On Registering for Kindergarten and Choosing a Catholic School

I can’t complain. I was fortunate enough to have a summer baby, so I got an extra year with my first baby at home while other moms were standing puffy-eyed and runny-nosed in school parking lots late last August. Instead of sending him off to kindergarten at the tender age of barely five, we are sending him off to kindergarten at the ripe, old age of six. I have read all of the research. Hell, I even did some of the research for my freelancing job. I know there are all kinds of statistics on the values of delaying a kindergarten start, just as there are all kinds of statistics on the evils of “redshirting” your kindergartener. But, I’m a mom who saw her child struggle with speech and some fine motor skills when he started preschool. I’m a mom who saw her son hang back even though he wanted to play and knew the answers but was afraid nobody would understand him if he spoke. I’m a mom who made the gut-wrenching decision to have him repeat preschool and watch his very first friends move on to pre-K without him. So, I redshirted my kid. And, I’m so glad that I did.

Homework by Chris YarzabIn this year of pre-K, my sensitive, bright, quiet son has blossomed. He seeks out kids to play with at school, after happily playing alone during his two preschool years. He now has rich discussions with the school helpers and teachers. In fact, the pre-K volunteer who helps the kids write journals once a week had no idea my son has overcome a severe speech delay. He also recognizes sight words and figures out words when we spell them instead of just telling him to do something (“Please bring me an e-g-g.”) He asks questions and makes connections and watches shows on The Weather Channel and The Learning Channel that I never imagined would interest a five year old. He writes notes to us in church. He helps his younger brother and cousin and pretends to read to them. And, he will start kindergarten in a few short months.

Last night we visited his new school and started the registration process. The principal, faculty and staff, and school nurses welcomed us with open arms and impressed me from the moment I stepped inside. I was more impressed by my son, however. He walked into the kids’ room, answered the brand new teacher at an appropriate volume with clear enunciation, and sought out the action. I wanted to follow him, give him a hug, and tell him that my husband and I would be right across the hall, but he turned and gave us a wave and said, “Goodbye.”

And, that was that. This child of mine about whom I have lost years of sleep is going to be okay. He’s going to be more than okay. He’s ready.

And, he’s going to be in a school that values faith and respect and encourages curiosity. He’s going to be in a school that proudly displays students’ writing assignments (completed in cursive!), creative artwork, group projects, and homework schedules on the walls. He’s going to be in a school that uses short, formative assessments as tools to evaluate students. The one standardized assessment utilized by the school is viewed as a tool to evaluate the programs and curricula, and not to evaluate students. He’s going to be in a school with a principal who stood and answered all of my “I’m a former teacher and want to know what goes on here” questions with honesty and compassion. There was no spin. There were no excuses. I may not have agreed with every single thing that she said, but I know that I will be able to communicate concerns to this principal without being snowballed or told “that’s just the way it is.”

I am going to continue fighting for public education with all of my might. I am a proud product of our public education system, and I was a fourth generation public school teacher. I will more than likely be sending both of our sons to public education for grades 9-12. I believe in public schools and the power of students, parents, and teachers to continue to work to get our administrators, legislators, and departments of education to right the course and get back to the business of teaching and learning.

But, our sons will be attending our local Catholic School for grades K-8 because I believe in small class sizes, strong curricula that includes science and social studies, and an educational environment that puts students, not tests first. I am putting my money where my mouth is, by putting my own child/student first while I continue to fight for others’ children and students.

Image via Flickr by Chris Yarzab

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**Announcing TRUTH In Teaching**

I am so pleased to announce that I am undertaking a huge venture and yet another leave-of-absence leap of faith: TRUTH In Teaching, my new website and blog, created especially for teachers. When I wrote “An Open Letter to Campbell Brown from a Teacher on Leave” a few days ago, I never imagined the outpouring of support I would receive. The letter has gone viral, I have received hundreds of emails, and teachers continue to comment and speak out on the original blog post. In all of the correspondence, one thing has become abundantly clear: teachers need a voice but are afraid to speak up because of backlash from the public and their administrators. So, I am thrilled to announce TRUTH In Teaching.

My TRUTH partner and I share a passion for helping teachers in every way that we can to combat education reform, high-stakes testing, and the war on teachers. We know this will not be an easy journey, and we don’t expect to influence policymakers and big businesses who are trying to take over public education… at least, not right away. But, we do hope to keep the discussion that started with the letter going. And, we hope that teachers feel more confident in joining the discussion to get out the TRUTH about what it’s like to teach in today’s public education system, so that parents and policymakers alike can start shifting the conversation back to education and learning and away from the numbers.

So, for those of you who started following this site because of my letter to Campbell Brown, please check out TRUTH In Teaching and follow us there, too. We’d love it if you’d share the link on Facebook to help get out the word to everyone who read the letter, too! In the next few days, we will be adding more content to TRUTH In Teaching including blog posts with tips for starting back to school, lesson plan and icebreaker ideas for the first couple of weeks, and more so that teachers can start this school year on the right foot. We will be devoting as much time as possible to TRUTH very soon.

TRUTH exists solely for the teachers. We hope the resources on the site will be invaluable tools for you in the upcoming school year and that you visit the site often for information, graphic organizers, lesson plan ideas, or maybe just a laugh at a blog post. Ultimately, we hope to create a culture of education that focuses more on helping students and teachers thrive than it does on a standardized test score or teacher or school grade. Teach on!

PS – Those of you who joined the “What the Hell” journey here on Life Under the Ponytail for my take on life and parenting will be happy to know that this new venture will separate my two “lives.” I will be writing the teaching content on TRUTH In Teaching and the life and parenting content on Life Under the Ponytail, which was the original plan for this blog. And, if you’re looking for even more to read, check out my other latest project, The Brewery Blog. Thanks for sticking with me on this unbelievable ride!

In Response to the Open Letter to Campbell Brown Response

As of 11PM, August 2, 2014, 11,100+ visitors have viewed my Open Letter to Campbell Brown 12,300+ times, and it has been shared on Facebook more than 4,000 times. I am overwhelmed by the amount of support and encouragement I have received today. As a teacher, I never thought of myself as a teacher advocate because my circle of teacher friends always does all we can to support one another every day, even if that means offering a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen when the classroom, standards, and criticism become too much.

Today, I am being labeled one, and I hope to live up to that moniker in the days and weeks and months to come. I have been receiving links and studies and information that I will have to ponder in the next few days. I have been thanked and cheered and, yes, even criticized. A few friends and my husband were worried about how I’m handling the criticism. One of the best things teaching has given me is thick skin, so I’m just fine. I understand Campbell Brown is blocking people on Facebook and attempting to control the discussion; her apparent lack of thick skin simply proves that she doesn’t belong in this discussion of education. I also understand that people have been taking to Twitter in droves about the letter and the interview. I’m going to be honest. I’ve handled the discussion through the comments on my blog and a bit on Twitter because the letter pretty much covers everything I have to say about her appearance with Stephen Colbert.

When I wrote the letter, I was venting my frustration at Campbell Brown and attempting to bring a voice of the teachers to the discussion – a counterpoint to her interview, if you will. Of course, she is just one in a cast of thousands attacking teachers and unions and tenure and, let’s face it, public education, in this country. Today has been bittersweet because I’m being thanked by so many people who are too afraid for their positions to be able to speak up themselves; this issue of educational reform has spun so far out of control that teachers are afraid to exercise their First Amendment right. (FYI – Several people have forwarded me recent cases in which judges are siding against teachers who exercise their First Amendment rights, and that’s another issue I’m going to start researching soon.)

I sincerely appreciate every single person who took the time to reach out to me through email, Facebook, and Twitter today. I understand why so many teachers have chosen to contact me privately. I’ve done my best to respond to everyone while continuing to be a mom and a wife today, and I will continue to answer as many people as possible. I may need a bit of time to recover from this sudden social media presence I seem to have created for myself, but I will have much more to say soon.

In the meantime, think about the teachers who are starting school soon without a contract, without a union, without a voice. Think about the students who are starting school soon without adequate supplies, prior knowledge, or support at home. Something does need to change in this country, but it doesn’t seem to me that teacher tenure should be at the top of the list.

My Very First Blog Post… From 1999 – What the Hell?

The following is an email I sent to my mom September 9, 1999: my first week of classes at Franklin & Marshall College.  I have been searching for this piece of writing for 15 years, and my mom just nonchalantly handed me the worn, yellowed, folded, written-on paper today.  I could have cried.   I guess I was trying to blog before blogging even became a thing.  What the Hell?

Mom,

I want you to read this, print it out, and then read it to Dad, my brother, Nana, and Pap.  I think you ought to know where your $33,000 is really going.

After one week of college classes, I find that I am already wondering why I am here.  I have no idea how any of these things I am doing are going to help me get a job.  I know I could write for a magazine starting today, but I wouldn’t have that precious “BA” behind my name to prove it.

The very first thing I learned is that college is not about the classes.  I just saw a sign that reads: “Don’t let classes interfere with your education.”  This is so true.  College teaches you how to deal with the most undesirable circumstances.

You don’t come here for the food.  You don’t come here for the living facilities.  You certainly don’t come here to take baths.  You learn how to wear the same pair of jeans for four days and the same t-shirt for three days, just so you save yourself from having to do laundry.  You learn how to sleep in the noisiest of places, how to get a shower at just the right time so there isn’t anyone around flushing toilets or using the showers upstairs to put your precious hot water in jeopardy, and how to read four novels in three days.  You also learn how to run a movie and CD rental store.  You learn how to eat snack food in moderation, so you don’t gain the Freshman 15 five times.

College is a learning experience, not an institution of learning.  You find a way to deal with people you would never approach if you didn’t absolutely have to.  You learn how to cram an entire house into a space 14’ x 16’.  You learn that professors do not teach; they make you question everything you thought you have known to be true since you were five years old.  You do not ask questions unless you are prepared to defend not only yourself but also the previous four student speakers.  You learn to read and analyze and take more notes than you will ever need in your life, so that when the professor asks you to write a paper on what you just “learned,” you have some sort of material to make that paper magically materialize.

And, you ask yourself, is this really worth being in debt for the next 30 years of my life?  And, you answer yes.  Because learning how to eat pizza that is fresh, cold, not-so-cold, not-so-warm, reheated, preheated, soggy, and hard is definitely worth something.  But, the best advice you gain from a college student is this: if it moves, don’t eat it.  It’ s probably your roommate.

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