Many Teachers Abhor Wasted Talent

Almost as much as do many parents whose children refuse to achieve the heights they (the parents and teachers) expect. That ill-defined, but ubiquitous term ‘potential’ features with monotonous regularity on reports and at parent meetings alike.

‘He has not reached his potential…’ is a phrase trotted out with regular monotony, as though the teacher has access to a ‘potentialometer’ which is like a rectal thermometer, but inserted into the brain via the ear, and registers the child’s talent differential. Or, ‘My son is capable of top marks. Look at his brilliant art /music / sport / whatever achievements. Why isn’t he using his potential?

Of course, with experience, teachers come to terms with the individual child’s achievement choices. A certain amount of philosophical acceptance rather than obsessive frustration prevails. It is a reality that some potentially very talented (there’s that word again!) children have just not inherited their parents’ Hyper-Competitive Gene (HCH). Often, their talents lie in a different direction, and they excel in sometimes weird and wonderful ways which are seldom to the parent’s liking.

The problem is partly because some career fields do not have the same envy-provoking ring that others do. For example, the sentence that starts ‘My son the doctor / actuary / CEO…’ carries much more – what should we call it – ‘Yuppy-uppy’ impact when dropped casually into the book-club’s wine-break than ‘My son, the mud wrestling impresario / cyber hacker / sewage disposal recycler…’

We were not surprised when a particular parent stormed into the office after prize-giving, to create a scene by tearing up his son’s certificate, an Academic Bronze Award (informally termed by the pupils, ‘the bum-scraper’). He refused to accept that his son was a cheerfully cynical passive non-achiever, terminally infected with chronic educational indifference. And his was always a passively negative attitude – nothing to work with or react against, or to try to change. A teacher had been restrained from writing on his subject report, ‘One of the smartest non-achieving drop-outs I have ever taught’.

We fully believed that, in time-honoured fashion, the parent would blame the school / teachers / curriculum / examination system and withdraw the lad. No such luck. He demanded that the school ‘Do something about it’, threatening dire consequences. Apart from ‘unteachables’ (if TV is to be believed there are swarms of these in inner-city schools overseas) there are also ‘unmotivatables’ in schools.

The old saw, school is not for everyone, refers. There are horses for courses. And let’s be honest: the only thing worse than a maverick colt who absolutely refuses the bit of conventional education, is the gelding that becomes so addicted to the saddle and reins and the height of achievements gained in the show-jumping arena of the school that the rest of his life is an anti-climax. Without the Old Boys Club, he is lost.

And we tried with our non-achiever. And a sort of truce, not unlike the Cold War, existed, in which we enforced a minimum effort, and he conceded a minimum achievement. Our lad survived school – just. His cynical sense of humour helped. And of course, he thrived after school.

I just wonder how his father came to terms with his son, the highly successful, internationally famous stand-up comedian, whose shows brilliantly satirise the establishment.

Our education problem has always been: How can the curriculum be extended to include the completely non-conventional individual?