Re-launched, but still slightly under construction. :-)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

But I'm Not Very Sorry

Sunday, August 29, 2010 By

Educators, everywhere, I apologize.

But I am that mom.

At first, I seem like that mom you're going to just love. I've got your supplies covered, your parties snacked and your social activities staffed.

But I am all up in your cheese.

I'm so bad that I requested that Emerson be transferred to another kindergarten class because I knew how attached she would get to the very nice teacher to whom they assigned her. That teacher, competent and caring, is very pregnant. And she will be out much of the school year. Emerson will then freak out. She will not learn for at least a month, and there will be bouts of crying.

It is just one of the requests that I have made to the RCBOE this year.

"Don't you think you might be a little bit of a helicopter parent?" my boss asked me.

"Oh, yes," I replied, without a hint of irony.

And about her education, I am fiercely protective. I am a hummingbird. A human hovercraft. A creepy, crazy-eyed Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade float that is peeking in your windows.

About her education? Yeah. I'm that mom.

I was a special needs child. They put me through a battery of tests, and informed me that I would be attending a special school for especially "creative" children. Later, I learned that it was for kids the school system thought were faster learners. But I struggled with one subject from fifth grade through college: math.

Very long story short, it was suggested, after a disconnect between my grades and my seeming level of understanding in a statistics class at Augusta State University, that I might need to be tested. But this time, it was not because they suspected I might be oh-so-smart. My mother told me for years that I needed to have my head examined. "This will make her just so happy," I thought.

I went to the appointment nauseous with anxiety. Years of stellar verbal performances marred by substandard mathematics aptitude will do that to a person. The note from my professor suggested some tests. The two counselors ignored it. They asked me a few questions about my course, then about my educational background. Mid-way through my explanation that I still get nervous about long division because I don't understand why you just leave the remainder there, just hanging around all unsupervised like that, the two counselors exchanged a knowing glance and one held up her hands.

"It's okay," she said, soothing my rising blood pressure. "We think we have a solution."

What a difference 10 minutes makes. Thank you, ASU. For everything.

Side note: Do you see how I've taken a post about my daughter and turned it into one about me? But I swear I have a point. Back to the testing folks...

"Dyscalcula," they said, and gave me a list of things to do differently.

First step: Stop asking why. Was I planning a career in astrophysics?

"Hell, no. Wait: Do I get to go in the Space Shuttle?"

No. Mathematics is composed of tasks that can be broken down by steps. The "why" of it is not important. It is a staircase to climb. When you climb stairs, do you question gravity?

"I question my diet and exercise."

Then break it down. Don't struggle with the concept and expect the formula to make sense if you can understand it.

"Yeah, that's me!"

This is the hallmark of a verbal learner. Cut it out.


Find the steps. Break it down. Memorize the steps first. Get them down pat. Then worry about comprehension. If you never understand it, don't worry about it. You just want to get the steps right. The answer will come.

So that's what I did. I broke everything down into steps. I memorized the steps. I practiced the steps. When I found myself freaking out because I didn't understand the steps, I went back to the last step I completed before I freaked out, and I did it again. And my next test grade: 100!!!

I'd never made a 100 on a math test in my life. I actually handed the paper back to the professor, thinking he'd given me someone else's test.

Okay, so back to Emmie.

Emmie may not struggle with anything like this. But I see her reverse her numbers and her letters sometimes. And I worry. I don't tell her what I'm thinking - after all, she's only just reading three and four letter words - but I watch carefully. I don't want her to struggle for 15 years the way I did. And I don't want any stupid people saying things like, "You're just not good at (insert subject here)." After my experiences, I believe that with the proper methods, every subject can be mastered by almost anyone.

So, along those lines, I was warned that dealing with the Richmond County School System was no easy task. Public school education is no buffet, where you may pick and choose the items your child needs for success, while discarding those unnecessary items that hinder.

I found that out the hard way. I missed a Friday deadline for paperwork, and they wouldn't take it the following Monday. Nevermind that the paperwork wasn't available on time, and no one knew where I should take it.

I put in more paperwork under House Bill 251, which allows parents to request a zone exception so long as they can get their child to that school on their own. The school board say that they "have no record of" the paperwork. But in reality, I'm almost certain - and the former interim superintendent has all but confirmed it for me - that the parents requesting Warren Road Elementary (with its new arts infusion program) had their paperwork discarded because the school system improperly designated WRE as a magnet school.

See, a system can't just declare a school a magnet school without the proper certification, anymore than a college can declare itself fully accredited without oversight. And a school system cannot exempt a school from HB 251 without informing parents of the exemption. Oh, wait: Apparently Richmond County can. And did.

Anyway, on top of that, our other selected schools are full. So we're back to our original "zone" school.

I'm not happy about that. This school is a disorganized mess. My husband was misdirected three times when trying to locate the registration area. No one's in the office until after 8 a.m. The principal, when I made clear our concerns about Emerson's emotional attachments and advanced knowledge base, suggested a teacher whose class was full, and who was teaching only slower learners this year. Way to keep abreast of your staff, "Doctor." When we put in paperwork to change teachers, no one communicated with us about its progress.

I looked like a complete ass getting upset when I took Emmie to school and no one knew where she was supposed to be. But the school is so compartmentalized that every new person I spoke to had no idea what was going on, and I had to start from scratch. I grew more and more frustrated and afraid every time I was passed on to a new person. Could I even trust them to take care of my daughter this year - much less actually educate her? She's only five! She thinks KFC is Turkey Fried Chicken. She regularly sings her conversations with me, as though she isn't so much living life as performing "Emerson: The Musical." She really really thinks that her pet chickens can talk to her, and that bugs sting because they don't like to be friends with humans. And her favorite sentence to write is "EMERSON I LVOE MOM." All caps. "Love" misspelled.

In short, if she weren't five years old, she'd be in a loony bin. So, concerns. We has them.

What I discovered is that the teachers are receptive, responsive, and proactive. What's more, they really like teaching. But the head offices and administrators... it is another issue altogether.

We've done the best that we can for this school year. And maybe next year she'll be accepted to the county's actually really certified magnet elementary school. But maybe next year we'll be leaving the county for the great suburban boredom and commute next door. I don't know yet.

I do know that while I'm sorry that the teachers had the interim superintendent's crap roll downhill onto them, I'm not sorry that I made an ass of myself and demanded an immediate solution from them. Could I have handled it better? Sure. Could my husband have assisted me more? You betcha. But while the end does not necessarily justify the means, it seems that - in this school system - one has to be the pain-in-the-ass mom to get even the slightest assistance for your child.

So while I heartily apologize to teachers for being so emotional, I'm not "sorry."

But the interim superintendent is.


  1. As well you shouldn't be. Why do you think I homeschooled Shelby her entire school-aged life? I know that's not exactly an option for you guys...but you are doing everything right as if you WERE homeschooling. Taking action to get her the best education possible, scholastically AND emotionally. KUDOS!