I grew up as an unschooler and I planned for my children to never go to school. Here I am, living in Mexico, and my children just finished their first week of school. I’ve ignored my conscience and it sucks. Yes, I feel like a hypocrite of the highest order.
“We ask that you do not talk about your children in front of them without including them in the conversation. If you need to talk alone with teachers, make arrangements to talk without your child present.”
This quote is taken from the handbook of my children’s wonderful, progressive preschool. It is a wonderful policy, and the kids truly are included in conversations if they are there. The teachers speak to the children in real voice, not the squeaky, sing-songy voices often reserved by adults for preschoolers. Children are respected in this place like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
Which is why what I saw at our public school the other day bothered me. It wasn’t my son’s kindergarten teacher, but another of the 3 kindergarten teachers in his building. Someone I know was picking up her daughter from school. She and I were chatting as we waited for pickup and she said her daughter has been having a hard time separating lately when it’s time for school and that it’s been really hard.
When the teacher came out, she mouthed to my friend “she was okay” and gave her a thumbs up. My friend greeted her daughter and they prepared to walk home. But then the teacher walked over to her to talk some more. Mother and daughter were standing side by side, and the teacher started off facing them and whispering. So the daughter moved in closer. And then the teacher moved to block the child’s body. The teacher pushed the girl backward by moving her body into the girl’s space, so she could talk to her mother about her. The little girl stuck her head in the middle of the two adults, and the teacher moved closer to the mother again to block her out.
I know many people will not take offense at this story. But it was offensive to me, and I’m sure to the child. This poor 5-year old was being physically blocked out of a conversation by a teacher she is supposed to trust to take care of her for many hours each day. She knows they were talking about her, or at least about something she wanted to hear. It shows a total disregard for the child as a person. Imagine doing that to two of your friends. How is this situation any different?
What she could do instead
It isn’t hard to imagine the possibilities. The teacher could email, call, or text the parent. Unless there is a threat of imminent danger, the adult conversation can wait until a better time.
Childism is alive and well. Many people wouldn’t give this scenario a second thought. We need to notice the lack of respect given to children in our everyday lives and routines. It is the first step toward improving the situation.
Last week, I met with the principal at my son’s elementary school. I’m actually the third parent of a child in my son’s kindergarten class to meet with him. A fourth parent has a meeting scheduled, and those are just the parents I know about. My son’s teacher is brand new and having quite a few issues with classroom management and developmentally inappropriate expectations.
I have emailed the teacher on numerous occasions. My husband and I have had a conference with her. Instead of improving, things over the past two weeks have gotten drastically worse in the classroom and my son has come home unhappier than ever before.
We go to a neighborhood school and see many of the parents every day at pickup or drop-off. Many parents are unhappy with what their kids are reporting, or what they’ve witnessed at school, or what they’ve experienced in talking to the teacher. The largest group is unhappy. A smaller group has let the teacher know of particular concerns. And an even smaller group has finally gone to the principal for help (individually, not because we planned with each other).
Why is this?
I know many parents are unhappy. But I’ve heard varied reasons from them as to why they aren’t trying to help. One said her daughter hadn’t been affected yet by the inappropriate punishment policy, and she was too “non-confrontational” to voice her concerns in theory alone. Another said her concerns weren’t big enough to “bother the principal”. A third says her daughter just needs to get used to it, because that is how school is. And a fourth said she’d email the teachers about one particular concern, but that she also didn’t want to bother the principal because her concerns weren’t big enough, and her daughter wasn’t saying anything, so she must not be bothered.
But to me, as a parent working hard to try and work with the school to improve the situation, it feels like they are just letting other parents do the hard work for them. I understand that it can be nerve-wracking to talk to teachers and principals. It is for me as well. But it’s also important enough that I work through my discomfort.
My son does tell me a lot about what’s happening at school, as well as how he’s feeling about it. I do admit that probably makes it easier to take action. But I know that when I was a kid, I had an experience where 2 fifth grade boys followed me around the playground my entire fourth grade year. I never told anyone. I hated it more than anything and it affected everything. And I don’t know why I didn’t tell. But it also taught me that just because a child doesn’t speak up doesn’t mean that something doesn’t bother him.
Don’t rely on other parents to do the hard work
I know it’s hard. I know you want to do anything other than make those appointments and then actually go to those appointments with the teacher and principal. But your child needs you. The other students need you. And the other parents need you. I so appreciate knowing I’m not alone in my particular case. But I would feel so much better knowing that everyone who has concerns was speaking up, because it would be helping all our kids. Every parent brings a unique voice, and a unique set of concerns, because all individuals view even the same issue differently. It can only add more information, input, and ideas to the conversation about how to improve problem situations.
We had a lovely unseasonably warm day this week and headed out to the zoo after school. We enjoyed the mostly empty zoo at a leisurely pace. And I thought, why am I not homeschooling? I should pull him and homeschool. I see more signs pointing to this fact practically every day. Questionable things happening at school, more and deeper unhappiness at home in the evenings. I miss my son, and we’re experiencing negative behavior due to that disconnection between us.
I’m still struggling with the decision
I know all the above positives and negatives. And yet, I’m struggling to make the actual decision. Why? I’m still trying to figure that out.
Why am I struggling?
All of the reasons I laid out in this earlier postabout why I sent him to kindergarten in the first place. They all still hold true. We are still figuring the whole school thing out.
My son has mixed feelings. I’m not letting my 6-year old make this decision alone. But I am discussing it with him, because his input is important to me. And he wavers, depending on the day, about whether he wants to continue or not.
We are having a really negative teacher experience. You might think that would make me run even faster. And it is definitely a push, as it is majorly contributing to the negative feelings surrounding school. But she’s new and might improve. And she is not the entirety of the school experience. I hate to let her make us miss out on any positives he’s experiencing. And I met with the principal just days ago. He seems great, and really seems to understand the issues we’re having. He has a plan to help.
We’ll see more if we stay longer. My son is excited for the art show at the end of the year, where he’ll have one or more projects on display. He’s experienced a school party, a school book fair, and a couple school fundraising events. He hasn’t been on a field trip, or seen an assembly. There are a lot of school things he’ll see just this year that he won’t experience if we pull him. Overall, I think that’s not a huge deal. But I do want him to experience some of these things to know they exist.
I worry both of us will have a hard time keeping up with friends we will no longer see every day. My son and I both have friends that we see because he’s going to school. We can try and keep up with them, but once schedules change and we no longer see them by default every day, that’s easier said than done.
And I’m overwhelmed…
It’s a hard decision and it feels more permanent that it really is. I know that we can change what we’re doing and make any number of different choices, including public and private school, part-time school, or homeschool. No choice is permanent. But every change requires a lot of thought and effort, at least for me.
It’s hard to be different and go against the norm. Ahh, the biggest reason. It’s hard to know that this non-mainstream decision is the right way to go. I don’t have any experience with homeschool outside of the past couple years researching it, and many acquaintances who are homeschooling. It feels really overwhelming to opt out of the choice that everyone else is choosing.
The Silver Lining
All that said, I’m fairly certain we’ve already decided we’ll homeschool next year. Full-day school (as opposed to this year’s half days) is just not something I want for my family at this time. Knowing that, I feel more comfortable with my current indecisiveness. If things get worse at school, we’ll pull him. But for now, we’re floating along a little further on the cloud of indecision.
My son came home very upset on Wednesday and it lasted through bedtime. He’s told me that everyone but a few kids, including him, received 4 reward stickers. He said he wasn’t talking when they were given out and he isn’t allowed to ask you about stickers or he’d “get in trouble.” It seems that giving many students the large reward of 4 stickers is pretty obviously a punishment for those that didn’t receive them.
My son has had a rough start to school emotionally and has regularly not wanted to come. As I told you in my email and at our conference, it’s been only two and a half weeks since he’s actually been fairly happy to come to school. All because of a fun science experiment and because he’s had the chance to connect more with you as a person. After last night I feel like we are back to square one. Wednesday night in bed he asked me to tell you he moved so that he never has to come back.
We don’t use rewards in our family because we are working really hard to help our children develop intrinsic motivation and to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. There is a lot of research available to support our beliefs in this regard. I know you said at curriculum night that you don’t believe 5 and 6-year olds will make the right choices without rewards, but research doesn’t agree. I’m linking a couple articles that are well-sourced with research articles noted. http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/risks-rewards/ and http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/case-gold-stars-2/
Obviously, I’d love to see you do away with rewards all together, as they are truly just the other side of the coin from punishment. Kids are smart and they know that. But I mostly want you to know that what happens at school has long-lasting impact at home. Even if his perception isn’t 100% what happened, it is still what happened to him, and illustrates another reason why rewards are a slippery slope. My son’s school day negatively impacted the rest of the day for him (and us as a family), and the next morning was not much better. For a child who, according to you, understands and follows the rules, that seems like a very harsh punishment.
I know you are concerned that they learn self-control and to work independently. But my goals are different. I want my son to further develop his love of learning and learn to appreciate being part of a school community. I want him to learn that school is an enjoyable place to be, because without that how can it be expected that kids will want to be engaged, active participants? I want him to know that his teacher is a person he can go to for help. I’d really love to work with you to achieve those goals.
I always thought I’d volunteer at my children’s school when the opportunity arose. I do remember as a kid not really liking it when my mom would be in my school volunteering, unless I could be with her. But generally I was glad she was around, and glad she was involved.
I had my first volunteer opportunity to volunteer for a PTA walkathon that was held during school hours. It was hot and rather horrible, honestly. My son had a huge meltdown once he realized I was there. He was miserably hot and when he spotted me, his emotion let loose. After the walkathon he refused to go back into school. The event was really bad, so I can’t really blame his reaction. It was hot, kids were begging (and not being allowed) to stop walking before they had completed the mile walk. Several straggling kindergartners got lost in the woods during the walk. There wasn’t enough supervision, so kids were fighting after the walkathon, throwing their snacks and water at each other.
I actually chose to sign him out rather than force him back into school. The teachers let me decide, and the secretary said it was fine and noted how hot it had been during the event. I hadn’t expected his reaction and wasn’t really prepared to deal with it. I’m not sure I made the right decision but it was the decision that felt best at the time. But now I’m really second guessing whether I can volunteer in his classroom at all.
His teacher asked for parent volunteers to help in the kindergarten class while they work on their work stations. But the work stations don’t occur in the middle of the class time, and I’m not sure my son will cooperate when it’s time to for me to leave. I would really, really like to view the classroom dynamics for myself and witness the atmosphere that my son complains about so much. So I’m really trying to figure out how to make volunteering work.
I know many kids don’t react the way mine do. Most seem happy to see their parents and just as happy to have them leave. But if you have a child like mine, I’d love to hear how you make it work. Do you volunteer at your children’s events and school?
I’m still struggling with the question of school or homeschool for my kindergarten-aged son. He’s been in public school kindergarten for 3 weeks now, after we decided to give it a try for the reasons I outlined in this earlier post.
School–What I’m struggling with:
Rewards—my son has been in a wonderful preschool classroom for 3 years where teachers never used rewards to gain children’s cooperation. I find myself going back to Alfie Kohn’s quote, “The more compulsive the use of positive rewards, the bleaker the underlying view of children…” The teacher actually said at her curriculum night presentation that she couldn’t imagine the children being helpful, considerate of others, and listening if she didn’t use the rewards system. Multiple children, mine included, are struggling with the fairness of the rewards. My son told me last week that he got a sticker for helping someone find something in the room. His response was “now I know what to do to get a sticker!” The focus for him is now on the sticker and not why he should be helpful and kind in all situations.
Punishments—my son’s preschool teachers also never used punishments to gain control and cooperation either. He learned that everyone, kids and adults, make mistakes, and that we do what we can to fix our mistakes. So while my son should be getting to know the teacher and his classmates, instead, she is wielding time-outs sitting in front of the class to shame them, as early as the fifth day of school. When multiple parents questioned her use of time-outs, she quit using them. However, she also took away even more freedom from the kids, and took away all talking privileges in the classroom. Our school district as a whole uses a shame based behavior management system, instead of one of the many research-based positive behavior management systems out there, such as Dr. Ross Greene’s Collaborative and Proactive Solutions model.
Lack of respect for students—my kiddo is really struggling with being treated less than respectfully by the adults. He really dislikes silliness, and there’s been a lot of it. Forced performance, forced hand-holding, forced participation. Being told to “hug yourself and hold a bubble” rather than just asked to be quiet and keep your hands to yourself. There has been no time for the students to get to know one another or their teacher to help foster a sense of community and cooperation.
I had high hopes of my son being welcomed into school by a warm and kind teacher who would create some excitement about being there. Instead, he keeps asking me to call and tell the teacher we moved.
School–What’s been positive:
Schedule–Getting back on a schedule has been a good thing for us. I haven’t figured out what our schedule would be like if we were homeschooling. He only goes 2.5 hours per day, so it isn’t the whole day. Also, he goes in the afternoon. It might sound extreme, but if we had to get there at his school’s very early morning start time, our decision probably would have already been made.
Friends–My son’s best friend is in his class, and he wouldn’t see him much otherwise. They do play after school on the playground sometimes, although they don’t have recess or time to play during school. And we see a lot of neighborhood friends both on the way and at pick up every day.
Homeschooling—my latest thoughts on the positives:
More time—While being back on a schedule has been a good thing, our school time is in the middle of the day and it’s all we can accomplish out of the house most days.
Developmentally appropriate—going at our own pace, following interests, playing!
One negative I’m still struggling with regarding homeschooling has to do with my particular kid. He won’t play without me when I’m present. Play dates are hard and rarely go smoothly. But he loved playing at preschool, where they had a very long free-play period, supported by respectful adults. I’m not sure how I can replicate that situation. Maybe a great sitter, but we sure haven’t found it yet. And school doesn’t serve that purpose either, since they don’t actually get to play, or even talk.
The summary for now:
I’m sure to anyone reading it seems that I’m leaning heavily toward homeschooling. Why am I not doing it yet? Some of the reasons still hold true from my original list. But the biggest reason is that I just don’t know yet. The first 3 weeks of school aren’t the most true representation of school. I’m hoping that as the year progresses they get to have more fun and freedom rather than less. But only more time will tell.
I did it! I opted out of the first standardized test for my kindergartner. It is a huge relief to have the letters in and be done with the first of many decisions.
I’d been researching and debating for quite awhile about the state-wide, beginning of year testing. It starts immediately and continues through the first 2 months of school. I searched and found very little information available regarding opting out. There is very little information available about what the assessments really are. I spoke to several kindergarten teachers, and a couple were quite helpful. I spoke to people on opt-out pages on facebook, but had minimal success there, as most focus is on the tests for upper elementary grades.
The test I opted out of is a kindergarten readiness assessment. It is mostly one-on-one with the teacher, and because of that fact, many people seem to think it’s okay. But while the teacher spends hours administering these tests one-on-one, the class has a substitute teacher. So when they should be learning to love school with their welcoming teacher, kids are instead spending their first school days with a sub and being tested on what they know before they’ve learned anything at school. One teacher said that her students do poorly because none of them have been to preschool. But it seems that children like mine, who go to wonderful, play-based, developmentally appropriate preschool are also at a disadvantage. They have not been force-fed early academic skills because that is not what 3 and 4-year olds should be doing. But yet my anxious kid needs to go “show what he knows.” To what end? Parents said to me that they think this testing is a good way for kindergarten teachers to learn where the children are and what they need to learn. But what did teachers do before this testing? They got to know their students. My son’s class will be quite small, which is just a lucky fluke for us in public school. So that excuse holds no water in his class. The teacher can definitely get to know the students she will have without a standardized test.
I looked at our school district website, and there are 3 other assessments expected of kindergarten students before the year is out. 4 standardized tests in kindergarten. Why have we let it get here? I’m writing in the hopes of increasing awareness that these tests even exist, and that we as parents can opt out for our children.
I posted recently about how we are planning to try kindergarten for my son even though I’d truly love to homeschool. Today was his kindergarten assessment, a 20 minute meeting with his teacher to “tell what you know,” as I heard another parent put it. We did go today, because as I said in my other post, he will have a teacher new to the district and his assessment was with her, so we’d get to meet her. In many districts where we have friends, the assessments are done by a random teacher, and honestly, if that had been the case, we would have been out of town the week of assessments.
I had spoken to the previous teacher to ask if I would be allowed to stay during the assessment due to my son’s extreme separation anxiety, and she said yes. So I emailed the new teacher ahead of time to let her know, and she also agreed it was fine. However when we got to school today, she said if I stayed in the room, she’d have to reassess him again once school started when I wasn’t there. I’m guessing that’s due to rules with standardized testing. But what a way to undermine both teachers, parents, and students. Teachers can’t choose to allow a parent to stand across a room in a spot where the child can’t see him or her? Are we not all adults here? These assessments are assessing where kindergartners come into school. Is someone really thinking we’re going to “cheat?”
I was able to stand outside the room, but still where I could see. I actually don’t know if I was far enough away for it to “count” or not, which leads me to the thought that maybe I should opt my son out of the state kindergarten assessment at the beginning of the school year anyway. Today, he was asked a bunch of academic skills type questions, and maybe that’s the problem with me staying…that I’m not supposed to know what was asked? Again, something is wrong with that situation as well.
I liked his teacher-to be. She seemed kind and interested in getting to know my son, and we had a pleasant conversation after the assessment. But the whole interaction left a sour taste in my mouth. So many of the points I worry about with formal schooling came up just in this quick half hour at the school. Early academics, parents “needing” to be away from their children for schooling to “count,” the homework assignment we received today that has to be brought back on the first day of school.
There were also discouraging events surrounding these assessments, like the parent of my son’s classmates humble-bragging on facebook complaining, but also letting everyone know their 5 year old is already reading. Other parents comparing notes on whether they got “feedback” on how their children did. Because, you know, school is one big competition, right? And maybe you’ll say I’m just worried or jealous because my child is reserved in new situations and isn’t reading yet. Maybe that’s even a little true. But it doesn’t make it any less true that I have real reservations about the culture that I’m sending my child into. It’s going to be a big culture shock for us both, I’m afraid.
Respectful parenting, Learning with kids, and Waiting for Readiness