Thank You for Reading This

posted Friday November 15th, 2013

I have been immersed for months in a somewhat selfish pursuit: The task of finding Sophie just the right junior high.

Parenting is selfish by definition, if you do it right. You fight and scrape for your kid. Damn the rest. That’s how I feel about charter schools, when it comes to both my girls. Annabelle goes to an elite arts charter; if I had to say now, I’d guess Sophie will go to a charter, too.

I feel guilty about it in both cases. The smart kids are fleeing public schools for charters; and who am I to think our neighborhood public school won’t do a good enough job of educating Sophie? But I want the best for both girls, and in Arizona, we’ve been conditioned to believe that the best schools are charters. In some cases it’s true.

But often the charter/public (and yeah, I get that charter schools are technically public but really in so many ways they’re not — a conversation for another day) debate ignores the most important player: the teacher.

I was reminded of that the other day, when a friend who teaches public high school in the inner city pulled me out of my selfish place with a text:

Did you see today’s poem from Writer’s Almanac?

No, I replied. She forwarded it:

Gifted and Talented

by Krista Lukas

For my teaching license, I am required
to take a class called “Mainstreaming,”
in which we learn about every kind
of kid who could walk or be wheeled
through our future classroom doors.

Not the blind, the deaf, and the handicapped,
but students with
blindness, deafness, developmental delays,
autism, moderate to severe
learning disabilities, hyperactivity,
attention deficit, oppositional defiance
disorder, and so on.

The instructor, an elementary
principal by day, who outlines
each chapter and reads to us
these outlines each Wednesday
from six to nine, devotes
one hour one night to the subject
of students with
gifts and talents, who might also
come through our future.

Regarding special programs
for such students, one teacher-candidate asks,
“Do you have to be gifted to teach them?”
“No.” The principal-instructor
shakes her head, as if
such a thing would be impossible.
“Not many gifted people
go into education.”

Quite a poem, huh?

Then my friend sent an email entitled: “PS,” which I’ve edited slightly (with her permission) to eliminate identifying details:

In one class this year we have one child with selective mutism, one with Asperger’s (whose IQ is probably 150+), and one who’s bi-polar and possibly schizophrenic and very open about all of that (he may be one of my favorite students ever — he writes at the beginning of most assignments: “Here is my work. Why am i doing this? Because I want a good grade. Thank you for reading it” or something along those lines, and sometimes emails me, then emails me 2 minutes later to see if I received his message, then emails me 5 minutes later to apologize for emailing me so much. He always writes — in emails and formal assignments — “okay, bye” at the end. His hands shake when he talks to me and he says things like “Please tell me what I did wrong.”) I’ve just described three of that class period’s ten special education students. Why? Because I want you to understand our student body. Thank you for reading this. :)

Thank me? Are you kidding? Thank you, friend. Thank you to all the teachers.

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7 Responses to “Thank You for Reading This”

  1. “Parenting is selfish by definition, if you do it right. You fight and scrape for your kid. Damn the rest.”

    As a relatively new parent, I find this attitude a little frightening. Don’t we have some responsibility for the welfare of all children? Doesn’t this attitude particularly harm children with disabilities? I don’t understand how you expect me to support Sophie’s right to the significant (and expensive) educational apparatus she requires when you profess not to care about any child not yours. I would rather have things be a little fairer for everyone than have my own child come out on top due to societal privilege. And actually, except for a good education (thank you community-supported public schools and branch state university) and white skin I don’t have a lot of privilege, which is probably one reason your post hit a nerve.

    No doubt you were being flip and intentionally hyperbolic and the (lovely) rest of your post is meant as commentary. I have enjoyed your blog so much over the past year, and am sorry to de-lurk only to be critical. I do understand the desire to fight for your child’s needs. I just don’t think that necessarily means “damning” everyone else’s children.

  2. Sarah — First, please don’t apologize for de-lurking (an awesome word) to be critical — that’s what it’s all about, it’s what my friend’s note to me was, in its way. And of course what that poem was. And what my blog is, in a lot of ways. In my clumsy way, in this case I was trying to explain that I was calling myself on the carpet — I do believe it’s easy as a parent (of any kid, of an circumstance) to focus so hard on your own kid you do forget the big picture. I don’t think any of us mean to do it; but we do it. So I wasn’t trying to be flip as much as honest. As parents, we’re all selfish (remember, this is just my own opinion). Otherwise, why bring a kid into the world? And I hope every parent advocates for their own kid. I worry constantly that Sophie’s taking resources that should go to other kids, but at the same time — what am I supposed to do? Advocate for my child. Is that selfish? Sometimes. Is it selfish to believe that charter schools are bad for the big picture and still put my kids in them? Yes. Does that mean I’m damming all the other children? Even I, in my guilt, fall short of agreeing with that one. I’m not sure this explains it any better and I apologize for that.

  3. Great post. I too am a parent of a child with Down Syndrome but I’m also an elementary school principal. It doesn’t matter if you send your daughter to public, private, charter, home school, virtual school it’s all about the teacher. We can debate who has better teachers but my mantra is “I would send my child to the worst school in the district, if I can pick their teachers!”. And being in education we don’t get many perks but I will be selfish and out my kids in the beat teachers classrooms. And I do this knowing that I have placed other kids in the worst teachers classrooms. I do my best to get rid of those teachers but sometimes that doesn’t happen. By the way, that is what makes a Charter School better. You can get rid of the poor teachers.

  4. I am so troubled by this, just as you are. In my case, it is less stark than charter vs public. Instead, I grew up in an expensive East Coast suburb with superb public schools. I settled in an expensive West Coast suburb with superb public schools. I know this is unfair self-segregation, and I don’t know what to do about it.

    I know how to help my local school. Last week, when the teacher said a few families still had not paid the $3 each required to bring a theater group to school, I slipped her an extra $20. She thanked me and explained that if I hadn’t volunteered, she would have paid her own money out of her own pocket, as she normally does. Just the regular heartbreaking story from a teacher. I know how to help her classroom, but I don’t know how to help the whole system. I think it’s a conundrum for every progressive parent and I am glad you’ve called attention to it.

  5. Thank you Elaine. That’s exactly it: We can help on an individual level, and that’s not to be sneezed at. But the broader picture? Ugh.

  6. I agree 100% David — it’s about the teachers. But I’ve had experience with both good and bad principals and I know you are pretty darn important, too. :)

  7. The principal’s set the vision. And if the school doesn’t want to make something work, I don’t care if you bring in parent advocates or legal counsel, it still won’t work. Everyone has to be on board. At our school, I created a preschool inclusion. You would never know who had jeps or not. In most schools, they have a teacher at each grade level that has the inclusion class. In my eyes, that’s not inclusion. Any one of my teachers can have a student with special needs, ell, Erica, behavior. We all treat them differently and try to meet their needs with the parents supporting.

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Amy Silverman
Amy Silverman has two beautiful daughters, Annabelle and Sophie. Sophie has Down syndrome. These days, Amy divides the world into two groups: the people who adore Sophie, and those who don’t look twice. Amy has to remind herself that once upon a time -- when it came to people who are "different" -- she fell in the latter category. And therein lies the blog... Read more
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