Friday, February 24, 2017

The queen is 13

Dear N,

I am entirely too young to have a child who is 13-years-old.
I think I said this when you were ten, which was another milestone birthday---your entry into double digits.

I expect I will say it every year from here on out.
Mamaw says it about Daddy, and he is 48.

I don't often tell you how proud I am of you, but I am, especially as you are making your way through the muck and sludge of 7th grade with its hormones and social dynamics and meh.

You do not aspire to be anyone but you.
(Ok, maybe Emma Watson.)

You wear the glasses without glass in the frames you don't need proudly and happily.
You dislike the silly giggliness of other girls who are fawning over boys (and I am so, so glad especially since I was one of those girls who fawned over boys.)

You understand that you are sometimes irrational and that it doesn't make sense, and it bothers you because you truly understand that you're being a little bonkers for no apparent reason.

I think you do your best to be honest and kind, which can be an act of social rebellion in the life of a middle schooler.

Do I wish you'd throw your cheese wrappers away a little more quickly?
Well sure.
Do I wish you'd read a little more and dork around on your phone a little less?
But do I wish I had anyone other than you as my daughter?
Absolutely not.
You are my N.
You will always be my baby girl.

I am so glad that you trust me enough to tell me things that I know with certainty I didn't tell my own mother when I was your age.
I'm so glad you trust yourself enough to be who you are and cry to me and Daddy when carrying that weight feels hard.

There are many ways in which my life has been blessed, none of which I deserve.  Being your mother and helping you navigate your life as honestly and openly as I can is one of my life's great privileges.

Now go throw your cheese wrappers away and get off your phone.

I love you to the newly discovered 7 planets that are 40 light years away and may potentially support life and all the way back,


Sunday, February 19, 2017

A privately educated student who sends her children to public school

I was privately educated for 17/18th of my academic life.

I attended a public school for kindergarten because way back in the day Catholic schools did not offer kindergarten.
After that, though, it was --
--Catholic grade school for 8 years
--Catholic high school for 4 years
--Catholic college (for undergrad and graduate---I went to my alma mater for graduate because it's program allowed me to continue to work; had I gone to the public university, I would have had to quit my job and that wasn't an option.)

When I went back for my MAT, I was able to observe in both private and public schools.  I went back to my elementary school and was surprised by what it lacked in comparison to the public school system.

The computer lab was dinky.
There was no band or orchestra class.
There were no special education classes or speech therapists or occupational therapists.
The teacher I observed was teaching a lesson to 5th graders about popcorn.  I was like, "Are you f*cking kidding me???  POPCORN??"

It was at this point that I considered for the first time in my life that perhaps private schools weren't "the best."  My parents attended Catholic schools, and they wanted me to attend Catholic schools, so it was all any of us had ever known.

I had family members who taught in Catholic schools, and when they left the Catholic system to make more money in the public system, they couldn't handle it.  They had gotten used to teaching "easy to teach" kids and didn't know how to manage "not-easy-to-teach kids."  I decided that I would teach in the public system because I wanted to learn how to handle the "not-easy-to-teach kids."  I wanted to deal with what was difficult early on.  I like a challenge, and I may also be an idiot.

What I found was that I really loved public school, and I got a thrill teaching those kids with potential who weren't always the easiest to teach.  I loved it that students got to know kids from every socioeconomic class, every race, every culture, every ability (including disabled).  (Having spent many years in a private, homogenous culture, I thought this was great....and still do.)

D's educational experience was completely different from mine.  He attended public school his entire life, and I looked at him as someone positive who came from the public education system.

I never considered sending my children to private school for a variety of reasons.

First, I didn't (and don't) want to spend a bunch of money on tuition that I think will be better spent for their higher education or career prep.

Second, I didn't want to have to work during their early childhood to afford private education.

Third, with D being a product of public schools and an atheist, I don't think he felt private (and especially religious) education was necessary.  I'm not sure that we ever actually had the discussion because I was pretty well decided that our kids would go public.  By the time we had children, I was a very lapsed Catholic, and even though I now attend a Christian church, my own beliefs don't  congeal well with the more fundamentalist leanings of many religious schools.

Third, my own experience in 1st-8th grade was that being in a very small private school setting sometimes doesn't allow students the space they need to be away from cliches or other unpleasant experiences and people.  I was always in the same classes with the same students because there were only two classes of any given grade.  There was just no "getting away from it" in this small of a population.

Fourth, even though I loved my high school experience in a small, all-girls school, I think its smallness was in some ways a detriment.  The idea of going to a state school terrified me---its bigness felt overwhelming.  I got very used to being in a safe cocoon, and that safety may have kept me from taking chances that would have been beneficial.

Fifth, I didn't want my children to not be around people of all makes and models.  My experience of never going to school until age 14 with children of another race has stayed with me my entire life and not in a positive way.

I have been happy with my children's experiences in public schools.  Both the boys had IEPs for speech issues, and the resources at their public schools were very helpful.  N has been able to play in orchestra for 3 years.  This doesn't mean that everything is perfect in their schools (although my kids' elementary school is pretty darn close).  Every middle school on the planet is a holding tank for hormonal idiots.....there is just no getting around that sad fact.

And all of this about my (and our) choice is not to denigrate anyone else who has made a different choice for whatever reason they made their choice.

My niece and nephews attend Catholic school just as I did.  I have friends whose children attended public school for elementary, and then had an unpleasant middle school experience--some of them switched to Catholic schools and some of them now homeschool.  I know other people whose children attended a very conservative Christian school and hated it because many of the people were very un-Christlike.

But I am writing all this from a posture of very white, very middle-class, very educated privilege.  Most everyone I know is also from this posture.  We have options.  There are whole segments of the population who either don't actually have options or feel that they don't have options or are unaware of their options.

And these are the people I think about when I think about public education.  Public education is not for me or for my children, really.  My children were up-to-speed long before they ever entered school.  We have more books in our house than some communities have in a 5-mile radius (and it may be more like a 10-mile).

I support public education for many reasons, but mostly because it is good for society to be educated. Some may argue how well we are educating society, but I have always said and always will that public education cannot now nor ever will correct the ills of poverty and poor parenting.

Do I have concerns about public education?  Yes, not the least of which is that all the testing is making kids able to remember information but not actually able to THINK CRITICALLY about the information.  As someone who loves Socratic discussion and plays devil's advocate with great enthusiasm, it seems like we've lost the time and ability to discuss things broadly.

Do I think there is a tremendous amount of bloat?  Yes.  I think it is ridiculous to pay teachers to analyze data instead of having their warm bodies in classrooms working with children.

But as a privately educated person who has experienced the public education world, I cannot believe that private education (be it religious or charter or whatever) is going to fix everything that needs to be fixed, and we have to be careful that it won't actually make things worse.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Hyperbole Heart Day

My sons are the only individuals in this world who can get away with calling me beautiful.

I sort of shiver when they do it, but they are children and my sons, and if they think I am beautiful as their mom, I can live with that.

D, on the other hand, is not allowed to tell me I'm beautiful.  I don't remember a time when he ever has, but I think I remember having a conversation with him in which I said I don't want to ever be called beautiful.

I do not think I am beautiful.  Attractive....occasionally.  I have "windows" of attractive, and they are usually quite short-lived.

I do catch D, from time to time, giving me a googly-eyed look, to which I go "Wha?" and then he stops.  It is in those moments that he is maybe thinking, "She's beautiful," but he knows better than to tell me that.

He would get this:

Today is Valentine's Day, a day on which I do nothing special to show my love to those I love.  I don't give the kids candy or cards, nor does D get anything.

Ok, technically, he did get this, which I made during the children's worship service this weekend....but it was mostly to have something to do while all the littles were making their mommies and daddies valentines.

I expect nothing from him and would actually be royally pissed if he went out and spent $50 on flowers for me.  That $50 could be better spent on a souvenir from our upcoming anniversary trip.

I have the same philosophy about Valentine's Day (and all holidays) as my mother (she is a wise old bird).  If a person spends time with me or lavishes special things on me one day of the year, and then doesn't make much time for me any other time, then that one 24-hour period doesn't really mean anything special.  My mother would rather go out to lunch with me on 12 regular, boring Tuesdays of the year than spend 1 "magical" Christmas Day.  

When I think about love, I tend to focus on the boring aspects of it---the mundane, the routine---because that seems to me to be what love is really about.  That seems to be the 95% of it.  The thrill doesn't last long in the beginning, and when it reasserts itself at random times throughout a relationship, it doesn't last long then either.  It pops up to say, "Uh, I'm still here" as a reassurance that all is not hopelessly dull, even if it is mostly dull.

When I think about love, I think about what I want to instill in my children by the example of my relationship with their dad.  That we find each other funny.  That we don't have knock-down drag-out arguments.  That we give and take.  That we sometimes, albeit not very often because that is pretty expensive, take time just for us.  That we provide a stable foundation of relationship on which they grow.

These parts of love don't get the glory.

Valentine's Day cards are all about soulmates, about one person fulfilling every single need in the other.  About one person being beautiful or amazing or the everything to the other person.  I'm a fan of hyperbole, but this is just hyperbole on speed.  I stopped getting D these cards because I felt they were all bullshit (and they also cost $5 a pop).

D is not my soulmate, an expectation that is too high for one human being to meet.  I don't want to idolize my husband.....because I have to share a bathroom with him.  Idolizing a person with whom you share a bathroom is just holding too vast of opposing ideas in one's head at the same time.

So I choose to remember that he is human, and I am human, and we somehow try to make our humanness work together happily.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Pockets of unmitigated disaster

Recently, the governor of my state called my local school district a disaster, an "unmitigated mess."  As a current employee of that district and a former employee of that district and a parent of three children in that district and the wife of someone who went through that district, I take some offense.

The governor's children do not attend the district nor, to the best of my knowledge, have they ever attended this district.  Him calling the district a disaster is like someone calling my brother a dickhead.  My brother might actually be a dickhead sometimes, but don't YOU call my brother a dickhead.

Still, in some ways, the governor is right in that there are pockets of disaster in the district.  Thirteen years ago, I had students in 6th grade who could not read.  How did they get through elementary school and be unable to read?  I don't know.  How could we pass them along to 7th grade if they couldn't read?  I don't know.  Those were never things over which I, as a teacher, had any control.  Is it dysfunctional?  Absolutely.

Now that I am subbing, I still see 6th graders who cannot read.  My 1st grader reads better than they do.  And it is horrible; it is dysfunctional.  It is one of the pockets of disaster.

Are the teachers to blame?
No, I don't think so.
Every single teacher I know works hard to help every student, including the boneheads who don't want to be helped.

I place a considerable amount of responsibility on the feet of parents who, in a perfect world order, would value education and help their children and have gainful employment and have enough money to take care of their kids and who wouldn't do drugs and who would make smart parenting decisions.

But there are plenty of parents who do not do these things or cannot do these things (many due to their own lack of education), which means it is left up to the district to take responsibility for all the things the parents won't do or can't do.

And it is darn near IMPOSSIBLE for any school district to do this.

Our district serves 100,000 students.  The next largest district serves 40,000 students....less than half of ours.  You have to add the student populations of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th largest districts in the state TOGETHER to get near to the size of ours.

It is an unenviable task.  I know there are plenty of good, dedicated people who slog through it every day.

I think the district could do some things differently, of course.  Maybe thinking outside the box a bit more in order to help those kids who are most the sixth graders who cannot read at grade level.  Maybe we need a special school where kids go and are in small groups of 5 until they can read at grade level?

But to note that one or two schools are gems in a district of close to 150 schools and calling the rest of it a disaster is just childish name-calling.