On the necessity of private lessons

fed2I  have a nephew, beloved nephew, who is the sheer example of the generation of the teenagers of these times. His life mostly focuses on football, both as main topic of conversation and activity as he is a full-time footballer, shoes, some girls and of course, social media. He is very “social” indeed, in fact, you can find him on Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Ask and I don’t know what else. He enjoys a constant symbiosis with his smart phone, from which he doesn’t wish to be separated for more than few minutes as he feels the world that matters is there. Unfortunately there is a parallel world that every now and then knocks on his door in a less alluring form, a nightmare in fact: his school report.

fed1So, when  last year, Federico, this is his name, brought his first term report card, his parents were shocked to learn that only physical education stood out among the poorness of his grades. In order to avoid the ghost of a possible failure, an army of teachers was recruited and I was selected among them. I was really happy to help. We decided that Federico could come to meet me  only on Saturday afternoon, as he had already planned all the lessons with the other teachers and there were still the three-time a week football training sessions and the Sunday match to take into consideration, of course.

I made all my best to make of that afternoon a very pleasant time. I wanted him to be happy to come and he was, actually. I often made him come for lunch, my husband is an excellent cook, or if he couldn’t, he always found a tray with cakes or pastries waiting for him. Sometimes after the lessons, we even brought him to a shopping centre to buy him something as a reward, you know, we wanted to thank him for keeping us company on Saturday afternoons, when you have really nothing better to do. fed3

The first lesson always seems  a success. Always. The student displays a certain interest and praises you for your passion, clarity which go far beyond what the teacher does at school. Always. For a while you are flattered and your self-esteem dramatically increases till the next session arrives. We had studied the Tudors, the Act of Supremacy etc., so when I checked what Federico had understood, I had some random facts and a lot of nonsense back. Just to give you an example, it took a few minutes to convince him that Henry VII couldn’t be but the father of Henry VIII, as seven comes first. He was surprised.

Then I remembered. I remembered me a long time before, while I was taking Latin private lessons, when I was at high school. I hated Latin, I just couldn’t see the point why I should study Latin, which I regarded only a dead, useless language.Those hours bored me to death: “Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi…” , that nightmarish lullaby still echoes in my mind. I learnt only what I needed to pull through and soon after I forgot everything. Strange indeed, when I went to university I chose to study German as a foreign language and well, even if the grammar, the structures resembled so much those of Latin, it didn’t find it so detestable after all, but rather did love it. I loved it so much that I started to take into consideration the studying of Latin again. So one day I found myself searching my old Latin grammar book, which I had safely placed in a remote corner of the shelf. It wasn’t that bad after all. fed4

At the end of school year Federico succeeded in filling his gaps in the majority of the subjects (English included, in case you want to know) , but he had to give Maths and Physics in the September session of exams, which he passed. However, his mother had noticed that when it was almost the end of the school year, Federico seemed to have made some progress in both Maths and Physics, despite she had decided not to waste her money in further lessons. Well, once alone and without anybody to support him, he had naturally started to organize his work, and his grades had actually improved, not enough to pass the year sparing the exams in September, but there were good sign of amelioration and for free.

Private lessons are hardly ever useful. Parents must understand that their children learn a lot from their mistakes, particularly if they are let alone to face them. They learn to be responsible for their actions and autonomous. Remember, their failure is not your failure and everything may turn into a great chance of growing. Let them grow. Therefore, you may imagine my reaction, when a mother, at a parent teacher conference, displaying a certain apprehension, wanted to have my opinion about some private lessons for his son, who had not manifested any real problem till then. I smiled. I took her hands and warmly said: “Go shopping!” She was speechless and I added: ” Get the money you wanted to spend on these lessons, buy yourself something nice and have fun!” She thanked me, the last time I saw her.

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Should teachers friend their students on facebook?

facebook-hacking-1040cs051612Certainly Facebook has altered the meaning of the word “friendship”. Once your friends were the few selected in time, rather than the many, very often little less than complete strangers, that appear on a Facebook page. If perceived success depends on the number of happy faces that you can boast as friends, well I am out, because to me it seems all so cold, impersonal and superficial. My students have tried to explain to me all the potentialities of this tool, but I am not easily convinced. Some of them, I admit, had really good points. One in particular made me ponder, as he professed that thanks to Facebook I could contact again the friends I have lost track of in time, school mates for example. Hmmmm, I mused, maybe I faltered for a while, but then I promptly recovered and said that if I had lost touch with them, there should have been good reasons after all; you know, for me friends are still the few selected ones and those I don’t see any longer, maybe just didn’t pass the test :). Furthermore I don’t like being tied to the past.

facebbokHowever, I have a Facebook account: with a fake name, of course. Few months ago I wanted to go and see some pics on a on-line newspaper, but I wasn’t allowed, unless I had a Facebook account. Ok, why not, I said? I created one with my mother’s name and somebody else’s surname to preserve my anonymity. I have to admit, apart from having access to pictures, it was fun after all. I started to work a little on it in my spare time. I made an avatar of myself, loaded some pictures, shared posts I liked, but it was only when some of my closest friends and colleagues made the great mistake to friend me, that I really understood the real potentiality of the tool: intelligence. Reading the comments and scrolling the lists of friends I could know who knew who, the degree of intimacy, things in common etc……For example, before talking behind somebody’s back, you can make sure that the person you are talking with is not his/her intimate or if you like somebody and you have the occasion to talk to him/her, you may check the list the things, books, movies he/she likes and start a conversation. From this point of view Facebook is genius.

Big-BrotherI couldn’t refrain from checking some of my students’ pages as well, and one day I jokingly told them to pay attention to what they wrote as “big sister teach” was actually reading them. They tried to find the account, but I knew I was perfectly safe behind my anonymity. I was just teasing. But one day, there is always one day, I just couldn’t really resist from commenting something written by one of my colleagues that BANG, found out, and after a few secs I received my first friend request. From a student.

I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t even tempted, because I don’t think that students and teachers should be friend, even on Facebook. We can have a friendly attitude but we cannot be friends. In this age of confusion, roles have to be clear. On Facebook the line of what is appropriate in a teacher-student relationship is often blurred and therefore dangerous. I guess it is very difficult to be yourself over Facebook and keep the respect of students at the same time. Of course social networks are extremely helpful for both students and teachers, I can’t deny this, but on a personal level, it isn’t acceptable for them to socially interact.