Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Thoughts on School, So Far

Well, school is well underway for the year! I haven't posted much about it here, yet. Mostly because the majority of my thoughts swarm around my older daughter's educational experience (yep, those second kids just get forgotten! ha.) and I struggle with how much information about her I want to keep sharing on my blog. However, I have had several volunteer days over the past few weeks, including a half day each yesterday and today working in my daughters' classrooms . . . with substitute teachers. Doesn't get more real than that, my friends!

I have spent the better part of the afternoon trying to take deep breaths and keeping my sights on the big picture when it comes to public school. Each classroom was a different, yet equally frustrating, experience.

I spent yesterday morning with Iris's class and the substitute teacher, this poor teacher, spent well over half of her time simply trying to keep the classroom under control and trying to keep the more challenging kids focused. It was so. incredibly. frustrating.

During the morning I watched the kids accomplish a little bit of reading, some handwriting and some writing of their stories. The more self-motivated kids in the class actually sat and read, focused on their handwriting books and then worked on their stories. I would say this was probably less than half of the kids. The other part of the kids goofed around despite myself and the teacher continually moving around the classroom and checking in with kids and asking questions and giving suggestions, along with repeated requests to quiet down and focus on their work. It didn't seem to matter to many of the kids that I was an adult, an authority figure in the classroom. They didn't listen to me, either. 

It felt like working with this group was literally just trying to keep them contained. I know that my 3rd grader spent zero time learning anything new at all. The work she did do was extremely simple for her. 

Now, I totally get that it is different with a sub. Last week when I volunteered I felt like their usual teacher had a much better handle on the classroom and the kids were better able to focus and actually work. It truly is amazing to me, however, how much of the school day in a large classroom is simply about managing the group. The amount of work a parent can do working one-on-one with a child at home in a day is enormous compared to what can be accomplished in a day at school.

My experience with the first graders in Eloise's class was much more loose. The afternoon consisted of P.E., listening to the teacher read, the kids working on writing, recess then free play time in the classroom. Nothing major. The only time the kids worked on "school" was when they were doing their writing. As first graders they are all over the map in terms of what they can read/write. Some can't read or write proficiently at all. I used my time to help a couple of kids "best guess" the spelling of words for their stories. I noticed most of the kids around me either didn't work at all, or didn't do the work that was being asked of them-- including my own daughter. Her entire paper was colored on, not a single word anywhere.

When the kids were supposed to be quiet and listening, for whatever reason, the class was a mix of kids who sat and listened and kids who would not, under any circumstances, sit still or stop talking.

Eloise does love school and as far as I can tell, she is overall middle of the pack in her class. In some ways she is advanced, and in some other ways she is working to catch up. I think it's working out okay for her. 

I also I still feel school is the right place for Iris right now. She needs to make friends, but so far I feel like I am sacrificing her education to give her a social outlet, and that really sucks. Iris was recently invited to her first birthday party for a classmate and I was completely overjoyed for her-- hopefully it is the first of many opportunities to get to know the other kids more. 

Iris has had her challenges in the classroom, but overall I think she is enjoying school. She hasn't yet said she hates school and that she refuses to go, so that is a plus! Sometimes she struggles getting along with other kids, but seems to be able to follow the rules of the classroom and has made friends and has girls to sit with at lunch. In the beginning she was bored and didn't feel like she had kids to play with at recess, but it seems like that is getting better.

We will all just keep plugging along! 


  1. I've been reading every post, Sybil, and have thought so many comments in my head. Does that count? :) It is amazing how much that last year at home seemed to give Iris the time she needed to...what...grow? Anyways, good for you, mama! I was in Ruby's first grade class today and I totally experienced the same thing...those kids were all over the place in terms of what they could/would do. What a challenge! My kids are chomping at the bit now so I've got to go. miss you! say hi to all for me.

  2. Oh man, this is making me so nervous about school and I only have a 3 yr old. I really (want) to believe in the public school system.

  3. I am a substitute teacher in the area. Subbing is really hard especially at the beginning of the school year. They barely have their routines set and then a new person shows up. I'm a well requested substitute teacher, which I think means I'm good, but I've gone home and cried many an afternoon because of difficult classrooms.

    I have great faith in the public school system. I am the product of one! I will say that your results may vary depending on what part of Seattle School District you're in. It's not the teachers' fault; they (including the students) just have a lot more to worry about than reading, writing and arithmetic.

  4. Alma, don't be too nervous. Well, unless you have terrible schools in your reference area. My daughters' school is a decent one, we overall like it and think they do a good job . . . for a public school. I think when you have that many kids in a class you just have a hard time working with all of them, that's just how it is. I still need to write a post about what we love about school. This was definitely more of a complaining one!
    Miss Sub, I can't even imagine how hard being a sub is. SO much work to be a teacher anyways, but to come in to a class and not even really know everything you need to know to run the class? Pretty impossible.
    I think the teachers are all doing the best they can with what they have. The standards imposed on them are ridiculous, the amount of kids in their classrooms are ridiculous, the lack of funding is ridiculous . . . luckily the biggest thing a teacher needs is heart. So far we have been graced with teachers with big hearts, we are blessed!


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