Category Archives: school

Hand Holding Ban, No Touch Play and the Real Story

Dramatic headlines. Followed by a juicy sound-bite about small children forbidden to hug or even push their friends on the swings. Set up a camera across the street to film kids playing.

Et voila – a sensational story that goes viral in hours!

Of course, the real story. And the facts. And the true intentions of a diligent staff. Not so entertaining.

I’m a blogger myself, so… mea culpa, mea culpa. Sometimes we hear something that tweaks a rant we’ve had brewing deep inside and it seems like such a Great Opportunity to say something outraged and amusing important, we jump on it and gloss over the nuances.

Now I’m on the other side.

The purpose of the temporary no-contact rule was never to ban all touching amongst five-year-olds forever, nor to create an oppressive, over-protective atmosphere. It was simply to get a handle on an overly rough dynamic amongst one small group, so they can return to normal playground fun without injuries and fear. In the meantime, the kindergarten teachers are out there with them, hands-on, teaching appropriate touch, boundaries and respect.

play

This is something the staff felt was necessary. Would I handle it that way? I have no idea. But I’m not a kindergarten teacher. Parenting 1 or 2… or even 4 kids isn’t the same as managing a classroom and building a positive culture within it. They could just say “kids-will-be-kids,” shrug their shoulders and turn a blind eye. Instead they’re taking their job seriously. Whether you agree or disagree with their methods, I know that they care about the children and are doing their best.

You see, unlike all the other reporters and bloggers and opinion writers out there, I know Coghlan. I know the staff. This is my school. That’s me, and my children, walking in the front door on the local news last night.

The real story here is how quick we are to turn on the people who are educating our children. They don’t teach for the fame, prestige and huge paychecks, they do it because they love children and believe in education. As parents, it’s our job to back them up. And if they send a letter that is unclear, if they seem to be overreacting, if we don’t agree with their approach to a particular problem, it’s our job to talk to them, to clarify and find a solution. Not to bring in the media. Not to mock, belittle and misrepresent their efforts. No matter how sensational the headline.

I know the parents who were outraged by the letter that was sent home. They’re good parents, good people, and they’re trying to look out for their kids. They reacted to an admittedly poorly worded letter. Somehow the media heard about it and the whole situation snowballed into this ridiculous circus. Frankly, I blame a slow news week. This has only hurt people. It hasn’t helped anything.

We teach our children, when they have a problem, to go directly to that person and work it out. That’s how community works. We’re also teaching them to respect their teachers and the rules, even the ones they dislike. And if they ever have to keep their hands to themselves for a couple of weeks, it won’t be the end of the world.

After all, it’s a refrain my kids have heard from my lips on occasion. When things get out of hand on long road trips, we institute our own no-contact rule until everyone can regain some self-control. My parents did the same thing. I seem to be psychologically intact.

Coghlan is a wonderful school. Not a perfect school, but a wonderful one.

Too bad that’s not a sexy story.

Advertisements

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Never has a hand-me-down been so happily recieved by a little sister.
B wore the sparkly backpack all day and screamed for joy when we wrote her name inside it!

The commercials show jubilant parents skipping down the aisle caressing the Back-to-School supplies as they go. Petulant children trudge behind looking depressed. It’s an office supply store’s dream come true.

Mine too.

I often feel a bit guilty to number myself among those excited parents, thrilled to see September on the top of the calander. I have friends who lament the end of summer days with their beloved children. And I wonder, do I enjoy my children less?

But, I felt this way back in the days of homeschooling, when the end of summer “holiday” meant not less, but more time and interaction with my offspring.

It’s NOT that I don’t like spending time with my kids. Though, in all honesty, every moment of hands on parenting is not blissfull and life affirming. Admittedly, I relish the idea of a quieter house and days where I don’t have to extend my bathroom breaks to protect my solitude-craving soul. But, I miss them too. And I hate not having the inside track on all the goings on. Despite my daily bribes, “you must tell me 3 things about your day before you get an after school snack”, I don’t hear about everything they are doing (or not doing… yes, I’m talking about that spelling homework, C).

I felt this way as a school kid myself. I loved the crisp white pages of an untouched notebook. I loved neatly lining up all of my supplies. I even loved packing that very first bag lunch of the year. What can I say, I’m a total nerd.

It’s NOT that I don’t enjoy the freedom of summer. Lazy mornings, trips to the beach, family holidays, letting Glen cook dinner for a change (sorry honey, I don’t know which button to push on this thing and you are SO good at barbecuing)… Every week brings some new adventures and the kids have time for uninterrupted play (the thing I miss most about homeschooling). This used to be elaborate forts and pretend games, but lately it’s been building sets and designing costumes for their latest movie.

The truth is, I miss normal. I miss routine. I miss predictable. I miss knowing what each day is going to hold. And I know my kids do too, though they claim loudly that the only good thing about it is seeing all their friends. They thrive when things go according to plan. Even my free spirit sleeps better and gets her chores done with minimal drama when things are back to normal.

We line up the pictures on B’s weekly calander and she can see which days are school and when she gets to go horseback riding or have speech therapy or swimming. She knows what happens next and she is so much better behaved. Just like her mom.

So, today as I snap the requisite “first-day-of-school” photo at the front door, it’s not the new backpacks and carefully considered outfits that put that hopeful smile on their faces (and mine). It is a giant sigh of Back-to-Normal relief!

So here’s me, definitely in need of a brand new notebook. It’s unnatural to be this jealous of a 7th grader.


Teacher, Teacher, Can You Teach Me?

Petty Tyrants. Jaded Clock-Punchers. Half-Assed Retirees in Training. Sexual Predators.

There are plenty of reasons to worry about the kind of teacher your child has. I can never forget that it was my Grade 2 teacher who taught me that grown ups can be mean, really mean.

Three years ago, we traded in our home school lifestyle. It was daunting delegating some of our children’s education to perfect strangers, especially our (then) nonverbal and sometimes challenging youngest. We went a bit overboard researching schools in the area – and got mixed reviews for every single one.

I’m not such a Pollyanna that I don’t realize the frustrated/disappointed/outraged stories are often true, or at least have some element of truth/hurt/miscommunication to them. I’ve had my own scuffle over speech therapy in our school district.

But we have good stories to tell too. And too often those are ignored or downplayed. They aren’t nearly as entertaining as the Bad Teacher tales, after all.

We are very happy with our little country school. The teachers there are the good sort. And we think they can teach us something too.

The Gentle Encourager: The Grade 6 teacher is a quietly enthusiastic, fun-loving and genuinely sweet lady. When I close my eyes, this is the kind of woman I imagine my eldest will be someday. It’s a good daydream.

The Challengers: We’ve seen a sharp increase in homework and level of difficulty in Grade 4. There has been complaining, muttering and foot dragging… so I gave out stern talks: “Christie, you are the Mom. Set a good example and just make it happen.” This teaching team has won us over with their great communication and creative projects. Our dinner table has been awash with interesting facts about whale blubber and pirate ships and the antics of Ramona B Quimby. C has never been so engaged!

The Supporters: We call them Special Education Assistants, and they are the hands and feet of inclusion. This year we had a great team. They consistently go above and beyond and are more friends than staff to us. Mrs. H is always reading and learning and sharing her ideas. The resource teacher and her daughter raised money and joined our run for Down Syndrome. Mrs. A is a kindred spirit, an extension of our own nurturing and parenting. Her whole family has taken B under their wing.

The Advocate: Every morning B runs into the classroom, throws her arms wide and yells, “Smelling!” This is her version of “Ms. Fleming,” and it earns her a hug and an enthusiastic greeting. Kids can tell if you really enjoy and appreciate them, especially B. Which is why she has continued to blossom this year. She has always been loved by her teachers, and in turn by her classmates, which is no coincidence. It’s not because she is all sunshine and gumdrops, but even in her difficult moments her teachers have seen HER beneath it all – especially Smelling.

The biggest gift this year has brought has been Ms. Fleming’s choice of thesis for her Masters degree: Teaching B to Read.

I’m sure it’ll have a long complex academic title, but for us it means that next year B will participate in the reading program (newly developed by the Down Syndrome Research Foundation):
the one we couldn’t afford
daily
one on one
with her favourite teacher.

She asked if we would be okay with that. If we would mind her basing her project on B. If she could spend several days training with DSRF to know how to use it. If she might be able to establish it in our school and district.

Ummm… duh.

Today we will add our Thank You notes and gifts to the pile and pray that somehow they will adequately express our gratitude. We’ve entrusted them with the most precious part of ourselves: our children. This is why the outrage is so fierce when we feel betrayed, and this is why that coffee shop gift card seems so paltry when we feel so amazingly well supported.

So here’s me: school’s out for summer and I’m going to miss the help. What are the chances that we’ll have so many good stories next year?


The First Day of School

After 17 years out of the classroom I returned to school as a “Mature” student this January (they keep insisting that I’m mature, and I’m not going to tell them any different). It was equal parts terrifying and exciting. It sure has given me a better understanding for what my children went through when they started at a new school after years of homeschooling. Of course, I was lurking the parking lot, so it’s not like they were really alone.

Today my Life Writing professor returned this piece I wrote at the beginning of the year. As I look back on how I felt it seems a bit silly, but fears often are. It doesn’t make them any less real.

My First Day of School

I hemmed and hawed. Red, black, blue… heck, I even have purple. How are they doing it these days? It’s the computer age now, perhaps the entire argument is moot? Do they even use ink pens in University?

As all the boys and girls come to class with their laptops, netbooks and iPads, I will sit at the back of the room clutching a handful of ballpoint pens and all the courage I can muster in my sweaty hands. Is a look-of-sheer-panic “in” or “out” this season? I’ll need to see what Teen Vogue has to say on the subject.

It’s been 17 years since I’ve been in the classroom as anything other than the guest speaker or class Mom. I’m not sure what to expect and that terrifies me. Usually I’m the one doling out comfort and reassurance, lectures about “Behaviour I Expect” and advice on how to make new friends.

Who’s going to hold my hand on the first day of school?

So here’s me, months later and a veteran student. Turns out my friend Beth was in my classes. I tried to get her to hold my hand, but she insists on taking notes. I made new friends along the way. They didn’t hold my hand either, but I’m okay with that now. 


The Great Educational Debate: Grades vs. Learning

I’ve had a recurring nightmare for the past few weeks. Perhaps I should call it a “day-mare” since I’m usually awake when it slithers into my conscious mind.

I’m at the University, where I started taking classes in January. With shaking hands I turn in my Developmental Psychology paper, worth 60% (60%!!!!!!!) of my final grade.

In the inexplicable way that dreams often do, I skip ahead to the return of my graded essay. On the top is a giant red F.

F for fraud. F for faker… F for Failure.

The teaching staff morphs from my likeable Scottish professor into a group of angry, faceless beings. They shake their heads in disgust and instruct security to escort me from the premises immediately. I am ordered never to return again.

This neurotic little fantasy has not inspired me to greatness. I stare blankly at my laptop with the words 60%, 60%, 60%!!!!! echoing through my mind. After two weeks of false starts and half-hearted research The Impact of the Environment on the Cognitive Development of Preschool Children is no closer to being done than when I started. The pressure is paralyzing.

On the other hand…

It’s so different with my English assignments. I was thrown the first time I received one back with only witty comments and suggestions scrawled in the margins. I looked carefully through each page and even on the back. No mark.

I’ve been conditioned to work for a grade. I was slightly miffed. If I am not being measured, does it even count?

But I find myself craving these assignments. They flow easily. I enjoy them. It is some of my best work.

Because I forgot…

I attended a workshop at school last week: Study Skills for the Mature Student. Despite my penchance for slurpees and children’s fiction, the university has decided I am “mature”. It sounds so respectable. I’m not about to argue.

The speaker reminded us that we are here to collect knowledge, not grades. Marks do not always reflect learning. And my GPA is not a measure of my worth.

She seemed like a nice kid. And frankly, it’s the same advice I’ve given to my own kids. I know this. Now that I’m “mature” I shouldn’t need to be reminded of the obvious. But I do.

So I set aside my need to get an “A” on my psych paper, which somewhere along the way became a way to prove my worth to the entire academic community (who, I’m sure, are on pins and needles wanting to know just what I have to say). In fact, I chucked the whole topic and started over again. Successful Ageing: the Cognitive, Emotional and Social Effects is working out much better for me. And no, the irony of the topic does not escape me.

What works and what doesn’t…

The entire educational system is structured around extrinsic rewards; the carrot and the stick, so to speak. Jump through these hoops and you get such-and-such a number or letter to reflect your value. Do not perform according to some, often arbitrary, standard and you will be punished.

This kind of conditioning works fabulously for simple, mechanical tasks. Eat your supper, get dessert. Ignore your chores, no TV. But it doesn’t work so great for anything that requires creativity and complex thinking.

In fact, studies show that incentives, especially high value ones, have a very NEGATIVE effect on creative productivity. They are not the motivating factor we expect. Rather than performing better, people perform WORSE when a reward is on the line. The “carrot and stick” of extrinsic motivators inhibits innovation and discourages critical thinking.

People are inspired to greatness by intrinsic motivations: curiosity, imagination, creativity, and personal satisfaction, to name a few. We were designed to learn and grow. In a pressure-free, encouraging environment we do this so much better! This is the reason my ungraded assignments excite my best work, while the high pressure paper overwhelms me entirely.

Dan Pink gives a brilliant talk called The Surprising Science of Motivation which makes this point better than I ever could! He is mostly interested in its application in the business world; companies who make amazing strides by loosening control. Instead of bigger incentives, they are giving autonomy and a sense of purpose to their employees, with remarkable results.

What would happen if we did the same thing in education? Students who learn because they are interested in the discussion and excited to play a part, not merely regurgitating what the teacher wants to hear. Nurturing thinkers and artists and builders, not a pecking order based on a narrow set of skills.

I’ve had a few teachers who truly believed this over the years. They seem revolutionary, more interested in what I had to contribute, than in measuring me (or themselves). There’s a reason they make so many cheesy “teacher-inspiring-a-tough-inner-city-class-to-greatness” movies. Because teachers like that really do exist and they make all the difference.

So here’s me, 60% certain that the grade on my paper does not define me.


%d bloggers like this: