Monday, September 20, 2010

Waiting for Superman and Noah's First Year

Noah was five, Benjamin was 4 and I was pregnant with Josiah. My due date was at the end of August and I was worried about missing my first-born's first day of school. The whole school decision had been so difficult for us and Mark and I had struggled to decide where to enroll our sweet, little boy.

Mark and I both went to public school. I enjoyed my school experience and think I was well prepared for college. Mark had a different public school experience... a difficult time based more on the environment than the academics. But overall, we felt the local public school was a good option for our family.

We wondered if there might there be a better option? We toured a Christian school with a great reputation located near our home. The tour happened in January, 8 months before the year would begin, and we loved what we saw. Thinking this might be a better fit for us, we applied for admission in January. And we were turned down. The school was full. In January. For the next August.

Thinking this was a fine solution to our wondering, we enrolled Noah in the local public school without ever setting foot inside. On the morning of the the Kindergarten drop-in day, I took my two little boys to visit what would become Noah's class. I was "great with child" and waddled into the school looking forward to meeting the woman who would quickly become one of the most important people in my son's life.

To say that what I found in that place was disappointing to me is stating it lightly. I was saddened, worried and unsure about what the year would hold. It was not just the teacher. It was the whole environment, the classrooms, the staff and administration I had met, the overall climate itself. I called Mark from the parking lot and told him we had made a terrible mistake. This school was not going to do what we had hoped. He tried to reassure me but the years I had spent teaching in my own classroom gave me a perspective that I might not have otherwise had. I knew what I wanted for my child. I knew what kind of environment would lead to great growth in his young life. I knew that I was giving them a curious, intelligent, sensitive little boy and I knew I wanted all of those qualities to be nurtured. I had a very bad feeling about what was to come.

Now please, before you hit comment and tell me about the wonderful public schools that exist in America, hear this... I know. I really do. This blog and my feelings on education in America is not based on public or private schools! I know a lot of amazing teachers that teach in all kinds of schools and I attended some excellent public schools myself. I am grateful to many folks who worked in those schools for coming alongside me and helping me to find my way. They contributed mightily to my young life. I also know many families who choose to home-school and do a great job of that, too. I believe there are many ways to be educated and many ways to do that well. And sadly, I believe there are many ways to do that poorly, also.

What happened in our family during Noah's kindergarten year is not about public or private school. You know what it is about? A bad educational experience. And it should NEVER have happened.

Within a month of starting, Noah stopped talking after school. For hours after getting off the bus, he was sullen and withdrawn. I was afraid for my boy. We became aware of situations at the school where teachers were essentially calling students names. There were teachers there, teachers he saw regularly, who, during that entire year, never learned his name. The office, where I went weekly to check in and volunteer in my son's class, never learned mine. There was no sense of community and very little, if any, warmth. At the end of the year, there was a situation that helped me to understand how students end up never learning to read. I was beside myself. This is not what I wanted for my son. Not at all. And yet, it IS what my tax dollars pay for.

As someone who has spent years teaching, I know how hard the job can be. I also know very well how important it is to care deeply for that work and to strive to be the best that you can be. I hate that many teachers do not feel supported by their administration and that thousands of schools do not feel they have the resources necessary to do a great job. Even more importantly, I feel for teachers who know that they do not have the support of their student's parents to partner with them to accomplish the enormous task of educating that child. And yes, I understand there are reasons for some of this. I know money is tight, teachers are overworked, parents are busy... I get it. But, while I try to explain away what has happened to American schools, I am exceedingly more aware that United States is falling farther and farther behind other developed countries in math and science. The amazing part is that we rank higher than most in confidence. Really? Our children are less educated than other countries and yet we feel really great about ourselves? This cannot be good.

This is a sensitive subject. I want to be careful. And yet, the fact that we all feel like we have to be so careful about this subject is part of the reason that nothing ever improves! I am tired of being afraid of what people will think. I am tired of being afraid of what the Teacher's Union might feel. I am tired of it all. Because tip-toeing around this subject does not lead to needed change. And change is needed. Again, this is not about public schools or private schools or Christian schools or home-schools. It is about educating our children! We need to stop stomping our feet and offering excuses and start looking around. Children know what we teach them. When they are under-educated and hate school, that is not their fault! It is ours! It is our fault as parents for not expecting more. It is our fault as educators for not setting a higher standard and then reaching for it. It is our fault as Americans for setting aside our dream of having well-educated children who have tremendous opportunities ahead of them and instead settling for the school up the street. And it is the fault of the school up the street... that school that gets your tax dollars whether they do a great job or fail miserably, the school that should feel a huge sense of accountability to the children they are privileged to teach... but sometimes focus more on what is needed by teachers instead.

There is a documentary coming out called Waiting for Superman. It addresses all of this and so much more. It is my prayer that millions of people will see it and then be moved... moved to act, moved to change, moved to stand up for education in America and demand better! I so want to see the educational system in this great country turned on its ear and changed to become what it needs to be to meet the needs of our children. I want to see children who cannot wait to go to school, who understand the value of education, who have parents who will come alongside them and fight for their need for the highest quality education available. And for all those amazing schools that are already working in the United States, I want to give them a hand. I want people to see them and know them and praise them and financially support them so they can keep on doing exactly what they are already doing so well. Waiting for Superman can help us to see what is happening around us. I am going to see that movie. Are you?

If there has ever been a hint of worry in you about the education your children will receive or are receiving, it is time to act on that emotion. It is time for us, as mommas to our deeply loved children, to show up at our schools... public, private and charter... and work with the teachers and administration to make it even better than it is. And yes, it is time for us to find the teachers who have relied on tenure to keep their jobs--not job performance-- and release them from this most important position to make room for teachers who deeply care about education and about children and about the future of the United States.

This is one of those blogs that makes it hard to hit "post". I don't know what you are thinking but I know this: I will not let my fear about posting on a sensitive subject overrule my desire for my children to have access to excellent education. It is not my desire to offend... it is my desire to be honest and to share a bit of our own experience. Look around you. We live in an amazing place. We know the value of education. Surely we can do better than this.

Blessings on your day.


Tim and Ruthie Hoving said...

love, love, love this. as a teacher and a momma, it is SO HARD to watch a trailer like that and see what an injustice is being done in many schools. I can't wait to see the movie - and to make a difference!

Dawn Hart said...

Well said and well done. As a Christian woman, mom, and substitute teacher, this is exactly what I have wanted to say for a for years now but cannot put words together as well as you.