Marching To The Beat Of A Different Reality

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Judging When You Are NOT A Judge

I used to think people who schooled their kids at home were nuts.  I mean, seriously deranged.  Why in the world would you want to have your kids running around under your feet for an entire day when a giant chunk of your property taxes paid for a perfectly decent school right down the street?  Not only that, but who made these parents kings and queens of their kids' educations?  Who anointed them with 'home school teaching certificates' that would allow them to be able to teach their kids better than the teacher who went to school for years to learn to teach everyone's kids?

My first child, Bryna (affectionately known as 'B' who turned 30 in 2013!) attended public school from the time she was in Kindergarten.  She'd done fine.  In fact, Dave and I LOVED going to her band concerts in middle and high school and then watching her march in the band from 9th to 12th grade!  We used to joke that we had come to see the band play and a football game had broken out!  She was in journalism and wrote for the school paper...I mean, what parent couldn't love that?  She went on to study journalism at UCO in Edmond (more on that in a later post!) and graduated within her allotted time period.  What's not to like there? 

In fact, before I even graduated with my Master's Degree in Biology, I was teaching at Deer Creek Public Schools myself.  I LOVED teaching!  I think I come by it naturally, as my mom has 3 Master's in English and taught for nearly 30 years, my dad still teaches at OU in the journalism department and my grandpa was a Law Professor!

Consequently, when Dave and I decided to have a second round of children (ok, I began to beg him mercilessly once I hit 35 because the clamoring of my biological clock was driving me insane!), we made plans.  Once I became pregnant in 2001 (Coleman, our first son, was born in June of 2002), I tendered my resignation to Independence Charter Middle School (where I taught 7th grade science and my mom taught 7th grade English next door!  Good times!) and we began to think about moving out of the little 1940's home we had spent so many years fixing up, and into a bigger place.  Of course the first thing we thought about was neighborhoods and their associated school districts.

After much discussion, we decided we'd move back to the neighborhood where I had grown up in north Oklahoma City.  My sister and I had both gone to the elementary there, and though we weren't particularly happy with the middle and high school prospects, we figured we'd worry about that when the time came.  Quail Creek Elementary was smack dab in the middle of a nice middle/upper middle income neighborhood where there was little to worry about in terms of discipline issues, parents were engaged and it had been a Blue Ribbon school more than one time.  This was enough for us.  

We 'accidentally' sold our home in one week during October of Coleman's first year and though we didn't really have a 'dream' home in which to move, we found something we could live with in the neighborhood and took the plunge.

The road from move to Kindergarten involved detours into cancer, adoption and the loss of B's father, the loss of Coleman's brother Marshall and the birth of his brother Samuel - none of which I'm going to cover in this post (dang, you wouldn't figure much would happen to you in life and then, well, it kinda does!), but let's suffice it to say that I was all in for the kids heading to Kindergarten.  By this time kindergarten had become an ALL DAY proposition - a condition for which I not only lobbied heavily - but was 12th in line for which to sign up so as not to miss a spot!

Coleman had attended our church's Mother's Day Out program from the time he was an infant.  After all, it was CHURCH, he needed SOCIALIZATION and I needed a MOTHER'S DAY OUT.  Where's the argument there?  We thought he'd be more than ready for his Kindergarten year and we were fired up about it!

Betty (our youngest adopted 12/2001) and Coleman both began Kindergarten in 2008.  Though I had become politically involved and elections were right around the corner, I kept my focus and divided my time between two Kindergarten classes and one in 3rd grade (Betty's sister Barbara 6/1998).  

Everything seemed great!  Cupcake parties, Christmas (yes, not 'holiday') shows, Valentine's day parties and nothing in the backpack that stuck out as anything other than Kindergarten work!  I really loved both their teachers - wonderful ladies, Mrs. Doolin and Mrs. Bentley.   Both kids loved going to school, had made friends and were coming home at night with plenty of good wholesome kid news!

Though we asked Mrs. Doolin to hold Coleman over for another year in Kindergarten and Betty veritably SAILED on to first grade, we began first grade with nothing less than the highest expectations.

That year, Coleman made the lateral move to Mrs. Bentley's Kindergarten class and Betty moved up.  Though Mrs. Bentley was fabulous again that year, Betty's teacher left a bit to be desired.  I just couldn't wrap my brain around why first graders - just learning to read and write - were writing words they had no idea how to spell down in a journal that was to tell a story, all while spending seemingly inordinate amounts of time learning about mummies and Egypt.

Though Betty and I struggled with her reading (she was a word-for-word memorizer from the first time she heard ANY story which made it sometimes impossible to determine if she was 'reading' or 'reciting') at home, I would dutifully spend the required time at night before bed, helping her to learn to read.  Betty is a very social kid who is just ridiculously smart.  She has, from the beginning, thought of education as a 'social' instrument more than something to help her in her future life.  Schooling this kind of kiddo can be challenging I soon learned.

Coleman fared a little bit better at this stage, but he has always been a very emotional kid.  When he was a baby, he would get so mad when you changed his diaper, he would LITERALLY turn blue in the face.  He used to become infuriated when the cat (yes, a cat) would touch his toys.  We were constantly repeating the mantra, "Toones (the cat) has paws, not fingers", which was to mean that Toonces was not going to carry away his highly prized play things so it was perfectly all right for her to be able to sit near him and watch - and maybe even touch - his toys!

Though frustrated easily, Coleman always wanted to read so he could read his OWN books (!). Plus, he was getting an extra year of 'basics' under him, which definitely helped bring down his frustration level and elevate his sense of accomplishment and confidence in reading.  I'm certain it also helped that Mrs. Bentley was great at staying true to the basics of phonics.

I joined the PTA that year and began to attend meetings.  I found them to be boring, as a rule, and very squarely centered on money-raising, which chapped my hind end.  After all, we pay for the school, why in the world would we having to be raising money on the side for a computer lab?

Unfortunately, for me, I was becoming more and more educated every day about silly things I never learned, like the Constitution and free-market economy and the political structures of communism, socialism and capitalism.  It's ultimately frustrating...the fact that ignorance really IS bliss and judgement is so much easier to pronounce when you have only one side of a story...