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My soapbox–care to step on and discuss?

April 14, 2010

My girl…the one with the happy smile, gentle spirit, and…a deep dislike for math worksheets.

Oh boy…I stepped into the world of super crabby teacher person this morning, and about got my head bitten off. The interaction, though short, interrupted my train of thought for an entire morning, as I tried to alternately figure out the best response to the situation vs. talk myself into dropping it altogether.

I ended up writing a note to the teacher in question and just clicked SEND.

Moments after clicking that button, I went to Facebook and found myself staring at the following quote:

“You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.”” — Clay P. Bedford

That quote encapsulates my personal philosophy about education–especially with regards to my children. I am deeply passionate about learning. I come from a whole line of teachers and have been a teacher myself. I am a lifelong learner, compelled by some force I don’t totally understand. I can barely still my mind for an hour to focus on learning only one thing. I’m sure I have ADD on some level, as I flit about wanting to learn everything and more RIGHT NOW. But compulsory school…man, that was a forced march that stressed me out entirely. Moments after high school graduation I walked down to the soccer field, lit a cigarette, and thanked whatever God there may be that I finally had the space in my life to LEARN. On MY terms.

Now…I know that we as citizens in a functioning society need to learn how to produce and achieve and develop a “work ethic.” I get it. I want my kids to be accountable to the world, their peers, and themselves. But I also want the world to be accountable to them. To be more specific, I want the educational system to be accountable to them, not just try to process them through, stamp them approved, and ship them off to figure it out. Cause really, how many schools truly prepare our kids for the challenges they’ll face in the greater world, or even teach them to understand the world outside the school grounds? How many high school graduates (much less old 30-somethings like yours truly) can explain how the economy works, for instance? Shit, how many of them can balance a checkbook or pay year-end taxes without professional help??!

So. This is my soapbox. Welcome to it and please, discuss and share! And yeah, check out the email I sent to Chiara’s teacher in response to what happened this morning. I’m glad I opted to address the issue directly rather than just let it fester all day.

Dear Chiara’s teacher,
I’m sorry I caught you at a bad time this morning. I know the beginning of class has got to be the most difficult time to interact with parents, and will remember in the future that it would be best to send you an email instead.

Regardless, our interaction this morning is weighing on me. I approach parent/teacher relationships from the mindset that we are allies in the learning experiences of the child we share, and felt that this important connection between us was lost, this morning.

I imagine you’re frustrated with the level of Chiara’s work and the fact that she was not only away for a week but didn’t complete the packet you so carefully put together for her. Of course your frustration is understandable, since that affects your grading procedures. I will have her sit down with it tonight and we’ll take stock of how much more she has to do. Whatever she completes at home I will bring with me when I meet with you tomorrow.

I also understand (and always have) that it would be best if she attends the conference. I see how important this is to you in particular, and would like to suggest that we make a new time to meet if that’s possible. I have considered every possibility in my own mind but sadly, I can’t bring her with me because I can’t then take her to Albuquerque with me for my appointment. There will be no time to take her home to her older siblings after our meeting. I’m sorry, but this is the very best I can do.

Just as you are doing your best trying to manage a classroom of 24 kids, I am doing MY best trying to manage a household of 4 kids on my own. I know I’ve explained this situation to you before so I won’t trouble you with it much further…but suffice to say, it’s not easy and I am trying my damndest to make sure everyone gets their needs met, is happy, healthy, and cared for. That’s no small feat with four school-aged children, as I’m sure you can understand. If I could wave a magic wand and make everything perfect, my older kids would have a more involved second parent, my husband wouldn’t be on the road every week, and I would be able to afford tutoring for Chiara so she can get caught up on her lessons AND, most importantly, be able to better understand her math. Thank goodness for the math club, which I know has helped and will continue to help (thanks for YOUR help with that!). Outside of what the school can provide, and what guidance I can provide given the difficulties of my situation, I don’t have many options, I’m afraid.

Lest you be concerned that I am in any way allowing the mundane details of life to trump Chiara’s education, please know that her learning is of the greatest importance to me. But, and to put this most simply because I could wax philosophical about it all day long, I am frustrated with the broken system that is public education in this country, and frustrated even more by how education has become less about learning and more about production and achievement. I greatly admire YOUR determination to continue teaching our kids as best you can within this failing system, and can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for you, as an educator, to have to wrestle with the structure on a daily basis. Adding a creative touch to your teaching, like you did with the Ellis Island project and plenty others, is heartening to me, and I appreciate that. The Ellis Island experience, in particular, was valuable to Chiara…she had a light in her eyes about it. Not so the math worksheets given as homework. Though I understand the importance of them within the structure of the school, I watch her glaze over when she stares at the papers, and I can see that learning is not taking place. This is exactly what happened when she was away, and my mom struggled to help her with the assignments in the face of Chiara’s mental shutdown. So….they explored Seattle, talked about the heron rookery behind my sister’s house that was recently robbed of all its eggs by bald eagles (and what an experience for Chiara to see bald eagles!), tracked ducks at the lake, and spent unstructured time getting to know a new, and very different, place. Chiara came back beaming and happy and fulfilled…it was a learning experience that will stay with her, I’m sure, albeit a different one than becoming skilled at math. As for the math…I don’t have many answers myself. I know that repetition is the key for learning the operations, and that the lessons build on each other…but how to reach a child who “checks out” when faced with a page full of numbers? That’s exactly how I was, and the worksheets and assignments only served to increase my stress levels, rather than help me learn math. So…what to do. I’m afraid I don’t know just yet.

Anyway, I apologize for writing a novel here and will close. Tonight Chiara will do the best she can to finish as much of her work as possible, and she and I will also discuss her thoughts about her academic progress, her challenges, her achievements, etc., so that I have something concrete to bring to our meeting tomorrow. If you’d rather find another time to meet so that she can attend, let me know.

Thanks so much,

One Comment leave one →
  1. Debbie Fulton permalink
    April 14, 2010 11:17 am

    Dear Ana,

    Your letter to Chiara’s teacher was diplomatic, and honest. Hope your meeting goes well, and I’m so thank-ful you are in Kelli’s life, because its a pleasure to know you!

    Chiara is blessed, and beautiful, as are all your children!

    Now go out and celebrate, you did well!


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