Friday, September 5, 2008

School, School, School....

I'm not even sure what I'm setting out to write here, so bear with my ramblings....

As you may or may not know, I'm both a professional educator and a homeschooler. At the moment, my kids pretty much cover the gamut of educational settings. I have a first year college student at a private liberal arts college, an 8th grader in public school, a 6th grader in homeschool, and a kindergartener in public school. Just a couple of weeks ago I worked with public school teachers in another state. During this school year I'll be working with TAG (talented and gifted) students in a public school setting. I also conduct homeschool teacher workshops and teach classes for homeschool kids.

So who cares????? (If you don't it's fine if you quit reading. I won't be offended. ;)

I give that background just to say that I think I have a unique perspective to offer on education. I do see two (or three or ten) sides of the issue. Here are some of my observations from the week...

'LilDude...Public School Kindergarten...

First question I'm sure someone why did we choose to send 'LilDude to public kindergarten? 'LilDude had a tough start in life. He lost his birth family, his birth country, and endured more transitions that most adults would be able to sustain. It has taken us many years and immensely hard work to earn 'LilDude's trust. But we have. We've done it. We are blessed with a kindhearted, intelligent, beautiful boy. But 'LilDude has more growing to do. It's not in the area of academics. 'LilDude can read. He can add two digit numbers in his head. He can tell time...better than I can, most of the time. :) But he has yet to learn that there are other safe places and people...other than Mom/Dad and home. Homeschool doesn't provide the extent of opportunities to learn what I think 'LilDude needs right now. (And let me be the first to say that homeschool is EXACTLY what some other adoptive kids need...but is not the best setting for 'LilDude this fall.)

This week I've attended school with 'LilDude. Academically, it's been a breeze. But 'LilDude learned today that it was safe to ride home on the bus with an adult he just met. He learned that a brand new friend made a fine seat companion, even flashing him a big grin. And he learned that Mommy and Daddy and Anakin would be waiting with cheers and flashing cameras in the driveway. My boy needed that experience. He didn't need the triangles and blue horses and brown bears. But he enjoyed them, nonetheless.

As I've worked in 'LilDude's classroom this week, I am reminded of the immense, impossible job that we expect teachers to do. We send children to school who have never picked up a pencil. Who've never been read to. Who have never followed directions in English. Or who have never followed a direction, PERIOD.

We have kids that either can't (autism spectrum) or won't (oppositional defiance or ???) follow directions. Some barely speak. Some won't stop speaking.

We throw over 20 of them into a kindergarten room with a single teacher, without a full-time teaching assistant, and then we say, "Due to the rigorous standards, we expect this class to be reading before the end of the year." And then we take money away from the school if they aren't.

We ask the impossible and teachers still manage to create miracles.

But do you want to know what the homeschooling Momma part of me felt today? If my goal wasn't to show 'LilDude that there are safe people/places away from us... If my goal wasn't to help him to learn to know peers in our community (another reason we want him in school this fall)... It would be so, so easy to just yank him out. My reading, writing, math genius, 'LilDude will not make big academic strides this year. There are too many kids with too many pressing issues. If 'LilDude homeschooled this year, he would get done in minutes what it takes an entire morning to accomplish in school. Is it the teacher's fault? Absolutely not! Is it the fault of a system which is failing everyone??? ABSOLUTELY!

Class sizes are too large. Many parents have not been educated in how best to prepare children for success in the world. "Issues" like autism and language barriers and discipline/mental health are immense. Pressures like test scores become the focus when other, more important things get shoved beneath the carpet.

I'll continue another day. Time to wake up 'LilDude. Kindergarten is tiring. ;)

Oh, but my quick story. I have a minor in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) and have lived in a Spanish-speaking country which gives me a particular fondness for working with kids who are new to English. This morning, I was trying (and failing) again to communicate with a child whose first (and almost only) language is English.

I sat down with him on the rug. I opened a picture book and asked him to tell me what several items were in Spanish. Forgive me if I spell the following Spanish dialogue incorrectly... Or say something wrong. I'm trying to remember from 20 years ago... ;)

Me: Que es esto?

Child: Pelota. (ball)

Me: Y esto?

Child: Barco. (boat)

Me: Y esto?

Child: Butterfly.

Me: En Espanol.

Child: Butterfly!

Me: En Espanol???

Child: Butterfly!!!!!!

Maybe you had to be there. But it was so funny in the moment. We were certainly working with Spanglish.

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