Monday, September 29, 2014

Being "that parent"

***It was Thursday morning when I wrote most of this.  But then I had to leave my spot early to knock out a couple of errands before collecting my progeny.  Now seems like a good time to finish it up and send it out into the inter-web-world.***

It's Thursday morning again, which means coffee of the day, my favorite chair at the cafe, a groovy soundtrack, a sunshiney morning (I'm requiring it now for Thursday mornings), and children in classrooms learning all sorts of crazy cool things.  Like how to interview well for a jamming job that will predicate both a steady paycheck and us not supporting them ad infinitum.

By the way, #1 has stated on m-u-l-t-i-p-l-e occasions that she will be living with us when she is an adult and will eat whatever she wants, thankyouverymuch, and I will both be doing her grocery shopping as well as paying for it, of course.  She thinks this is fair.

Also by the way, #2 is now demanding that #1 call her "Sophia" (pronounced SO-fee-uh, obviously) whereas #1 has determined that #2 will call her Leah.  I don't know why.

Well, I sent an "angry" email to the principal of our elementary school this week.  I haven't received a response back, and for that matter, I neither want one nor do I want to continue the conversation.  I came into this school experience knowing full well that I cannot be "that parent" given my utter frustration with "those parents" over the years.  I refuse to be belligerent, demanding, confrontational, and unaware.  I've been on the short end of that stick plenty of times, as all teachers are, because parents obviously know more about my classroom than I do.  Admittedly, as a teacher, as soon as a parent starts even coming close to telling me what to do about their child or my class in general, I turn into hyper-defensive/let's-move-on-and-get-you-taken-care-of-so-that-I-can-consider-what-you're-saying-even-though-I'll-probably-grumble-to-myself-about-it-and-complain-to-other-sympathetic-teachers, at least on the inside.  On the outside, it's all about the PR.

I'm a #1 fan of teachers everywhere and absolutely abhor how the media has largely been responsible for the general attack on education that our country is experiencing.  The boy and I have NO qualms about sending our children to a public school.  At all.  I don't care how many negative stories you hear on the news about teachers who are arrested or disciplined for unseemly, questionable, or downright illegal behavior.  This is such an unfair representation of our country's educators, and it's deplorable.  Show me one teacher caught up in inappropriate behavior and I'll show you 20 (at the minimum) who genuinely care for their students and who are busting their rumps for my child.  And yours.

But I'm getting off track here; I especially want to hash out how I've been fighting the urge to try to put my two cents in when, frankly, it hasn't been asked for.  It's a fine line, fellow parents of school-aged children, to work with your child's teacher/school system and communicate about what is not working.  My gripe is two-fold: technology and the D'Nealean system for handwriting.

Our family has a love/try not to be too dependent relationship with technology, though it has not only infiltrated our lives (like pretty much everyone, I'm sure) but has also become expected of us to use and be dependent upon.  It's a bit of a challenge as a parent to model a do-as-I-say-but-not-as-I-do behavior in regards to technology, which, frankly, looks one and the same to the littles.  Our Kindergartner carts home her iPad mini (for which we pay a hefty technology fee now, not by choice) every day.  And we are responsible for that device--keeping it charged, not broken, not stolen, and certainly not misplaced.  That seems to be a wretched plan, especially as our child is not allowed to and will not use that device at home.  She will not.  We heartily don't agree with this trend to push gross amounts of technology on the littlest among us (there is some pretty convincing research out there that we use as a support for our argument..if you're interested, I'll post some of it).  At best, it's a gimmick.  At worst, there can be some serious ramifications.  But, as with everything in education, when scrambling desperately for answers to problems that cannot be fixed or, frankly, should not be fixed but accepted for what they are, those controlling the educational agenda tend to epitomize bandwagoning.  It must be something taught in ADMIN 101: How to be a Superintendent. 

But I wasn't "that parent" about technology.  I've tried to judiciously express my concerns (in person) about creating a technology dependence with Kindergartners and have been met with a couple of looks of befuddlement as if I'm speaking another language.  That cross is one that we will bear an deal with it as we must.  My pseudo-angry letter (it really wasn't that angry...forthright, yes, but angry, that's not in me yet) was simply to express my sincere disappointment with the D'Nealean system for handwriting, which essentially is a bridge to learning cursive writing.  We love cursive, stand behind the school system 100% to include this in the curriculum, accept this as a challenge for the future.  The D'Nealean system, however, is forcing the issue now.  NOW.  In Kindergarten.  Rather than teaching handwriting to wee young minds who are still learning gross motor skills in a standard, understandable fashion (stick & ball, anyone?), the D'Nealean system teaches all letters on a slant, with those wretched little tails on everything: "fancy," if you will.  This means that my child's attempt at a letter "a" now looks more like a "q."  Her lowercase "b" now drives me nuts.  And, what do you know, there are two of them in her first name, which she writes a lot.  (She also likes to put a period at the end of both her first and last name when she writes them...on everything...and sometimes throws a question mark and even an exclamation mark in there for good measure.  Flair.) 

I know that not every Kindergartner can write upper & lowercase letters when they enter school, but I'm going to assume that most can.  In my mind, that means that most Kindergartners are now struggling to re-learn what they were already able to do and in a confusing way.  "No, children, you are not allowed to write your letters in a) the way that you have already learned or b) in a way that makes sense.  We're thinking of how you're going to be learning cursive in a couple of years, so let's start working on that now." 

I was able to grab a quick minute with our daughter's teacher and talk with her, and it was positive because (shock) she, likewise, has similar concerns about the D'Nealean system and told me so in an open and honest dialogue.  That was refreshing.  I didn't accuse her.  She didn't feel threatened.  And, we were able to talk about an issue that also happened to pertain to my child.  Even better, she gave me her blessing for me to express my concerns to the principal, not because either of us think that the school will thus drop this handwriting system but rather because you never know.  Administrators will periodically review the curriculum such as this, and if they have honest, meaningful communication with/from parents in regard to this (and other) issues, it will be part of their discussion.  I'm certain of this. 

And because I won't be "that parent," I made sure to end the letter with a heartfelt statement of appreciation for all that our school's educators do not only for my child but for the whole kit and kaboodle of them.  Because it's true...teachers, as a whole, are a bunch of people who I believe in.  And it doesn't hurt to tell them that once in a while, even when you're not thrilled with some choices that have been made.

But then again, I slipped a note to the school secretary on Thursday saying that #1 would be out of school on Friday because we would be "out of town," which we were when we went to the zoo.  So maybe I am, kind of, "that parent." 


Grant and Jenni said...

Ugh the handwriting thing makes me cringe. What about kids who still don't like handwriting or don't grasp it? Lane can write all his letters but still struggles with many, and it's definitely not his favorite. As for technology, how are they using it?

Mariah said...

I hate D'Nealian, too. Give me good old Zaner-Bloser, please!

Amy said...

Honestly, I'm not sure how they approach handwriting with the kids who don't embrace it. And, they take it so slowly (one letter/week), that I'm surprised that we haven't had protests about it. We're only on "F" week; there's a long road ahead (at least for me)!

I pulled out the iPad to look at the apps that they've downloaded and/are using right now. I'm not positive how they're using the iPads on a regular basis, just from bits and pieces that I hear. I'm finding Accelerated Reader, Educreations (shapes/pre-math skills), Magnetic ABC, Early Learning Academy, Bitsboard, Splashmath, Notability, Qrafter (QR codes...I do know that they had a scavenger hunt around the classroom a few days using this), Moby Max, IXL Math, Montessori Numbers, PBS Kids (which, frankly, I'm glad she has so that we don't have to share our devices when she gets to watch tv on the weekends!), Learning Patterns, Little Finder ABC, Montessori Letters, Letter Quiz, Alphabet, Animal Math, Candy Count, Fruit Phonics, Fun Rhyming, Dragon Shapes, Eggy 100, Geoboard (she likes this one to make patterns and shapes), GlowColoring, Hundreds Board, Primary Writer, and Math Bingo. So from my perspective, it looks like there is a fairly decent split between Math/Reading apps, with the greater amount pertaining to reading skills. I just asked #1 a couple of questions, and she told me that the teacher generally directs them to use a certain app for specific activities (sometimes during Centers time), they don't use them on Wednesdays (though I'm not sure why), and sometimes when their recess time is altered, they get to use their iPads for whatever they want (which is, of course, restricted so they can't go surfing the web and purchasing all sorts of fun things & I don't think that this happens often). One of these apps is for tracing letters, which we're not fans of as using your pointer finger to trace a letter is different than holding a pencil and writing (perhaps there is a stronger connection than we think?). Partly out of general grumpiness, I only charge it once a week, which has worked so far; by Friday, the power level is down to the 30-40% range, so that gives me some sense of how much they use the iPads during the week as well.

In chatting about D'Nealian (did I spell it wrong the whole time?) with a first grade teacher whom I vaguely know and respect, she also (shock!) admitted that she fought and fought against the new system and eventually gave in because a) nothing was going to change and b) she (and presumably the other teachers) has noticed that the D'Nealian alerts the teaching staff quicker when a student has certain special learning needs because of a propensity for these students to mix up certain letters. Apparently, this special need was not apparent with the old system of handwriting.

Crystal said...

I'm certainly not an educator, but I find the handwriting comments interesting because I was in kindergarten in 1987-88 AND 1988-89 (primarily) because when my parents transferred me to public school the school system didn't like the handwriting I had learned in home-schooling and had me repeat kindergarten to learn again. (I had learned without the curly tail, and they didn't like that.)
You are a good parent, the public school system is lucky to have a parent like you advocating and thoughtfully giving attention to the programs being used for our kids.
And, I like the names Sophia and Leah, why not!? :)