Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Pre-Transplanted Dad: "Give Us Your Babies"

     As the topic of work and meetings is looming large in my life right now, I decided it was a good time to mine my old blog, which I kept up for six months during 2011.  It was exclusively about how my life as a parent and a teacher intersected as I raised my then two and a half year old son.  Since I was working at the time and then entered a summer with an almost 3 year old, my commitment to it fizzled.  But, because this week we are gearing up for a trip to Disney World, I also have the perfect excuse to cut a few corners... I mean, recycle.  Yes, recycle.  Here are some of my thoughts from February 2011.

"Give Us Your Babies"

Whenever teachers are presented with new initiatives at meetings, there are those who respond to the proposals with a heavy sigh and an either verbal or non-verbal statement that amounts to, "This too shall pass."  I have witnessed several such instances, where an idea is put forth, exalted, and forgotten by nearly everyone two or three years later.  On the other hand, I am currently involved with some initiatives that seem so fundamentally important to "doing what is best for kids" (a mantra that I try to live by as a parent and teacher) that I'm amazed they haven't been done before.  Or maybe they have, but they too passed and are only now coming back around again.  That's the trouble with educational reform, from the perspective of many teachers:  what is best for kids sometimes seems so plain-as-day that when a subject gets discussed with new buzzwords or a shifted focus, the enthusiasm that should accompany it can be overshadowed by a "haven't we been here before?" mentality. 

The parental perspective of school reform is very different, and different in a way that is so significant that I'm ashamed I didn't realize it until a meeting last month.  As some of the major building blocks of K-12 education face changes across the nation, one administrator talked about our district's decision a few years ago to begin the use of Everyday Mathematics.  Aside from the anticipated complaints from teachers that were partially rooted in what is described above, the administrator was also fielding complaints from parents who were concerned about this change.  In talking about how he responded to parents, he told those of us in the meeting that we have to remember a school district essentially says to parents, "Give us your babies.  Trust us with your kids for a majority of their waking hours in a day," and then turns around four years into the process and says, "Oh, wait, there's a better way to teach math (or reading, or science)."  Of course parents will respond with concern, and they should.  School reform is in some ways an admission that a school district hasn't been doing what's best for kids, because otherwise the reform wouldn't be necessary.  What does the school district say then?-- "Okay, give us another one of your babies, but this time, they'll get seven years of the "right" kind of math instead of just four like that other baby you gave us..."  I, for seven years, have been teaching teenagers, and probably because they are so close to getting a driver's license and so far removed from getting potty trained, it became easy to stop thinking of these kids as somebody's babies. 

All of this has crystallized something for me:  that I, as a parent, am not ready for my baby to be the school's baby.  My baby still wears diapers.  My baby still wants either "roni-en-cheese" or a "buddorsticky sandwich" for every meal.  My baby isn't ready for Everyday Math, or any other kind of math, for that matter!  But he will be-- soon.  In less than time than I may like to admit, the announcement of a new school initiative will not be the occasion for eye rolling, note taking, or "we can do this!" cheerleading.  It may be the first time that I play the role of the concerned parent who picks up the phone and asks, "What are you doing to my baby?"

As a coda, let me just say that my son's experiences in our district's elementary school setting have been fabulous, and we couldn't be happier as he heads into first grade next year.  That said, we haven't encountered this Common Core math that so many people on Facebook are outraged by.  Luckily, my wife also works in education at the lower grade levels, so we hope to have all of our bases covered, no matter our son's age.  <--- File this under "Pipe Dreams."

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