So this particular post is not about food, it’s about new starts. As noted previously, we moved J to a new school after a month of agonizing deliberation. I couldn’t write about it earlier because it was too painful and fears of being an inadequate mom were hard to come to terms with in the past month, but thankfully after some distance I’ve made peace with it.
Out of respect for his other school I will leave out details and show this picture instead, taken the first week at his old school.
Suffice it to say that Js forced smile is atypical and falls somewhere between constipation and repressed misery
And then we met Principal Jocelyn.
The first time I talked to her on the phone, we spent a happy few minutes laughing and talking about the origin of the name we shared. I had almost forgotten that we were in crisis mode that day as Pru and I were trying to schedule appointments and tours for potential schools to move J to–it was a Friday and we had made a decision remove him from his current school so we didn’t want to wait much longer. Jocelyn normalized the whole experience and made us feel at ease from the moment we first talked.
By the way, this was taken at JJs last Halloween parade, hence the reason for our attire. We look like we’ve all known each other forever, right?
So, to make this post useful and not so much a rant or a rave, I will share some key lessons I’ve learned:
1) When interviewing teachers and administrators, trust your gut. First impressions are important so if you don’t get a warm and connected feeling to the school and people in it, pay attention to that.
2) Parents are just as much a part of the school community as the children are. Get involved, help out and learn about the culture of the school through that involvement. Not all parents have this luxury or the flexibility in work schedules, but if you have time off or vacation days spend at least part of it volunteering at the school.
3) Not all kindergarten teachers will be warm and fuzzy. That’s OK; I didn’t necessarily need warm or fuzzy but patience combined with an appreciation for innovation and technology are essential. A teacher who doesn’t like to email or use the computer is a yellow flag.
4) Interview and tour your potential school. Attend open houses (mostly scheduled during the week-ends) and bring your child along. Kids are so often used to having things done to or for them, we forget to do things with them. Have them sit in the classroom and let them get the feel of the environment they will spend the next 5-9 years of their lives in. It’s only fair. Then ask them questions about how they felt, what they liked or didn’t like. You’ll be surprised at how useful these little people are in this process.
5) During that interview ask about things like support available to teachers for large class sizes, resources available to parents and students if or when the child starts to struggle. How often do you communicate with parents and what’s the preferred mode of communication. Do you welcome visits to the school and how are they scheduled? What are appropriate learning and developmental milestones for incoming kindergarteners, 1st graders, etc? In other words, what do you expect them to be able to do or how to act?
6) Don’t be swayed by your ideal of what a school should look like. I fell in love with the beautiful building and surroundings of the first school because it looked like the school I attended as a kid. I also thought that my child will benefit from this environment but remember, it is just a building. It’s the teachers and the staff and principal that set the tone and foster the learning and growth of the kids–nostalgia and pretty, not so much. That was a parenting fail on my part by the way.
7) If your kindergartener tells you they don’t like school and it’s only been two weeks, listen to that. Investigate, ask more questions and meet with the teacher. Have the principal involved in that meeting so everyone is on the same page. In the end, we are all on the same side.
8) Lastly, if it’s not a match between the school and your kid, move them. Don’t wait until relationships suffer and communication breaks down. There was mutual courtesy, we gave them notice and were very transparent with the principal on the reason for our move, giving her some pretty candid feedback that we hoped would benefit the teacher and ultimately her students. Begin that feedback with, “I hope you take this feedback in the spirit in which it is intended.” In turn, she was gracious, tried to talk us out of moving and thanked us for our honesty.
This is the after to the before picture
Most importantly, I’ve learned once again that we are all works in progress. Just because we moved schools doesn’t mean that we as parents are devoid of responsibility for the learning and growth of our children. If the kid acts out in the old school, chances are he will act out in the new one. Constant vigilance and reinforcement as well as discipline at home go a long way towards helping teachers do their job. We don’t just drop our kid off and expect the school to do all the work. Pru and I look at it as a partnership where we all work towards a common goal. Yes he still misbehaves and gets in trouble but we feel comfortable addressing them head on with the knowledge that he’s not perfect, teachers are human and in the end we’re all in this together.