Oct 29, 2009

Nearly as Good as I Hoped, Much Greater Than I Feared

As parents, we want to protect our little chickadees. We want to shelter them from danger and harm. We calm their fears of darkness and monsters and vegetables - all while being terrified of the unknown and the boogie man and the bank. One one hand, we know the horrible things that are out there. Things like the tragic story of Somer Thompson near Jacksonville, FL. Some random psycho strikes and she's gone. (That story hit close to home, not just because of her age. It happened in Heather's hometown and her home church was deeply involved in the recovery process.) We are all too aware of those real monsters. But we also don't know a lot. I think that may be what is even more scary. We want everything to be laid out before us, with our little brood safe and secure. But remember, when Marlin asked Dory, "How do you know nothing bad will happen?" - she classically responded, "I DON'T!"

We don't know that. But we have to move on anyway. The education of our children is one of these "Unknown Terrors" for our family. On one hand, there are some amazing experiences that a child can have going through public school. I went to public school grade 5 and 7 through 12. Heather went to public school her whole life. We made it through. BUT..... There is that but, the fear, the doubt, the unknown. There are some really rotten things that happen in public schools, too. Josiah's first experience last year was terrible - potentially damaging enough that we pulled him out and enrolled him where I was teaching. We hear rumors of all kinds of things happening in the cafeteria or the playground or library. How do we know the experience will be great? That nothing bad will happen? We Don't.

Today, our kids made it to school - after a false start thanks to the plague affecting our house. I wanted everything to go perfect. We got there and met the kids' teachers. They were both very sweet women and we felt like we were placing our kids in good hands. The school is very well run and organized at least (as far as we can tell). The woman working the cafeteria line was very helpful, explaining the process to us. Then she also took care of the kids when they came through. After debriefing the children when they got home, they both had lots of fun things to report. Josiah had a fun art class that sounded like he really enjoyed. They both had recess on the big playground. Both kids met a lot of kids. Natalie made a point to tell me that there were very few with "light skin." (I had tried to gently prepare them for this because every school they have been at have been the exact opposite. It wasn't because this is a bad situation - just very different and a new opportunity.)

Natalie went to the library and got a Curious George book, but she thought she had forgotten it at school. (It was in her bag.) Both of them got to use the computer. They had a great time buying lunch. Things were going great! Then the phone rang...

Yeah, my phone rang. "FLORIDA STATE O" There is no way THAT is good. I assumed it was something regarding Heather. Maybe she had to call from a school phone for something simple. I answered. "Hello, this is David." Quiet. "Hello?" Maybe it was a salesperson or survey monkey. Finally a softer lady's voice came through. "Mr Staples? This is Mrs. Williams. Josiah's teacher." What . . . the . . . what. Getting phone calls from school is never good. What could have happened on his first day?

It turns out that they give new students evaluation assessments to see which reading and math group they belong in. Mrs. Williams had told us this. As he was taking the math exam he just lost it. She said he started crying and saying he hated school and hated math. He wanted to go home and didn't want to be there. She was blindsided. She tried comforting him and explaining about the test and that he didn't have to get them all right. Didn't help. So, being the brilliant and wonderful teacher she is, she called me to see if there was something going on. I was stunned. I had seen the meltdown during math before. But I was more surprised by the teacher's response. She said, "There is no way I'm going to let him have a bad first day."

I briefed her on the death plague experience. The kids had just gotten their fevers down for 24 hours last night. They still had a cough and I know they were tired. (They both complained about how long the day way.) I also told her a bit about Josiah. He's a very smart kid. He is a perfectionist and hates missing questions. He HATES timed tests. (This one wasn't.) And, at times, he can be flummoxed by easy math questions while acing ones above his grade level. I asked if maybe I could talk to him. "Sure." Wow.

I talked to him and tried to reassure him. Just do your best, leave ones empty if you don't know them, this isn't graded or timed. He said that some of the questions were so hard. I said it was okay and that he didn't have to get them if they were too hard. He lost it again. [When he got home, he also told me that it had been a long day and he missed me. Tears.] She had other students come and help get him tissues and help him to his seat. I can tell the kind of classroom she runs - it is a place of love and support. I was embarrassed, of course. She assured me not to worry and said he could take the tests Monday. That would give him time to get a little more acclimated and healthier. I thanked her profusely. I explained that in Josiah's first experience, there was no way that would have happened. Josiah even told me that when he got home. What a wonderful gift for a teacher to give her children - a safe and caring learning environment where even on their worst day they don't get shunned or ridiculed or mistreated.

So, even while I wanted to race down the street and grab my baby boy and hug him until his eyes got all googly like in a cartoon, I knew he was in good hands. Sure, I would have liked the day to go perfectly. I wanted Day One to be something glorious and golden to point to as we said, "IT WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO!!!" (I saw us prancing around wearing togas and laurels in a coliseum as I wrote that.) But there was that issue. Josiah didn't want to be outside during recess because it was hot. So he just sat at the end of the slide by himself. And Nat's shoes got untied and she can't tie them yet - and her teacher didn't help. And Nat inadvertently got tired of a girl who was desperately trying to be friends. "I couldn't take it any more. So I had to go away." (We explained that the girl was trying to be friends. Nat responded, "Oh. I'll tell her I'm sorry tomorrow.") Nat said that the teacher at one point said if anyone said anything they would get sent out. A little boy said "something little, not even a word" and got the promised consequence. We asked if the class was being naughty at this point. "Yes. But I wasn't following them." GO NAT!

So there were some minor glitches. But for the most part, it was a good day. In one class, I learned my son had a protector and educator who had his best interests at heart. And in the other, I learned again just how tough my little girl is - and how she is going to do just fine. Now if we can just get rid of the death plague around here....

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