Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Educating Amy

I remember during my first year of teaching, I was called down to the office to meet a new student. I think this brought my class number to about 32. They placed her in my class because she didn't know any English, and I knew a little Spanish (at least enough to communicate simple directions). I met her, and her mother and father, who we learned was employed at a local construction company. Linda, our school counselor, served as the translator for us. We shook hands and exchanged smiles, and then the father and Linda had the following conversation (in Spanish):

Father: What time does the school day begin?
Linda: The school day begins at 8:10am.

Father: (opening his wallet) And how much do her books cost?
Linda: Her books? No, her books don't cost any money.

Father: (looking a bit confused) But, how much do I owe for her to go to school here?
Linda: School is free here. It doesn't cost any money.

(Father bursts into tears, shakes all of our hands, saying "thank you, thank you!")

And right then, I changed as a teacher.

I had taken for granted that I live in a country that offers education for all, whether you "belong" to this country or not. If I would like an education, I can have it. It's not like that everywhere in the world.

This was my K-1 class. I was held back (a little too young to thrive in 1st grade) in school. I still remember my teacher, Mrs. Matlock ("A mat on the flow, a lock on the dow!") I love that I went to a "structured school". Maybe that's how I turned out so great?

Amy (Kindergarten)

Amy (High School Graduation)

Last week I was watching Oprah and her show about the upcoming documentary, "Waiting for Superman". They showed footage of a lottery drawing for acceptance to a "good" school. I saw parents and kids bursting into desperate tears because they weren't chosen. It was like watching a reversed Reaping from The Hunger Games! Heartbreaking. Granted, the quality of children's education in this country, and who should qualify for that education is a point of debate and discussion right now in our country, but I'm not going to go into that here. I'm not sure what the answer is, do you?

On Friday we got a note home in Boo's Friday folder from a parent, informing us that Boo's Kindergarten teacher has been diagnosed with cancer. It hit close to home, as three of my teaching mentors are breast cancer survivors.

My teaching mentors up at Snowbird, a few months after Boo was born.

When cancer strikes a member of a school family, it strikes us all. We are a family. As teachers, we cried for one another, and covered classes for one another, and every Spring we would celebrate remission together by participating in the Race for the Cure.

Teacher friends "racing" for the Cure.
(I was five months pregnant with Boo).

The note was written to inform us of the teacher's diagnosis, and that she would be leaving school 15 minutes early each day for radiation appointments. She also told us that Boo's teacher didn't want us to share this information with our kids, as she doesn't want them to worry. They know she has an appointment, and will be ok. Donations were being accepted to help pay for gas and restaurant gift cards. Now that's a fundraiser I can get behind!

Now I find myself on the other side of the school fence as a parent, and my child as the student. Although I am no longer teaching, I still feel a part of a family - a school family. I've been so impressed to see how the parents have rallied around this school to support it, and it's teachers. I volunteer for one hour, every-other-week, but every time I go, I see three or four other parents doing the same thing. They are reading with kids, making photocopies, hanging work on the walls, or setting up a center. It's a wonderful sight to see, and I think it's a wonderful thing for our kids to see as well. We value education. We value their education.

Boo (Kindergarten)

At the beginning of the year, I was disappointed to hear that Kindergarteners didn't have P.E. Boo loves P.E., and although she has recess to run and exercise, I was excited to see her fall in love with a structured P.E. class. A friend of mine told me that apparently there wasn't funding for the P.E. teacher to cover the Kindergarten classes. Then she informed me that one of the kids' parents (who is a former teacher herself) stepped forward and volunteered to come once a week and teach the class P.E.! Last week they got out the parachute. Remember the parachute? It was our all-time favorite! Boo couldn't stop talking about it. That was awesome.

I hope that I'm the kind of parent who supports her child's school and education. Who asks, "how can I help?" I wonder if each person did this, how our classrooms and schools and consequently our childrens' educations would improve.

It would be an interesting experiment, don't you think?


Dianna said...

You bring up so many issues and so many of my own feelings about education, teachers, and public education. Thanks for being part of the teaching family. Once a teacher, always a teacher.

Sarah said...

I missed Monday's Oprah - the original Superman clip...but caught the reaction show later in the week and have been thinking of it since.

YES! It'd make a big difference if people helped rather than just point fingers. It's good to hear of those helping at your local school.

Tim said...

Besides the post where you described the names of Ben and Jane's toys, this has been the greatest post I've ever read on your blog. I was amazed to hear of how many parents volunteer at Jane's school. I do think our education system needs some work (like most people do), but until we get it fixed we need people to step up.
The father of a good friend of mine retired a couple of years ago. When I asked my friend how his dad was enjoying retirement he said, "Oh, he just sits on the couch all day and watches tv." What a tragedy! Does he realize how much service and help he could provide to our under-staffed, over-crowded schools? Bravo, Ames.

Sunny said...

I love the first story about the Spanish speaking family and free public education. Very touching.

Nicole said...

that is an awesome story about the father "paying" for his daughter to go to school. I saw the reaction to Oprah's show and caught the head lady of the teacher's union on MSNBC one morning. All in all I think there is very little that will change. It is a hot topic right now that is cool to talk about on all the shows. Oprah scooped them all by agreeing with the Superman's publicists to have them on the show and now all the talking heads are scrambling to show they are in the know just as much. No the school system is not perfect. However, I have had and my kids have had some amazing teachers. One thing that came out of the Oprah show that I agreed with was one of the teachers asking "Where are the parents?" in all of this. Seriously, take some responsibilityCREM for this at home too!

Sally said...

Ah the parachute!! One the only thing i remeber about p.e. before 3rd grade crab soccar and 5th grade volleyball.

Plowgian Page said...

Amy, I loved this post. I learned so much about you... such as how much I see "Yaks" in YOUR kindergarten class photo. I didn't know you ran when you were five months pregnant! I'd never heard of the Waiting for Superman documentary but I would really like to see it. I'm sorry to hear about Jane's teacher. I completely agree that it's essential for parents to rally together in support and to help out at school. At our school it's manditory and I'm glad! This is unrelated, but I saw your FB post about your kids liking to get packages or letters addressed to them. I have something for Boo (a shirt that I accidentally bought two of for Emma). I'll be sure to address it to her when I send it.

Plowgian Page said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention the parachute. Yes, I remember it well. I looooved the parachute. I really want to buy one for my kids to play with in the backyard. Is that silly?

Liz said...

Awesome post, Amy.

Shelese said...

I watched that Oprah too. And made Erik watch it with me. We have been thinking a lot about it lately as well. Wonderful post on education. You are a great teacher, especially to me.