A Tale of Two Schools: A Boy Learns to Love Reading

My son and media specialist Ms. Reeding (yes that is her real name)

My son and media specialist Ms. Reeding (yes that is her real name)

Becoming a mom, I was excited when each of my children entered school. If I loved learning and school, they would too, right? In Kindergarten and first grade my son had fantastic teachers. They both told us what a good student he was, he was happy all the time, and we looked forward to watching him grow and learn.

Second grade was a completely different story.  I was saddened to learn that it’s common knowledge among parents that your kids will have good years and bad years and those years are largely determined by who the teacher is. If your child has a great teacher he or she will learn leaps and bounds. If your child has a not so great teacher not only will he or she learn less but your child may fall behind.

Let’s not put all the blame on the teachers. Parents, school policy, administration, and even funding have roles here as well. For second grade my son had a new teacher. By new I mean first year out of college. Due to district budget cuts, there were no teacher assistants for classes. A new emphasis on testing was also put in place for all grades as the district moved to a pay for performance model for teachers (teachers’ pay is determined by how well their children score on standardized tests). For grades K-2, these tests must be administered orally as the children can’t all read yet.

This teacher, first year out of college, with a class of 25 students, would spend weeks at a time administering tests one-on-one, one-by-one with each child while the other children were given busy work and told to remain quiet in their seats. My son, in the second grade, seven years old, declared he hated school. He fell behind in most subjects, and his two parents, who both work in education, were ashamed to admit that no matter what they tried, their child could not read nor did he want to.

My son complained about the testing. He complained about the teacher yelling at other students. He withdrew and seemed depressed. At this point we were worried that he might have a learning disability. The school refused to help because his problems were not severe enough, so we paid to take him to a child psychologist who said my son was extremenly intelligent, mature for his age, and most likely was bored in school.

The relief! We had not failed as parents. He needed to be challenged more at school. However he was already enrolled in a learning immersion magnet program. But with all the testing there was little time left for learning.

I dropped in occasionally to see what was happening in the classroom. Nearly every time I dropped in, the class was out of control and the teacher was yelling at the students. Meanwhile my son would just look at me as if to say, “See I told you so.” We seriously considered home schooling.

Later that year, I took a new job in a different city and we moved and enrolled in a new school system. My son’s attitude about school changed almost immediately. His class had not only one teacher, but a full time teacher’s assistant, and a mostly-full time student teacher from the local university. His class, only slightly smaller, had three teaching professionals in the class all day. With less emphasis on testing, there was more emphasis on making learning fun. By the end of the school year, my son was at grade level and loved school again. He even began reading stories to his sister.

My son reading to his siter

My son reading to his siter

Reading in the Car

Reading in the Car

This year, in third grade, things are still good. Three adults in the class are still making learning fun. This year is the first year my son takes official EOGs, end of grade tests to ensure he’s on grade level. However, the teacher does not teach to the test or if she does she makes it fun. My son earned three As and one B on his last report card, and I’m proud to say he’s now reading at a middle school level. My daughter in Kindergarten also has three teaching professionals in her class and she loves school as well. Both children read for fun every night at bed time. My daughter reads no matter where we are, like her mom she always has a book in hand.

What happened here? How can our experiences be so different?

We did everything we were supposed to as parents. We read to our children daily. We have a home full of books. We are involved with the schools. We communicate with the teachers and attend parent teach conferences. We spend hours helping with homework. We use positive reinforcement. We sought out help when there were problems.

I am scared to think of what might have happened had we not moved. Would my son still be behind and hate school? I like to think I could have solved this problem somehow. But the truth is parents in public school systems are at the mercy of the district, its policies, and the teacher. The other thing I think about is that there were other kids who excelled at our former school. Each child is different, learns different, and our current educational system of standardized testing does not allow for that or at least not all teachers are trained properly in how to teach under this system.

As a parent, I cannot emphasize how important it is to be involved in your child’s education and know what is going on at school and in the school system. As educators we must either fight legislation like no child left behind or find a way to work with it that allows us to still instill a passion for learning in children. As parents we need to support our teachers and find out what they need to more effectively teach our children.

I’d love to hear from other parents and teachers about this. Have you had two vastly different school experiences?

Note:I’m happy to see that our former school system revoked the pay for performance program and the testing that went with it. However there are many systems looking to adopt this model. Had we stayed in this school system I believe we would have eventually enrolled in a charter school or began homeschooling.

Equality: A Child’s View

Today I asked my seven-year-old son if he knew why there was no school today. He said it was to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. I asked him what Dr. King did that was so special. He answered, “He fought for our freedom.” I questioned a little further, “Whose freedom did he fight for?” My son answered, “Everyone’s.” I pressed a little more and reminded him that Dr. King fought for the rights of a group of Americans who were not treated fairly. Without missing a beat my son said, “Mom why would he fight for the freedom of one group of Americans but not for the freedom of all Americans. That’s just crazy.”

In that moment I realized that I have been blessed with a child who is wise beyond his years and will always challenge me to think deeper. I also realized that given what I know of Dr. King, my son is right. While we can listen to and read the famous words “I have a dream” it’s not hard to imagine any group of people for whom those words do not ring true. Whether you are white, black, or any shade in between. Whether you are gay, straight, or somewhere in between. We all want and deserve equal rights.

I feel blessed to be a parent at this time when I can watch my children grow up and describe friends not as black or white but as “the boy with light or dark brown skin.” In their classes of preschool and second grade there is every color of skin imaginable. The children in these classes don’t notice the differences of color or hair texture. They notice the similarities of mind and heart. Seeing this gives me hope for our future. One day these children who have grown up with no concept of race or discrimination will be our leaders. This isn’t to say that kids today aren’t educated about the history of the civil rights movement. They are, they just understand it in a different way.

Several weeks ago after hearing my son describe something as “gay,” we had a long talk about what it means to be gay and why it’s not acceptable to use that word in a derogatory way. I ended the discussion with telling him that no matter who he likes, girls or boys, we will always love him. He looked at me puzzled and said, “Mom I just like everyone. Is there a name for that?” I smiled to myself and thought, there is a name for that and it is hope.

Working When Your Kids are Sick

When you are in a family with two working parents it is so hard to have a sick child. For those of you who have yet to experience parenthood or daycare let me fill you in. There are stringent state regulations on when your child cannot attend childcare. Then generally your child has to be well for at least 24 hours before going back. So not only are you stuck home with a sick child, but you are stuck home an extra day after your child is well. Then, just to rub a little salt on the wound, a few days later you usually catch whatever your child had. My first child caught every virus that went around during the first two years of his life. Right before his second birthday he contracted salmonella and was quarantined for three months! Those first two years were hell! But children have to go through this at some point to build up their immune systems. If not when they’re babies it will be in kindergarten.

Now my son is almost four and he has the immune system of an elephant. He rarely ever gets sick.My daughter has done fairly well so far. She’s been in daycare for three months and today was only the second time she’s been sick.

As a trainer it is especially hard when you have a sick child. Classes have been scheduled months in advance. Facilities have been reserved. Other people’s lives have been arranged around your class schedule. Canceling a class at the last minute is a last resort.

Here are some options for dealing with family illnesses when you are a working parent:

  • Check in your area for special childcare centers that accept sick children. It’s expensive, but there are times when it’s worth it.
  • Create a support network of family and friends who might be able to help out in a pinch.
  • Find another coworker in your library who has children and arrange a system for emergency swaps. Since our library system is open 7 days a week I have friends who have days off during the week that I could call on for help.
  • Join or create a network with other parents. The Mommies Network has chapters across the US. It’s an online support group for moms. Members from my local group Charlotte Mommies have helped me with everything from fixing a broken toilet to bringing my family meals after Cameron was born.
  • If it’s the height of cold and flu season and your baby is prone to being sick, plan ahead and have a back up trainer lined up.
  • Be a detail-oriented planner. My husband is also a trainer, so when possible we try not to both teach at the same time. That way usually one of us has an easier schedule to clear.

Today I was scheduled to attend training. Since it was online there was no problem. I signed in from home and Cam and I enjoyed the session together. Yet another reason to love online training!

Learning from home