By Marc Falconer (Pan Macmillan)
Being the first non-Jewish headmaster of Kind David High School Linksfield, Johannesburg was enough of an introduction to get my interest piqued. So on a chilly Tuesday evening last week we clutched our glasses of wine at Love Books in Melville and listened to Falconer’s humble and slightly apologetic launch of his book, Notes from a Headmaster’s Desk. “I feel like a fraud’ he said, referring to the fact that we were all there eagerly waiting his pearls of wisdom.
Falconer is warm and anecdotal and comes across as a very fair and approachable headmaster with a healthy sense of humour. What stood out for me was his belief that ultimately we need to change the teaching model. Judging a child’s abilities from a standardised testing system is outdated and doesn’t do your child justice. “We march them into school and they sit learning things in an outdated fashion that is never going to capture their imagination like social media and the online world does. They have seen a whole new way of communicating and school doesn’t begin to compete,” he said.
With the very successful King David model in mind, Falconer believes we need to focus on building a child’s inner drive to succeed, to inspire them to want to learn. We need to look at the ‘hook’ that we use to get them to want to do well and stop worrying about whether they answer all the questions correctly. He also referred to a need for resilience, grit and strength of character. This is a recurring theme in modern parenting lately – I feel a trend of Resilience Courses for Teens coming on…
Falconer pointed out that when looking at the common characteristics of successful people, university degrees ranked low. What determined success was optimism, an ability to think laterally, to deal with stress and to feel good about themselves. “Children who feel good about themselves and their school generally do well,’ he explained. It’s almost as if the expectations of the school raises the bar for what children can achieve.
Each chapter uses personal anecdotes to cover issues parents know so well; exclusion from a sports team, parking lot gossip, friendships, peer pressure, overbearing parents, neglectful parents, exam pressure, selection of a high school, facing the reality of your child’s abilities, and this journey through the school years with all the unique pressures we face in this country. As a parent of a teen, reading his words reminds me of the bigger picture. He says: ‘There is no getting away from it: adolescence is a struggle. To ‘kill’ off their parents to create their own identity – as teenagers have done through the ages – is not, and never has been, easy. It is a time of egotistical blindness to anything other than the self. There is no way to short-cut the process. To be secure enough to live with your children’s pain of rebirth, and to trust that once those children are secure enough to know that they have recreated themselves they will return, calls for superhuman patience and wisdom.’
Some of the chapters are stronger than others, but ‘so, nu, what you going to do?’ as my Jewish side of the family would say. Overall his tongue-in-cheek and reasonable tone makes the journey of parenting a teenager a little easier to understand. While the pressure for our children to achieve and get into good schools mounts, he reminds us: “On this fraught journey with the pressure of our country’s future and the lives of our children at stake, a sense of humour does help to keep the trip in perspective. ‘Life is’, as Oscar Wilde said, ‘much too important to take seriously.”
Two lucky Book Tree Club members can win a copy of Notes From a Headmaster’s Desk By Marc Falconer (Pan Macmillan). Send us your name and contact details by 30 June 2014.