Nine months ago, I wrote of my feelings on the first day of school for my daughters. After attempting to home school for several years, I had to admit defeat and send my children to school. Even though I was optimistic, I still managed to feel a bit like a failure. I was a pretty darn good teacher back in my classroom days and we had arranged our lives--even purchased our current home--around home schooling. I missed them and looked forward to picking them up each afternoon. I. Me. I've realized that much of my thoughts on schooling have centered around me and my feelings. This year has been a time for me to get a little more over myself and find who I am without as well as, within. When people ask about our experience this year, I usually just smile and say, "It's been a great year." And inside, I'm hugging myself as I say it.
Because where do I begin? How do I describe how bad our last year of homeschooling was and that public school has been a much better fit for our family at this time in our lives. No generalizations for other families; that's "our family," I'm talking about here. Then, there's our school. It's not of the razzle-dazzle variety. The parties and carnival aren't going to get tons of re-pins on Pinterest. All the cute programs and events that I hear about might not be happening as often at our school. As someone who's been on the inside as a public school teacher, with a husband who has taught public school at the elementary and middle levels, parochial high school at an exclusive girls' academy, university level in Louisiana and Texas and who is now an administrator, I know that razzle-dazzle is not always that impressive. Sometimes, it is accompanied by excellent teachers and instruction, but it is not a given that they will all go hand-in-hand. Sometimes, the razzle-dazzle just diverts attention away from weaknesses elsewhere.
I love our sweet school. My husband and I were instantly relieved and put at-ease at Meet the Teacher Night. We felt such peace and order. There were families everywhere, including many from our parish. When I was a teacher, I never saw as many fathers at an event as I did that night. There was such a feeling of family about the whole school. Every time we visit the campus, planned or as a drop-in to do something like eat lunch with our children, that same peaceful feeling is there. You can't fake that; our experience in schools gives us a sense for the overall feeling of a campus as we walk around it during a school day.
In terms of teachers, we hit the jackpot. Emmeline's third grade teachers have been wonderful. Her language arts teacher has shared her enthusiasm for words and Emmeline has grown to love reading and writing more because of her teacher's influence. I wish I could have done that, but the desired result is there and that's what really matters. Her math teacher is knowledgeable and skilled. She understands mathematics and uses meaningful instruction and practice to teach. She was willing to work with Emmeline when she didn't understand a concept and she helped her catch up when she had to miss school for several days at a time. With the flu, viruses and walking pneumonia, she missed a bit of school this year, although it was one of her healthiest winters. I really don't think public school would have been an option in the past due to how many days she would have probably missed. Emmeline truly loved both of her teachers and it made me so happy to see her face light up when she talked about them. What more could I want from the people caring for my daughter during the day?
Clare's kindergarten year has left me speechless at times.
When I was a university student and observed kindergarten teachers, I was amazed by them. Those teachers are gifted; they are proof that teaching is an art, not a science. I don't know how Heaven will be organized, but I think good Kindergarten teachers should get the best rooms in Our Father's Mansion, along with pediatric oncologists, and other special people. I could never do it and I admire those who can do it so well. Clare's teacher is the best kindergarten teacher I have EVER seen. Clare's experience was as close to Montessori as a public school teacher could manage. Her teacher is an expert in early childhood development and she truly understands how children learn. Clare came home dirty most days, from all the activities and centers which involved food, paint, dirt, water, etc... The classroom was activity, not worksheet, driven. Every activity was meaningful and purposeful. Nothing was done just because it would be cute, fun, or impressive when brought home. She learned an incredible amount this year. I really am awestruck. She is reading so well and her progress in writing, not just in handwriting, but the quality of her thoughts, vocabulary, and sentence structure, has just been remarkable. Her teacher truly loves children and I know she really loves my Clare.
Both girls made some great friends this year. They both have a nice little circle of girls in their classes. They were always happy to get to school and they usually needed naps from the activity of the day.
Tomorrow is the last day of school. I've assembled teacher presents, including a homemade apple pie for the Greatest Kindergarten Teacher in the World. Sorry, your child may have had a good one, but ours is The Greatest ;) I baked pies for Emmeline's teachers after the state standardized test, so they are getting something different for the end of the year. I have dreaded this day. Clare has dreaded this day. She is already missing her teacher and she gets teary if she talks about the end of kindergarten. I just want to draw up the whole staff in a giant hug and say, "THANK YOU." I wasn't at my best this year with some medical issues, but I could at least feel confident that my children were in a good place, with people who cared for them, who taught them well, and brought out the best in them. There may be tears tomorrow as our van pulls away from school, but I will hug myself a bit and say, "It's been a great year."