So today marks the end of the first “week” of school. Really, though, it was just three days. However, I think I’ve had a lot of “a-ha” moments in these first few days and I just wanted to jot them down somewhere before I forget… or become jaded in a few months and become just another ranting public school parent (wink).
As the photos showed Wednesday, public elementary (and in our case, a T-K through 8th grade) truly is a BIG pond, and we are but the teensiest, tiniest fish in it, mere plankton really. I say we because it’s not just that our T-K kids are physically the smallest ones out there (18 kids ages four and five of over 1100 students up through ages 14-15 on the entire campus – !) but because for those of us with an only or eldest child of the brood, it’s also our first time as parents of a kid in a public school. We, too, are going to school and are going to be schooled this year; we parents don’t yet know the social structures, the bureaucracies, and the whole of the school setting just yet, but we’re going to have opportunity after opportunity to learn them, know them, and live them as Brad Hamilton of Fast Times at Ridgemont High might have said. And, yes, we’ve had a peek inside to some of the inner-workings of the system already. Many parents are already complaining that the schedule isn’t firm (a letter went home on day one with K students about a potential change to the bell schedule in a few weeks, but stay tuned!) and that they’ve been asked to re-do some forms that we completed at the registration time last spring – and this is just day three! Wow, I wonder how MONTH three will be?!
Yes, OK, I admit it; I, too have been a wee tad irked by these uncertainties and duplications, not going to lie. Trust me, I was mumbling all sorts of NSFW (or for T) language as I painstakingly hand-wrote out those teensy, tiny 4 pt. font-sized emergency cards in triplicate… all while reflecting back on the time when I’d already completed them in triplicate just a few months ago while registering T for school. Then again, who wouldn’t be annoyed?! It’s bothersome and quite irritating when our time is wasted and we can see a lack of efficiency from a marathon’s distance, absolutely it is! However, I guess I’m just learning to keep my expectations low… VERY low. As in, I have ample experience of my own from my paid-working environs past and current along with ongoing feedback from C as to how large “bureaucrazies” work.
The truth is this, RMT’ers: There’s always going to be miscommunications, uncertainty, and change inside of any large institution (including school), and the better we parents deal with our reactions and responses, the better for us AND for our kids. Our children shall get many a chance to see how resilient we are through adversities, and by our positive reactions (or complete lack of reaction entirely), there’s also less risk of a trickle-down reaction toward our kids if we should, um, want to voice a concern to administration staff or our child’s teacher directly each and every time one of these challenges comes up. (Big note to self here: Check myself whenever I wish to voice a concern; I should make sure they are seldom and/or serious, not frequent and/or frivolous).
Plain and simple, schools are under funded, understaffed, and overburdened. The time that they have to deal with logistical problems and with us on a daily basis (on top of providing our children with care and an education, of course) is thin as-is, and the time they can and do devote to each issue is stretched to the max. So when resolutions come down the pike that are meant for the masses, we have to remember that just as we are one family on this school’s campus, those staff members are dealing with our family AND the other several hundred families in attendance. The days of preschool pampering is over, for us parents and for our kids, and we’re getting what we’re paying for; if the current level of funding is anywhere close to the rumored average of $23 per day per child in our school district at 20-35 kids per teacher depending on the grade level, I no longer expect the personalized attention we became accustomed to in our last school setting (where we paid over $40 per day for care twice-weekly and had easily half the number of students per teacher/room).
I hate to highlight problems without offering solutions, and I won’t, so here’s how we can help. We can “VIP” (said as written and used as both verb and noun, it’s what our district calls its volunteer program) on campus, in the classroom, and/or at home. If you don’t have time to volunteer on a regular basis, make sure to attend every single back-to-school night, open house, and any other event that takes to your child’s teacher and classroom. The more we parents know about what’s going on inside there, the more at-ease we will be, and the pond all of a sudden won’t seem so big either.
Also we can ask teachers what supplies might help ease the burden of both teaching staff and student consumption through the course of the year. Every school usually has a list of supplies needed organized by grade level, so you can read that and run with it like I did, or we can ask the teacher what’s an immediate need and open a line of direct communication; yes, talk to the teacher, or send a note through your child if that’s easier for you OR for them. I’ve already dropped off 20 new glue sticks that cost me all of $2.00 (that’s one stick per student); while those sticks might not last a real long time (just a couple of hours maybe), it’s a simple gesture that I saw was appreciated by T’s teacher as I handed the bag-o-sticks over to her. I am going to try to do a supply drop once a month like this, checking in for updates on what is needed. And I can spare a Starbucks for $5-10 worth of supplies.
But let’s not just offer help to the school staff and our teachers. How about we parents work TOGETHER to help each other out whenever we can? For example, a friend T went to preschool with last year is in a K class at his school this year, and we all co-mingle in the mornings at drop-off on the T-K and K playground. It’s our parental responsibility to stay with our kids or have a family member, friend, nanny, etc. stay with them until the teachers come to receive them at morning bell. That’s put our friends in a pickle as their work schedules don’t allow them to stay with their child until morning bell a handful of mornings a month; it’s a gap of approximately 15 minutes between when they would arrive and the morning bell where their child would need supervision. Both parents approached me yesterday morning to ask me if I could help by being their son’s “person”; very easily, I said yes. T and I are there already, so I just asked that they give me a list of dates in advance for the month so I know those are mornings that T and I can’t lag (not that we’ve lagged yet, but still, routines and lists help, right RMT’ers?!). Our friends were so relieved. Anyway, the moral here is not that I am some awesome parent or friend for doing them a solid, but it’s to show that it’s very small gestures, things we can do very easily and with little to zero effort on our part, that can make a huge difference to others.
So how did T do these first few days of school? Well, on the first day at pick-up, he managed to collide with another child and get a nice, ripe, eggy bump on his head. With that, off we went to the office for ice, and during his injury time-out he got to meet the principal. They had a nice few minutes together. When she asked T what he learned his first day of T-K he said, “To play with LEGOs.” Ah, T, maybe not the answer she was looking for, but a memorable moment just the same. Oh, and T’s totally fine… he went back to playing not five minutes later. He’s also proclaimed, “Mom, I LOVE school!” every time at pick-up and later on in the day and before bed. I think that’s a pretty good start to what hopefully is a fantastic first year ahead – but of course, no expectations!
I know change isn’t easy, RMT’ers. How are you adjusting to your new routines and changes as summer winds down? Please share your own tips and insights.