This is the end of my multiple posts about education and our family. The previous ones are:

On Tolerance, Part 1

On Tolerance, Part 2

On Education Rankings, Part 1

On Education Ranking, Part 2

On Awarding Mediocrity

On Parent-Teacher Conferences, Part 1

On Parent-Teacher Conferences, Part 2

On Parent-Teacher Conferences, Part 3

Since this is so long, I will review and cover the rest of the story differently than usual. (Thanks Reluctant Farm Chik for your help on getting my complaint to the school onto one page.)

We were in TN over the New Year. The first part of our journey was ice-covered highway in NM... in the dark. It is interesting to note that NM does not really get worse snow than other places, but they apparently don't get enough to budget snow removal equipment/supplies. Interstates close a lot here when the weather is bad; we were lucky it was not closed when we went.

Historical Facts (as seen by me and elaborated on in the above posts):

  • We live in a region of the country in which education is not a top priority.
  • At Chic’s school, she was one of few scholars.
  • Chic attended a private, parochial school.
  • Chic was ahead of her class in most, if not all subjects.
  • Many in the class ridiculed Chic because she was “smart.”
  • There was little/no teacher intervention regarding the ridicule.
  • Chic has not been raised in a pop culture environment, thus she is “different” from most of the other students in her school, despite its parochial nature.
  • Chic’s social structure for second grade has been difficult because a 4-some of friends turned into a 3-some, and Chic, being different, was the one usually left out.
  • Chic’s teacher/s did not notice that her friend structure had changed.
  • Parent-teacher conferences were not a place to get real information. Teacher/s usually took the approach of keeping parents happy without divulging any real information. Real issues were avoided.
  • When real issues were addressed with teachers, the observations of the teachers changed. (From “she’s doing fine” to “she’s immature.”)
  • Teacher/s were not demanding, teaching, or modeling life skills such as kindness and getting along.
  • Teacher/s were allowing students to dictate classroom environment.
  • Teacher/s punished tattletales inappropriately unless tattletales were pet students, in which case the behavior was encouraged.
  • Teacher/s modeled disorganization and disrespect.
  • Classroom/playground supervision was inadequate.
  • Teacher/s were biased in analysis of students and their academic abilities.
  • Teacher/s flip-flopped on significant educational plans. (“Your student should be placed in advanced classes for certain subjects” to “Your child is too immature to handle advancement.”)
  • Teacher communication was ineffective and unprofessional.
  • Prince Charming and I, as parents, are not perfect. Neither is Chic. We approached this for three semesters with an open mind realizing that not everything could go our way.

When in TN, our friends had a flying squirrel in their house. It had been there a while--behind the fireplace--but they couldn't get it. It came out while we were there. Very cute. (The foggy picture is because it was SO COLD, and this was taken when releasing it.)

Things we did about the above:

  • Discussed concerns at length with teachers. (No results.)
  • Discussed concerns with trustworthy, knowledgeable friends not involved in these issues to better ground ourselves and assure our objectivity. (A very few were unsympathetic saying that schools will always have problems–we realized that already. Most were shocked it could be so bad and made us realize we had put up with a lot more than we should have.)
  • Discussed the issues with the school Principal. (This was ongoing. Many of the incidents did not seem “big enough” to report until more and more happened. The big picture was disturbing, so the Principal knew the whole story by the end of the semester and was extremely supportive.)

Things that could not change:

  • The teacher/s could not be removed. Apparently though I have heard various complaints about Chic’s primary teacher for several years, there was no documentation. (This was the current Principal’s first year and without documentation could do nothing, though she had wished to remove a teacher before I ever talked to her.)
  • The attitudes of the teacher/s. Apparently though counseled on specific behavior problems, issues addressed to them by parents, the Principal or School Board members resulted in: flat denials, blaming others and often subtle retaliation against students of specific parents.

Our Options:

  • Send Chic to another school.
  • Homeschool Chic.

We saw neither of these as viable options since removing Chic from school would be seen by other parents as a huge blow to the school. (Small environment.) We had no quarrel with the school or the Principal, but with specific teachers. The school is small and has financial difficulties, so any blow to it, large or small, could potentially end its life.

Although it was bitter cold for our visit, there were a lot of pretty skies. I was going to save many of these for SkyWatch Friday, but I thought they would go with this post.

Our Solution:

This was not our idea. It was Reluctant Farm Chik‘s. She is my educational/parenting mentor. She is SO with it in those areas. Most people think I am with it (except that I shield my children from a lot of pop culture which many think is cruel), but those people have not met Reluctant Farm Chik.

When she first suggested it (on my voice mail), I thought she was joking. She knew our reasons for not sending Chic to another school or homeschooling her. She said her idea was different.

On December 30, 2009, the four in our family and a minivan packed pretty tightly headed on a tw0-day trip east. On New Year’s Eve we arrived in the-middle-of-nowhere-way-out-in-the-sticks Tennessee. (It was overcast and we missed the New Year’s Eve Blue Moon.)

We spent January 1 and 2 in Tennessee and three of us left on January 3. We left just-turned-8-year-old Chic there to go to school for a semester. This is what I meant when I said in an earlier post that many of you may think we are unfit parents by the time we get to the end of this story. (Who leaves their 8-year-old two days drive away for five months?)

Why we did this:

  • We did not think our options allowed for home school or a different local school. (That was not a permanent decision. We will not continue to let that stop us after this semester.) This option let us tell people that “Chic got this really great opportunity to live on a farm with a horse with great friends–something she’s always wanted to do. We couldn’t pass it up.” No damage to the school, although if we did not have thick skins, there would be a lot of damage to us from people who think we are absolute idiots.
  • We have complete faith and trust in Reluctant Farm Chik and her family. They are treating Chic like one of their own. She has a new “brother” and “sister” (both older–a dream for her). She has 8 new cousins (one who realized he could not have a crush on her because she was “his cousin.”) She has a new set of grandparents and several aunts and uncles. She is in a loving, family environment.
  • Although kids will have bad times in school and bad teachers (I had bad teachers from grades 4-8), the early years are too important in setting the stage for school satisfaction and learning. My first three years of school were perfect which is why I came out of 8th grade not completely despising education. Chic has had a horrible start which is crazy for someone who excels at school. She was starting to hate school AND hate learning. Something had to change.
  • Chic is balanced and mature enough to handle it. (Despite what her teachers said.)

I tried to take pictures of these several times on our trip to and from TN, but going down the highway at 75 mph meant that most of them were not that great. My kids (living in a desert) were amazed by these. They look just what I grew up with in MO.

How it is going:

  • Chic loves school. She is learning at her level in all subjects. She is a little intimidated that her math education here was so far behind that she’s only at the same level of her second grade class (and not doing as well as the 4th graders which is what she expects), but overall it is good.
  • Chic had instant friends.
  • Chic loves her teacher.
  • We hate Skype. (Not really, but it usually leaves us feeling unsatisfied.)
  • We miss her like crazy.  (We already have two visits under our belt.  Ahead are Spring Break and two more visits.)
  • Chic has only cried a couple of times–when we left her, and when I left from a visit. She was fine both times right away.

What the future holds:

  • We don’t know! I wish we knew! Chic will not return to her old school unless there are dramatic changes. (Probably two teachers would have to be gone for her to go back. It is a small school, so unless they are gone, she will have the same teachers next year. If they had major attitude changes, that would be OK, too, but so far they do not even acknowledge that there was a problem.)
  • We might home school.
  • We have even thought of moving. Someone asked if we were living in the right place. No, we are not. Well, I think we are in every way except social culture (which means little to me because I am too busy for much socializing, and we do have some very good friends here. I am referring to the society in general.) and education. We love it here otherwise. Also, Prince Charming’s job is here, and his job means I am a stay-at-home mom. That is why we moved here in the first place. But moving is not out-of-the-question, just not on the immediate horizon. (And giving up my skies would be a tough thing indeed!)

This was the favorite picture I took while on that trip. It includes the "Pondwatch" pond.

It boils down to we are responsible for our children. Our school is not. Our church is not. God forbid if society was! We will do what is best for them.

We are looking forward to May, but we do not regret a bit of what we did. It is changing all of us (mostly for the better) forever. All of us are growing. Experiences like this cannot be bought. And Chic is happy. (And I got the best hug she has ever given when I visited last month.)

So full of innocence and promise. We must take care of her, even if it means someone else is taking care of her right now.

For Part 1, go here.

For Part 2, go here.

Ms. A came in and told us that the kids made fun of chic, and she was too immature to handle it, so they could not move her.  We were more than a little shocked by this. First, it was Ms. A’s suggestion in the first place that Chic be more challenged in math. Second, we had been talking to and working with Chic to prepare her for this. And also, in our nearly 8 years of being Chic’s parents, we had never, ever heard the word “immature” coming out of the mouth of any adult relating to her. We have only heard “extremely mature, ” “well-behaved,” etc. even if we questioned deeply to make sure they were not saying that just because we were her parents. I do not say this as a blind parent. Anyone who knows me knows that I am extremely objective about my children.

At this point I was tired of the fake smiles and general crap that manifests itself in these PT conferences, so I explained how we had worked with Chic on this very topic and she WANTED to do something more difficult. Ms. A spoke very little, just nodded her head in agreement with Ms. J who told us again how immature she was and how she got in so much trouble. WTH?????? Why was I learning that my child was a trouble-maker in a PT conference? (Upon further investigation, this was a smokescreen.  Chic did indeed get in trouble for hitting a boy, but she and the boy were playing around and just play-punching each other. (The boy did not get in trouble.)  The teacher did not even see this, but this was the result of a tattletale.  I told Chic this was not appropriate and did not undermine the teacher, but I was more than a little angry this was the incident (singular) that labeled her a “trouble-maker” by Ms. J.)

I asked what the solution was if my child was bored with classwork and there was clearly a general unwillingness to modify it. Ms. J then said that she had tried to have Chic help other students, but when she sent them to help, she did not teach them; she just did it for them, so Chic was not good at that AT ALL. (By this time I wanted to punch her in the nose for insinuating that we had failed as parents because our then-7-year-old daughter was not a qualified teacher.)

We discussed the social problems and the ridicule and asked why teachers were not doing anything about the ridicule. I stated that I realized we do not live in a perfect world, and I teach Chic that, but for a 7-year-old to bear it bravely 100% of the time without any intervention from teachers might be asking too much. I also mentioned the social problems that I had discussed before (regarding Chic’s friends leaving her out when Ms. J’s answer was “Oh, I didn’t notice.”) and said that I understand Chic’s position because her personality is much like mine. If kids are repeatedly excluding her, she is not going to make a nuisance of herself and continue to push herself into their circles. All of this was met with no response other than “she is not mature enough to do more advanced work in math.”

After I had made the comment about Chic and me having similar personalities, Ms. J said (in a sickly, patronizing voice), “Now, Mom, are you going to be OK? You said you were like your daughter and I don’t want you to be upset because you are hearing unhappy things.” Yes, she said that.

We got back to math. The truth started to surface. Ms. J said that if Chic did 3rd grade math, she would miss her reading class. I really did not see this as a problem as she was so far advanced in reading. I told Ms. J we were fine with her doing more advanced reading. “But then I would have to change this or that!” she whined. Yes, she whined. So we realized that the real reason for not challenging Chic was that it might require a little extra work for the teacher. And to be honest, probably not actually extra work, just different from what she was doing. And the thing that got me the most is that Ms. A, the teacher that suggested the change in the first place, had totally reversed her position to support Ms. J.

Prince Charming had had enough, so he changed the subject to the awards from the previous year in light of the ridicule. He mentioned there seemed to be little/no incentive for succeeding in school (using the awards as an example) and no deterrents for not succeeding and for bad behavior. Ms. J side-stepped this with “I give awards for fruits of the spirit, not necessarily scholastic achievement.” It was a good thing I was walking out by that time and did not hear this response.  First, she DID give scholastic achievement awards, of which my daughter got NONE though being the top student in at least 3 subjects. And she was saying my daughter had NO fruits of the spirit?????

The fifth parent-teacher conference lasted 63 minutes. We left feeling angry and dejected. The teacher/s had done all possible to make us feel like bad parents for raising a girl who was different than the others and who got her 7-year-old feelings hurt when severely ridiculed for being successful.

Yes, I believe there needs to be a class for an entire semester devoted to holding successful parent-teacher conferences. And if an education major fails that class, maybe s/he should not be allowed to even hold PT conferences.

Now what? I hope the next post on this topic concludes this series (for now). It may be extra long to avoid breaking it up into parts like this and so many others in this series have been. Right now I cannot see how that can be told in parts.

Part 1 is here.

These photos are from the 2007 Mother's Day hike as the prequel post.

The spring parent-teacher conference for Chic’s first grade year was also useless. We got Ms. J’s fake smile and the fake “she is a joy to have in class.” I am sure not everyone thinks these things are fake, but I have really, really good perceptive powers, and I know. I did ask a question about Chic’s best friend who I knew from art class to be a complete airhead. I was concerned about this friendship because Chic is NOT a complete airhead, and I did not want her to be trampling someone (even unwittingly) because that someone might not have the wits to not be trampled. Ms. J assured me that Chic’s friend was one of her brightest students.  This seemed quite strange to me because the girl was only somewhat creative in art class but could not follow a simple instruction to save her life.  I chalked it up to my not being properly perceptive when it applies so close to my life. (Which is not true, but I often do not trust my powers of perception when it involves me or those directly related to my life.)

Now to the fifth parent-teacher conference, October 2009. Chic was not-quite-8 and was in second grade. We had 20 minutes of the fake smile and fake “she’s a joy to have in class” garbage, but Prince Charming and I had other issues to discuss, so we said, “What is going on with math class?” Ms. J sputtered, then said Chic was much too immature and that she would have to call in the math teacher to explain. (We have 2 teachers for grades 1-5. Ms. J is Chic’s main teacher, but the other teacher, Ms. A teaches math, science and social studies.)

Let us back up to the school Open House in September. I had to be in the art room the entire time, and Prince Charming had a prior appointment (the date changed), so at the end I asked Ms. J how Chic was doing. “Just fine,” she fake-smiled. So I asked Ms. A, the math/science/social studies teacher, who I respected much more (at least at the time). She said she wanted to talk to me because she wanted to move Chic to 3rd grade math; she was completely bored in 2nd grade math. I do not know how much math has changed since I was in 2nd and 3rd grade, but I remember 3rd grade math being a LOT more involved than 2nd grade math, so I expressed concern about the concepts missed in 2nd grade affecting how she would do in the 3rd grade class. (Mind you this was not accelerating her, but just advancing her work in one class. I have no problems at all with this. I really have no problems with accelerated work in most classes, but keeping them with classmates their own age is important to me.) Ms. A assured me that neither the 2nd or 3rd graders were where they should be (there was no team teaching before, and Ms. J does not excel as a math teacher), so Chic would not miss anything. She was already as advanced as far as the current 3rd graders. I said I would need to talk to Prince Charming, but unless I spoke differently in the next 2 days, I was in favor of it. Ms. A said she had not discussed it with Ms. J, but she would.

This picture in dry, dry New Mexico could pass for one taken in wet, wet Iceland.

After a week I started asking Chic about math. She made no indication that anything had changed, so after two weeks, I asked Ms. A about it. She said she had talked to Ms. J who said that the students made fun of Chic for being so good at reading, and it really affected Chic, so she was not in favor of moving Chic up. Ms. A told me she would wait until the quarter was over. I again expressed concern about 3rd grade math and starting too late in the year with it and was again assured that the 3rd graders were so far behind that it would be just fine.

At this point I started talking to Chic about the problems at school and also about math. She was bored with math, and she was a little afraid of how the other kids might treat her if she moved, but she wanted to move anyway. We talked about how to deal with bullies and why people make fun of other people, and she was prepared for the change. Also I spoke to the principal about the problem (since talking to Ms. J is useless and often detrimental and Ms. J seemed to not be curbing the ridicule in the least), so the principal singled out Chic a couple of times to call attention to and reward her academic excellence. All systems were “go.”

I knew the quarter was over because I had to turn in art grades. Nothing changed which is what led us to ask about math at the PT conference in October.

To be concluded… Tuesday, February 2. (Yes, February is almost here. Maybe I should take the Christmas flowers off my front door.)

This post is a continuation of my series about some things going on in our family right now. Those are posts are:

On Tolerance, Part 1

On Tolerance, Part 2

On Education Rankings, Part 1

On Education Ranking, Part 2

On Awarding Mediocrity

As usual for this series, the pictures in this post have nothing to do with the post. These are from a hike our family took at the extinct volcanoes near us on Mother's Day, 2007. But before we could go, we had to wake up Chic who would have been more than happy to sleep in longer with her favorite cat.

You teachers and education majors, is there a class on how to pull off an effective parent-teacher conference? I am inclined to believe there is not, but if I were in charge of an education curriculum, I would make sure there was some such class.

Prince Charming and I have attended five parent-teacher conferences in our short history as the parents of a 2nd Grader, and I can promise you that none of them were much worthwhile.

Our first experience in this new world was October of 2007 when Chic was almost six and in Kindergarten. We walked in, the teacher was beaming and asked us to sit down and have a snack. (Do parents of Kindergartners need a snack for a 15-minute conference???) She had a folder in front of her with all kinds of stickers on it. Before she opened the folder, this teacher, Ms. S, started pointing at the stickers, still beaming. She then read each sticker to us: “Well done,” “Good Job,” “Excellent,” etc. My mind was reeling. I cast a sideways glance at Prince Charming and nearly choked at the look on his face. Wisely, he did not look at me.

We got a brief look inside that be-stickered folder to see that Chic’s work was indeed worthy of such praise, but that is something we already knew, and my guess was that every other student’s parents who arrived got the same beaming presentation.

A hill of very busy, giant ants.

I wanted to know how Chic was behaving in school.  Was she being nice to the other students? Was she getting along well with the others? What was the teacher’s perception of the whole school situation since, well, since she saw her 7 hours a day at school and I only got a couple of hours of which approximately 13 seconds could be attributed to Chic’s report of the school day.

So I asked questions. (The folder was closed by now.) The answers to my questions were actually the beaming teacher pointing to the stickers on the outside of the folder. “Her work is ‘well done.’” “She’s doing ‘excellent.’” You get the picture.

Since I knew Chic was a pretty well-adjusted girl and learned things easily and this was only Kindergarten, I decided to not let this bother me. She loved school, and I have come to think that loving school is the biggest key to learning.

In the  Spring we got exactly the same  useless thing, so I asked, “But I am guessing that every parent gets a folder like this with all these stickers on it, riiiiight?” “Yes,” admitted Ms. S, a little of the sparkle fading from her beaming face. “Well, what I really want to know is how CHIC is doing, not the same thing you tell everyone.” She was taken aback, but we had somewhat of a reasonable conversation after that. It did leave me to wonder if we were the first parents to think that the folder covered with stickers might not exactly be what we needed to know. (See the posts on education rankings for my opinion on this.)

Chic had a different teacher, Ms. J (referred to in Awarding Mediocrity) for grades 1 and 2. (She is still in 2nd grade as I write this.) I must admit that Prince Charming and I went into that first parent-teacher conference beaming. Part of that was because we knew Chic was doing so well, but most of it was because we were just excited to be going to a teacher we were pretty sure was not going to throw a folder covered with stickers in front of us. We sat down. We were offered snacks (apparently not limited to Kindergarten parents. For the record, we have never taken any of the offered snacks at these PT conferences.) We waited for an awkward moment, then Ms. J said, “We usually do not like to accelerate kids in first grade.” Prince Charming and I lost our beaming faces immediately as we searched the faces of each other to see if the other had ever said anything to anyone about Chic accelerating. It was easy to see that we were equally confused.

Now let’s point out that I do most of the talking at these events. Prince Charming steps in when I am totally fed up. He is not timid about these things, but we save his words for the really important times. So I said, “I was not aware we came here to talk about Chic accelerating. As a matter of fact, we do not wish her to accelerate in school. We wish her to be challenged and not bored, but we have a few reasons that make us want to not pursue acceleration, at least for now.”

Ms. J responded, “Oh. Well. Most parents with children who do ‘this well’ want to move them up.”

My response was, “We came here to see how ‘this well’ she is doing, and we are not most parents.”

My memory of the rest of that useless interview is gone. I have mentioned in a previous post that this teacher has trouble putting together two coherent sentences. (You may wonder why we sent our daughter to be taught by such a teacher, but we are open-minded, and just because a person cannot communicate with adults does not mean they cannot teach children. And someone whose opinion we trusted much told us this teacher was an excellent one.)

To be continued… (Friday, January 29)

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