Day 209: A (Private School) Pig in a (Pedagogical) Poke

Today was a long day. One of those days when having four kids feels like having forty, and not in the fun way.  Some days are like that, of course, and I’m thankful not to have as many as some seem to have, but they are still long when they happen.

The temperature has dropped and we have a few runny noses, which never helps anything, and to further complicate matters, things are not exactly peachy at school.

Finding the perfect school is tough, and actually, impossible.  Whenever we have moved I have devoted a lot of time and effort into finding the best possible place.  Three times now I’ve toured schools, made checklists, played with our budget to figure out what we can afford, and of course, fought the good fight to get permission to send them to the best possible school, because some idiots think public school in a major city is the same as public school in the rural midwest during the nineties.  I won’t name any names.

Finding this school was a special achievement, because it was done on short notice, and mostly from hundreds of miles away.  I was thrilled to find a school where my children would be academically challenged in the way I dreamed they would be, in the way I dreamed I would be when I was a child.  Three languages to choose from and instruction every day, robotics, yoga, organic lunches, a safe and loving atmosphere where children are encouraged to learn at their own pace.  It sounded too good to be true.  For good reason, as it turns out.

First, many of the children, though not all of them, by any means, but many of the children are spoiled brats.  It’s an expensive school, or at least expensive for us, and being able to afford to send our children there meant a lifestyle adjustment for us, but one we were happy to make, because we really believed it was the best thing for them, an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.  But most of these kids, their parents don’t see tuition that way.  It’s not a painful check for them to write, and actually, it doesn’t seem like a big deal to most of them.  Now, for many of them, it’s an act.  It’s part of the culture around here, a need to pretend to have an endless supply of cash.  The thing is, children pick up on that.  When parents act like spoiled brats, their children also act like spoiled brats, and there isn’t a whole lot the teachers can do, because parents don’t like to hear that their children are spoiled brats.

Second, in order to deal with these entitled brats, the teachers are forced to do something. A few of them are just extremely nice and they talk in low, comforting tones, encouraging children to work together, and to talk about their problems.  I like that approach, but it only works if all children are treated equally.  It doesn’t work if one kid gets a free pass for doing something another kid gets sent to the office for doing (my kids have never been sent to the office, but it has been used as a threat, which they find mostly confusing).  Some others drop all boundaries and talk to the students and the parents in a way that is less than respectful.  One teacher took a child’s lunchbox because she was dragging it on the ground and took it home with her.  She told the child she could have it back when she learned how to respect her things.  This all happened in front of the child’s parent.  This same teacher has the tendency to get in faces, which is not my particular favorite thing.  She also makes certain threats, like a child is going to lose all of his or her toys if he or she doesn’t listen in class, or a child will not be permitted to go home if he or she does not complete a lesson.  You know that feeling when a child does something unkind to your child and you see red, but when a grownup does something unkind to your child and you see purple?  I’ve been seeing a lot of plum tones this week.

Third, the administration is terrible.  They have three people who share the responsibility of being in charge, but none of them do it well.  They are disorganized and end up canceling events at the last minute, and they never seem to have a backup plan.  For a school that makes a profit, it is not run like a business, at least not a successful one, and it makes one wonder how one of them can afford to drive a car that costs six figures.  This all leads to other problems, like teachers who behave poorly getting away with it, and a system that should be very academically strong, but is actually not.  For example, if a robotics teacher is sick, they just cancel robotics those weeks, or if a French teacher has a conflict, that class is never made up.  The teachers are handed a report card form three days before they’re due, and none of them have a clue what it means, and neither do the parents.  Also, all of those great extracurricular programs they stressed at the beginning of the year?  Those are all after school, and are billed separately.  They are also poorly managed with too many students who spend most of their time waiting.

All of this results in an atmosphere that is not ideal, which is not great for our children, whom I will admit have been protected to the fullest extent reasonably possible.

Academics are important, especially in a state where the public education system is not so great.  It’s essential to find a school that is academically strong.  More important than that is to find a school that is safe.  I don’t just mean safe from crazies walking around with guns, although I mean that too, I mean safe in the broader sense, like a safe space to learn and play and grow.  It shouldn’t be so difficult to find both, but it is.

Maybe I’m just too picky?  Maybe.  Whatever.  It’s my life, and if I want to spend my days worrying about finding the best school for my children, dammit, that’s what I’m going to do.  I only get one shot at this.  In ten years they’re going to be, more or less, formed into the people they will be as adults, and it’s what they experience now that will determined who those people are.  I’m not going to take any more chances with that than I absolutely have to, and believe me, I’m not thrilled with the chances I am being forced to take.











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