or cold beverage(s): what more can you do? It doesn’t need to be much. It’s asking your toddler to tell you about their own imagined picture, rather than asking, what is it? Talk to them about shapes, colours, their favourite toy, or TV show.
If we just pause for a moment to enquire from a child the wonders of their world and encourage them to share them with us through conversation, we are not only supporting their growth within literacy and communication, but maybe, just maybe, we might be able to rediscover some of that wonder for ourselves.
Would that really be a bad thing?
Todd Sculthorpe is a Hobart-based educator who attended the “Communicating: The Heart of Literacy” symposium at Government House in November 2018.