Today, I wore the t-shirt of the school L attended last year and was in the community. Of course, I bumped into three people I know from the school, all of whom assumed that L would be back when school starts in a few weeks. Cue my awkward feelings.
After piano lesson, we ran into a family from the school on the street. I hadn’t really spoken with the family in the past, but I recognized the mom’s face and I was wearing the t-shirt! We talked briefly and in broad terms, because I really support the school. I think it’s great! It’s important to build a community-based, neighborhood school with a child-centered, peaceful focus at its center. In fact (ironically), it’s why we bought our house in this neighborhood – we thought it would be the perfect place for us and for L! Turns out, it wasn’t a great fit. L was unhappy which led to a spiral of stress and unhappiness, all of which culminated in us looking at lots of other schools, most of which were really out of our price range. We only loved one of them, but couldn’t justify the cost when we could make our homeschool arrangement work – which is (obviously) what we decided on for this year.
Anyway, I digress.
This was someone who I knew only in passing and we had a conversation about how the school just wasn’t a fit. She and I had a nice chat that essentially said what two paragraphs above said, we talked about my work a little bit, and exchanged emails.
Whew. I thought. That wasn’t nearly as awkward as I’d feared – because I don’t want ANYONE to think we don’t support the school, just because we’re not sending our kiddo back. That conversation was ok, I thought.
We stopped at the library to return the book that I (mistakenly, it turns out) thought the library had forgotten to scan back in weeks ago when we returned it… except I found it in our home a few days ago. Rats! My bad.
I return the book and turn towards the kids’ section and there’s a mom and a kiddo from L’s class last year! We definitely know one another, and again, I’M WEARING THE SHIRT! Same conversation begins, but this mom brings up L’s academic skill set and wonders if that’s a reason it wasn’t a fit. I decide to be honest and say that we weren’t impressed with the differentiation offered for high-ability learners, either at the school or district level. As we’re talking, ANOTHER mom and kiddo walk up! Again, I know them, and I’m STILL wearing the shirt! The conversation continues and it turns out that we’re certainly not the first family to have experienced this same fracture point with the school/district.
I want to be very clear: this is a good school. Most schools are good schools. They are filled with hard-working, dedicated teachers and leaders. They are attended by parents who want the best for their kids. I support public schools and believe strongly in them.
I wish we supported all kids the way we support kids who have IEPs. Why can’t we give the same care and attention to each of our students? This idea that there’s a “normal group” of kids who learn in similar enough ways, with similar enough dispositions, with similar enough interests, etc… it’s nutty! Instead of talking about differentiating around the edges, we ought to be thinking about how rare it is to have any group that fits this central tendency! And the idea that when we have high-ability learners, you ought to either a) have them teach their peers, b) give them more of the same work that everyone else is doing, or c) essentially tell them to sit down and be quiet while you pay attention to those kids who “need you”… wow.
I made these same mistakes when I was a middle school teacher. I know I did. Especially my first year teaching in Detroit Public Schools, I can think of one learner in particular who in retrospect, I completely underserved. I am not blaming the teachers for these ideas. They are socially constructed and reinforced. What I am saying is that now I SEE the issue more clearly. I talk with friends and reflect on how, when it comes down to it, all of our kids are being missed in one (or more!) ways. Who is this construct of “school” working for?
And I wrestle deeply with pulling my kid out of public schools. WE ARE PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS! We both believe in public schools as a source for societal good! We know that schools are better when they’re comprised of a diverse group of families, socioeconomically, racially, ability-wise, in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity, etc… We want to be a part of that.
But it’s not working for our kid (at least not at this point). When I had a three-year-old dreading school, begging to not have to go, and crying each morning – how can I justify continuing to insist on my “beliefs” about a social institution over the very clear message my child is sending?
Anyway, all of this is to say that I struggle mightily with reconciling my conflicting beliefs in a number of avenues. And I worry about those kiddos like mine whose families aren’t in a place to be able to choose, who don’t have the flexibility my employment allows for, or don’t even know that being unhappy in school isn’t supposed to be the norm.
I don’t know how this all connects, but it seems to (somehow) in my head. Maybe because I brought a lot of this thinking to the conversations with the other three moms. Maybe because I’m afraid of being called a hypocrite for professionally supporting an institution that personally I’m struggling with. Maybe because I overthink things. Maybe.
Anyway, here’s L reading Henry and Mudge a few weeks ago on a rainy day. When I see this, I am able to calm my mind, at least a little bit. Just keep loving her and everything else will be ok.