Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Battle for a Better School

    Raise your hand if you want your children to surpass your current station in life.  Well, my hand is firmly planted in the air.  Now that I am a bonafide stay-at-home mom, I find that although this has always been my mission, I am now in the trenches up to my nappy roots.  My renewed mission is to not only to help my children stay on track but more specifically, it is to get my son in an Academic Center for 7th and 8th grade and my oldest daughter into a Gifted Center.
    For those of you that live outside of the Chicago area, Chicago Public Schools created an Office of Academic Enhancement for the sole purpose of making parents and students compete to send their children to a select number of schools that maintain academic excellence.  In layman's terms, all of the "smart" kids apply for a chance to get out of their crappy neighborhood school and get bused to a good school.  Although this whole concept warrants a long conversation about the fairness, rationale, and morality of this whole process - this is not my point today.
    My children have always performed well and this makes us very proud.  However, I have been conducting some informal research on what is needed to get a child into an excellent school vs. a good school.  The process in Chicago is broken into 3-300point scores on a scoring rubric. A student's ISAT score, grades, and their entrance exam are each 300 points. Parents and teachers have a hand in how well a child is prepared when it comes to the ISAT and report card grades; but the entrance exam is left a mystery.  Why, do you ask?  Well, there are no study guides, teachers and administrators give you a scripted response when you ask about it, and there is no appeal process.
    What kind of craziness is this?  I was told by one administrator that the test, test how well a child thinks.  What?  So, with a little research I have found that the test is more of a logic exam, with word matrices, analogies, and pattern analysis.  Here is the rub; teachers in the less affluent neighborhoods are not teaching these skills.  Not because they don't want to, but because they are told repeatedly to teach for success on the ISAT (not to mention the lack of time due to constant behavior issues and insufficient resources).  However, the ISAT is not, at all, set up like the entrance exam for select enrollment schools.
    Can you guess where this is going?  If I, as a parent of a child attending a lower performing school, send my child to take this test, armed with only the skills his or her teacher has given him or her, they have a much higher chance of failing.  Or, they get into the lower performing Academic Centers, still in the heart of their homogeneous community, that have a lower college completion rate. So, I ask myself, who is this process set up to help or hinder?  How would I have known this if I was just "joe smoe" parent, trying to get my kid ahead? 
    So my mission - try to beat the system.  I have found a couple of sites that give information on these types of admissions tests; so I plan to use their information and shop around for my own.  My advice to other parents - NEVER take what is said to you at face value.  ALWAYS, dig deeper, especially when its your child's future at stake.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

'To Be or Not to Be' - Bullied? That is the question.

       My oldest son has followed in both of his parents' footsteps and developed a speech impediment.  In other words he stutters; couple this with the fact that he is extremely intelligent, reads all the time, and is clumsy, and you have a Molotov cocktail for bullies.  Like so many stories I have read, we have spoken to anyone who would listen, at the school and on the bus, with very little in the way of results.  So, the question keeps returning: what do we do?
     While I initially thought that the "turn the other cheek" method was the best course of action, I soon came to realize that the parents of these bullies are not teaching them the same lesson.  While I am teaching my children tolerance, "just walk away," and "tell the teacher," these kids are building their arsenal of verbal insults, make-shift karate moves, and mob motivating chants.  So I decided that my children need to go to school armed and ready to fight back. 
      Now before you envision my five year olds with oozies strapped to their backs, I am talking about verbal weapons and self defense strategies.  Let's face it -  good parents expect others to be good parents.  This is not the case.  At the most, a large percentage of parents are absentee and/or couch parents.  These parents only see what they want to see when it comes to their child's questionable behavior. Therefore, when accusations are brought  forth, they are too embarrassed by their poor parenting to admit that they have created a monster - reinforcing the poor behavior.
      First, my husband and I reinforce the notion of Team Rayfield (a term borrowed from our cousins Team Bradley).  What this does is instill in them not only a sense of pride in their family, but also a duty to protect the members of that family.  My husband is team captain but when the kids are at school my oldest son assumes this role.  The team captain's job is to make sure no one is left behind and no one is in danger. (If you have an only child, network with other parents of students that have been bullied and give yourselves a name.)
      Second, we discuss those things that make us uncomfortable about ourselves and serve as potential weapons for bullies.  We do this in a safe space without judgement.  I believe that if you talk about these things you become comfortable with them.  "Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look there. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Roman Emperor, A.D. 161-180 (121 AD - 180 AD)."
     Third, we arm ourselves.  I have worked as a middle school teacher for 8 years and as a result I have a cornucopia of verbal come-backs at my disposal.  So, yes, my children and I play "the dozens."  I ask them what has been said about them or to them and we practice quick simple responses.  I ask them to think of things they might say the next time it happens and we practice (remember my son stutters so practice is key).
       As for physical threats of violence - nature has blessed my son with height and strength.  He has strict instructions not to fight.  This has worked well and he has only gotten into altercations due to self defense; and when needed, Team Rayfield is there for backup.  No one sibling is ever to be left alone or defenseless.  Today, physical altercations are worrisome because of increased use of weapons.  However, our children do not go to a school where this is an issue.  Kids still settle things the old fashion way. 
     I will admit that our tactics may seem odd.  However, I grew up in the "hood," and my children attend a "hood" school (although it is a magnet school); because of this "turn the other cheek," just means you'll get slapped on the other side.  We, as a good parents must teach our children that the world is not kind all the time and that you have the right to stand up for yourself.  Sometimes, one heart-filled stand is all it takes to make a bully back down.  Perhaps two or three - the point is, why should your child be the one to give up -- the bully won't.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Who's waiting for Superman? I'm waiting for super mothers and fathers!!

Recently, Oprah, the View, GMA, and seemingly every other news agency is discussing this new documantary and book  Waiting for Superman.  The movie hasn't been fully released yet and I have only seen excerpts on Oprah.  Firstly, I agree no one wants crappy teachers teaching their children.  This is basic common sense.  What gets my locs in a knot is this notion that the failure of American youth in education is the fault of teachers.  I disagree!!

I believe that teachers have been made the scapegoats for poor parenting.  I say this having worked as a teacher for the last 8 years.  I know first hand what it takes to be an effective teacher.  I agree that if teachers are deemed unfit, tenure or not, they should be removed from the classroom.  However, where are the hoards of teachers standing up and defending their profession and calling the "a spade a spade."

So, I ask, who's fault is it that there are more hair magazines in your home than books for your children to read?  Who allowed your children to spend four hours playing Grand Theft Auto followed by a healthy dose of Family Guy and/or the  Boon Docks instead of homework?  Who decided that it was okay for pre-schoolers to watch horror movies like Saw I-V and Nightmare on Elm St instead of Sesame St and Word World?  Who fills the shopping cart with fruit drink, microwave dinners, and junk food when they know growing brains need fruits, vegetables and healthy foods to function properly?  Who snaps on their child for the smallest infractions and "cusses" (curses) them out like they are an adult without regard for the lesson being taught about how to deal frustration?  Who thinks it's cute when their toddler can sing all the lyrics with Beyonce or rap with Drake but they can't count to 20 or spell their own name?  These are only a few questions I have for the thousands of parents who want to blame teachers for their short comings as parents.  If you are a good parent and you are doing above and beyond - this is NOT about you.  My problem (and hopely your problem) is with those that donate their genetics and think that they are done.

Teachers (the good ones) don't go into teaching because they think it is an easy profession.  You would have to be a moron to believe that.  I, like many others, love children and genuinely want to see everyone of our students succeed.  So, what's the problem?
 We, teachers, work during a time when education is not valued as a profession.  This is made clear everytime school systems have to fight for funding and everytime a disgruntle parent thinks that it is acceptable to come to our place of work yelling, screaming, cursing, and threatening the professionals that teach their children everyday.  The same parents that never check a backpack, never SIT DOWN with their kids and actually GO OVER their homework, never help their child STUDY for a test, come in a demand explanations for why their son or daughter isn't making progress.  Please note that I called teachers professionals;  you would never image someone cursing out their doctor or threatening their banker.  The problem is that deep down parents feel anyone could become a teacher; and if anyone could become a teacher, than how hard can it be?  My response to that is- try it. 

The crisis with American schools is not solely a poor teacher problem; it is a racial inequaity problem and a socioeconomic problem.  It is cultural capital problem in which it cyclical distructive nature spans generations.  So stop placing all the blame on the shoulders of teachers.  Teachers are underpaid but spend hundreds of their own money on school supplies and projects for their students;  they are unappreciated but come to school everyday smiling and welcoming their students; they are overworked but continue to stay after school for hours  for free to grade papers, volunteer, tutor, the expense of their own families and personal lives. 

Expecting teachers to bare the brunt of this crisis is like saying a Bandaid can contain the bleeding from a gunshot.  Parents are the first teachers.  The lessons children value most come from their parents.  Whether it is a single mother teaching her children what dedication and hard work look like or a father showing his sons how to be men, children imitate what they see everyday.  If you understand this, how can you expect a teacher to fix/correct behaviors that parents have spent their child's lifetime reinforcing.  Teachers have an important role but its not the most important role--that job belongs to the parents.

Torrence is our sons' Superman and I am our daughters' Superwoman.  Can you honestly say the same thing? Stop Waiting for Superman  -- become one.