Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Kids, School, and Parenting

Today I am going into Intuitive Monkey's kindergarten class to help tutor some of the kids that need a little extra help. His teacher was looking for volunteers, and I happened to have some time on Tuesday afternoons. I'm actually looking forward to it. I have always wanted to be more involved with the school, but until this year Monkey was always with me. The school wouldn't let me bring him with me for field trips or to help in the classroom. So, even though I stayed at home and didn't work, I could never chaperone The Rationalist's field trips in Kindergarten and 1st grade.

Besides that, The Rationalist's teachers have never seemed very welcoming. Schools always say they want more parental involvement, but what they really want is for parents to participate in the PTA and fundraising drives. They are less interested in actually communicating with parents about their child's education. I took five years to raise these kids and get them prepared for public school, only to hardly hear anything from these teachers. Every once in a while, I come a few minutes early and stick my head into their classrooms to touch base with them for 30 seconds as the kids are lining up to leave. I don't interrupt anything or stay long. They always act surprised to see a parent and a little annoyed that I dared to say,"Hi!"

It's really strange. They have sign up lists to help out in the classroom. I fill them out and they never call for anything. Once again, I think the administration has them put things like that out during Open Houses, but the teachers themselves don't want to be inconvenienced by having miscellaneous parents in their classes.

Another intriguing development on the school front involves The Rationalist's reading choices. Like me before him, he has developed a reading level far above what the average seven-year-old has. His school participates in a program called Accelerated Reading. Students check out books, read them, and take quizzes to test for comprehension. They are rewarded with parties, certificates, and so-on. The Rationalist is reading books that are rated at a higher level. They try and push students towards the upper limits of their reading abilities. Once they have scored 100% on a certain amount of tests in a certain reading level, they are moved up to the next level.

This has resulted in The Rationalist reading books that are written for an older audience of 4th graders and above. Yesterday, he brought home a Goosebumps book from R.L. Stine--The Haunted Mask. I was familiar with Goosebumps, in general, but I had never actually read one of the books before. I told him that I wasn't sure that I wanted him reading it, and that his father and I would have to read it first to see if we thought it was OK. He understood. We have had to have several conversations about TV, movies and books before, telling him that just because something is on TV or written in a book, doesn't mean it's good for us or appropriate for them at their current age.

This was especially true when I answered a phone call one night and told them they could watch TV in my bedroom while I was talking. I finished the conversation and walked in to find them watching Family Guy. It had just been put into syndication on a local channel and was being shown at 5:00pm. I had to explain that not all cartoons are for kids and that even I didn't watch that cartoon, and I was a grown-up.

But back to the point.....I am having to try and find the balance between encouraging a voracious reader, while at the same time making sure that he isn't prematurely exposed to things that he's not ready to handle. I don't think a seven-year-old is ready for Goosebumps. The story I read was a serious horror story. It wasn't a watered-down kid version that frightens but ultimately ends well, or is more of a parody.

Here's a picture from the TV version of the book he checked out.

That's Carly Beth in her haunted mask which takes over her body and won't initially come off, making her behave and act in scary ways to her friends, including an incident where she tries to choke her best friend, stopping herself at the last minute.

Uh...yeah. Goosebumps gets the kaibosh.

I seriously don't know what's up with that school library. First they let my five-year-old check out a book about Japanese zookeepers starving elephants to death, then my seven-year old is given books that will probably give him nightmares.

I should probably talk to the media center about age-appropriateness, but I was trying not to be the annoying mother who is pestering them constantly.


Musicguy said...

Terri- I don't know you personally, but as I teacher, I'm going to speak from my experiences in the profession.

If I had a parent come into my room unannounced at the end of the day as I was trying to get my students out the door, I would be less than pleased, and would certainly make you aware of this. Most schools have conferences scheduled throughout the school year and teachers can be reached via phone or email at any time. I'm much more receptive to a phone call than I am to the surprise "here I am" conversations.

Most districts do not allow "extraneous" children in the buildings or on trips. The fact of the matter is that they become a distraction and a liability for the school. If you're there to chaperone students, you shouldn't be distracted by a small child. Imagine the lawsuit if a student were to get hurt because I parent chaperone was busy changing a diaper or chasing down a toddler intead of actually chaperoning.

In our district, you can't chaperone your own child. Parents attend trips to act as another teacher, not as parents. The bottom line is student safety, not making moms happy.

As for parent volunteers, our adminsitration allows us to choose parents that we are comfortable having in the classroom. Not every parent gets along with every teacher. The teacher needs to be able to do his/her job without having to babysit the parent. Differing personalities/beliefs/philosophies are the most common reason why teachers shy away from some parents.

As for age appropriateness- you need to realize that what's bad for one parent isn't necessarily bad for another, and what's good for one isn't good for another. (Take the Harry Potter books as an example. There a many parents who don't feel that these books are appropriate for students of any age, yet thankfully, these books reside in a gerat majority of school libraries). As teachers, we follow certain age recommendations, but it is ultimately the parent's job to decide what they want for their child. There's no way to make everyone happy.

That's my two and a half cents for the night.

terri said...

Musicguy..I am aware of the concern for liability, but it is a recent trend that has been implemented as a result of fear by the administration, not because of actual events that have occured. They changed their policy the year that my oldest started school..bad timing for me I guess.

As far as the volunteer thing goes, that would make sense if teachers actually know the parents of students, but in general they don't. They meet the student and parents for about 5 minutes at an Open House before school starts...in the midst of about 20 other students and parents. So, I have a hard time believing that most teachers could or would make a value judgement in that short span of time.

Regardless, the main point is that I have found that schools and teachers have been less welcoming than I had expected they would be.

We are constantly reminded that parents need to be involved in their child's education, but schools don't always seem to really want that. The only exception I find to this is when they are having fundraisers, or carnivals that need to be staffed. I think that's a shame.

As far as age-appropriateness goes, I'll play the parent card on you, though it may not be fair. There are many things I wouldn't have thought twice about before I had kids and would have argued in favor of. Having kids and seeing things fresh from their eyes, it can be revealing how much we have been desensitized to things.

So Goosebumps when he's in 4th or 5th grade?...maybe. But at seven, I think it's too much. And as far as the book my five-year-old brought home, it went beyond age-appropriateness and straight into cruel and offensive. Even his teacher, who hadn't realized what the book was about, was shocked at its contents.

Re: conferences..yep they're supposed to have them. You know what happened last year when The Rationalist was in First grade? During conference week, after I had never been contacted about having one..I approached his teacher and asked if she was scheduling them. "Oh..you want a conference?" she said. Like I had said I wanted her to dye her hair green and pierce her nose. "Oh...he's doing fine. Nothing to worry about." end of conference.

The next half of the year she scheduled one for me, and then the day before, as I am picking up my son, told him to tell me to come to his class. I show up thinking something must be important or wrong. "Oh, I have something to do tomorrow, so I figured I'd just take 5 minutes to have your conference now." Great. Never mind if I had something to do, or that my husband had changed his schedule to come to the original conference the next day and now wouldn't be able to do it. Nope. It was all about her. Nice.

So...though I feel that I have been somewhat condescended to and lectured at...I hope you know that I wouldn't say these things without have some reasons and experience--not all of which I shared--to cause me to feel that way.

Also....I am not sure what age group you teach, but I am talking about elementary grades...young elementary grades. The expectation I have for communication and involvement at this age are vastly different than what I would expect from a middle-schooler.

peace out....that sounds do lame.

terri said...

I am a terrible typist!

Musicguy said...

you'd be surprised what teachers know about a particular parent. We find things out very quickly, and then pass than information along to everyone in the building. We have quite a few "hot button" parents in the district, and new staff members are made aware of them ASAP. The value judgment is made after the parents' first interaction in the school.

Not that you're one of those parents, but you never know what staff members might think. Sometimes we're wrong, but in this age of extremely litigious parents, it's better to be safe than sorry.

As for being involved in education, always keep in mind that teachers are professionals, but we rarely get the respect we deserve. You wouldn't walk in your doctor's office and try to tell him what course of action you think is best for some disease. Nor would you walk into a lawyers office and tell him/her about the best way to win the case, but that's exactly what parents do entirely too often in the educational system. You are the parent, but I firmly believe that the role of the professional, whether it be doctor, teacher, or lawyer, in the professional situation, outweighs the role of the parent.

Before you jump all over me for not having kids and fully understanding the situation, I've had this conversation with my own parents, and they fully agree with me.

terri said...

A child's first teachers are its parents. I would never interfere with the teacher's classroom. I am not talking about taking over or pushing an agenda. I am talking about offering the help that we are constantly reminded that teachers need. It seems like an empty request. This year is the first time a teacher has actually requested volunteers in her classroom--beyond the vague sign-up sheet they have at Open House.

I helped tutor kids in Monkey's kindergarten class last week and will continue to do so. It was fun, the teacher was grateful and I did what she asked. It was a great experience and one I was happy to be a part of.

This will sound totally egotistical....but I am the type of parent any teacher would want in their class; I am prompt, good with kids(having worked with them for many years), and willing to help in whatever way they ask.

I swear that I don't have any bizarre personality traits or mental health issues...I don't have Tourettes...or claim it was better back in the day when we could beat our kids with belts!

Really....I know you feel a need to defend your profession and all
, but seriously, the teachers have made no effort to build relationships. I think that's a shame.

Plus...believe it or not....professionals can be wrong sometimes. While you would never take over a doctor's practice, hopefully you would speak up if something he told you just didn't seem right. If you don't...you wind up being one of those people who has the wrong leg amputated because they didn't ask the nurse why she was shaving the opposite leg instead of the one with pain! :-)