Friday, July 16, 2010

Needed: parenting education

School is out for the summer, and I am out on maternity leave, but I am still thinking about some of my students. One of the students, first written about here has been on my mind a lot. Before the end of the school year, he arrived nearly 90 minutes late to school. His mother explained that they had overslept and missed the school bus. I noticed that the child was crying hysterically and asked the parent what happened. She explained to me that the child was hungry. I noticed that she was eating a bagel and carrying a large container of chocolate milk.

After taking a deep breath, I explained that breakfast at school was over and we were still nearly 90 minutes away from lunch. The mother looked at me with a blank face. I stated calmly that children who are hungry cannot learn. Still she continued to look at me and stuff pieces of bagel in her own mouth, seemingly not bothered by her now screaming child. Finally, I explained again that breakfast at school was over and that her child appeared really hungry. When I suggested that she share the bagel and the chocolate milk with her child, she told me that it was hers. It became increasingly difficult at this point to keep calm and not scream in this woman's face, but somehow or another I managed. I said that she could either sit in the hall and share her food with her child or that she and I and the child go to the nurse and she could explain all of this to the school nurse.

Of course all of this is happening in the midst of center time, so I am also trying to support the other students. Once I put the chairs in the hallway the mother and child sat down and she just stared at me for a while. I supervised this situation from doorway. She ultimately did end up sharing some of the bagel and the chocolate milk with her child. I was floored by the fact that I had to explicitly tell her to do so and it made me think a lot about parenting.

I thought that once you became a parent, certain things were supposed to become natural. Like recognizing this other human being, his needs, and a desire to help him meet those needs. I think I sound judgmental here. I am sure that as a woman, an individual and a parent that she has her own needs and objectives. Maybe she did give the child some food before they arrived at school. But as the classroom teacher, my job is to look out for the needs of my students and advocate for them when those needs are not being met. Needless to say, it was a challenging situation.

When I go back to it in my mind, the parenting educator certification program offered at my alma mater looks really enticing. It makes me want to work with administrators both in the district and in my school building to find ways to support and encourage parents so that situations like these can be minimized or even, ideally eliminated. If that exact situation presented itself again, I am not sure what I would do differently. What, if anything, would you have done? Let the child cry? Beg a small snack from another teacher? Take the child to the office and explain the situation to an administrator?

This particular child will be back in September as far as I know. I can only hope that he has adequate access to food throughout the summer and that this incident was a one time incident and not a chronic occurrence for him.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

End of the school year

Its hard to believe that school ended already nearly two weeks ago.

On the last Tuesday, my students put on a stellar performance for their families and the therapists who work with them. Our "show" included three songs and a dance. The students had been practicing for weeks, and even the most reluctant seemed highly enthusiastic and energetic. Then the classroom began to fill with their families. The youngest students just lost it. They couldn't understand why I was asking them to stand with their friends while their beloved family members were within sight. I let these students be with their families during the performance because that is where they needed to be.

One student just had a complete meltdown in the middle of the show for no known reason. Another student who had previously been belting out the words and gestures froze and refused to make eye contact when his parent entered. One parent walked in after everything was over and asked if we could re do it because the bus was late. All in all though, I do believe that they tried their best. I was also excited because this was the first time that every student had SOMEONE there. It is a rotten feeling to look around and see everyone else's family and not see yours. Kudos to the families of my students for making it, for being there for their child. At the end of show, each student took his or her end of year pail ( complete with certificates, bubbles and other summer fun) to his or her family. The families left, most of the students stayed and cookies and juice were enjoyed by all.

After the show and during the last few days of school, many of the parents chatted with me about the pending arrival of my daughter. Some offered labor advice, others expressed disappoint or disapproval of my plans for next year, and still others sent in thoughtful gifts to help welcome The New One.

I worked hard to manage my emotions during this final week. I mean, I am going into unchartered territory. The school year/summer vacation schedule has a familiar rhythm to it. I know what to expect. I make notes about what worked this school year and what I want to improve on. I spend August shopping for deals on school supplies and reviewing my notes about improving my teacher. I am having a baby and will not be in the classroom for the 2010-2011 school year. It's a big difference and the fear of the unknown often found me on the verge of tears as I packed up the classroom, sent student work home, and signed off on my students' cumulative records.

The students inquired several times about when the New One would arrive, assuming it would be that first day of summer vacation. They inquired about their transition to Kindergarten and some expressed sadness about the length of summer vacation. And then suddenly, by some magical force, we were all ready, together. The room was packed, the students gave hugs and powerful goodbyes and there was nothing else to do except enjoy the last few moments we had together as a community of learners.