Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Jumping Back into School

This was originally part of a post I did last year on Back to School after watching my friends agonizing over their children's classroom placements. Hope it provides some helpful information.

... the beginning of September can be a really stressful time for a lot of families. This was really driven home to me this week as I watched my own kids and their friends begin the school year. So much worry! Uh-oh, my kid is in the job share class. Uh-oh, my kid is in a split class. Uh-oh, my kid is not with her friend this year. Uh-oh, my kid is in with the "dim" Grade 2's, does that mean he's "dim," too?I'm in an interesting position as both a parent and a teacher. I find myself making the same reassurances to my friends as I do to the parents of my students. So here is a summary of those reassurances that I hope will set parents' minds at ease:

1. Combined classes are not a bad thing. Notice I used the word combined and not split. Within any given group of children, you have a wide ranges of strengths and talents in a variety of different areas. Whether the children all have their birthday in one calendar year or the next doesn't make much difference to this range (this has always seemed like such an arbitrary division to me, but that's a subject for another blog post). Teachers teach children, not curriculum. In 10 years of teaching, I've yet to meet a teacher who teaches the children in a combined class differently based on the grade they are in. Teachers so their best to meet each child where they are and design instruction that best meets their needs. If anything, the advantage of combined classes is that there is usually a range of maturity that affords children a chance to be role models and learn from each other. Further, having combined classes allows schools to group children together to their advantage, and separate children who need to be apart from each other.

2. If your child is in the upper grade of a combined class, it does not mean that the school thinks they are "dim." I sometimes wish parents could see the process involved in loading classes. It's incredibly complex and usually begins the spring before the beginning of the following school year. We take into account balancing of gender, special needs, ESL, behaviour, friend groups that are socially supportive and should stay together, friend groups that are negative and should be separated for a year, school district staffing allocations, educational assistants and where they can be of maximum effectiveness. There are usually at least four or five different configurations proposed and debated before the staff and principal finally come to an agreement about the best one and can officially organize the school (in my district this does not happen until the first Monday of the school year). If your child is in a combined class, there were probably several reasons why he or she was placed there. If you have concerns about it, the very best thing to do is to have a conversation with the teacher about it...hopefully they can ease your concerns. If you still have them, then at least you've begun a dialogue about it and hopefully the school will work with you to resolve the situation.

3. Having teachers who job share usually works out just fine. Okay, I'm a little biased on this one having been in a fantastic job sharing situation for the past seven years...I've also dealt with this concern A LOT! Most parents are concerned about two things: a) the teachers are only part time, therefore, they are not fully committed to the job at hand, and b) it's confusing and inconsistent for the children to have two teachers. To the former concern, let me assure you that in all the teachers I've ever known who job share, they put way more effort in than their allotted percentage of the position. One principal I know used to say that she really loved having job shares on her staff because you ended up with way more than 1.0 FTE's worth of contribution to the staff and school community. To the latter concern, I can only think of one child out of the 24x7=168 or so that I've taught where he perhaps may have been better off in a situation with one single teacher. Kids work with all kinds of different adults in their lives (parents, coaches, childcare providers) and even within the school often have at least one other "specialist" teacher. They usually adjust to each of these adults' expectations for behaviour based on whatever context they're in. I can't speak for every job share situation, but certainly in mine and those of my close colleagues, we're in frequent communication about classroom issues to ensure that we're being consistent in our philosophy and practice. One added benefit of having your child in a class with a job share is that the children get to work with people who may have different strengths; for instance, I am passionate about teaching science in a very hands-0n way (more than my partner), and she is passionate about developing social responsibility through her personal planning and social studies lessons (fantastically, I might add). Plus, we always have someone to bounce ideas off and brainstorm with who knows the workings of our classroom and students inside-out. There are also advantages to having a single teacher; one situation isn't necessarily better than the other, they're just a bit different.

4. Your school is there to help support your child's learning journey, and that includes your input. You are your child's first educator. Of course you know them better than anyone. Parental input is crucial, and most teachers and principals welcome you it. With email, teachers are more accessible than ever these days. I routinely give out my cell phone number and email address to the parents in my class just in case they have a class-related question and it's never been a problem yet. I would never want a child to go to be worried about something that could have been cleared up with a quick phone call at 8:30 pm. A word of advice, though, 9:00 am drop-off time is not a good time to start having a conversation with the teacher as we're usually about to start the important work of providing an excellent program for your kids!

So take a deep breath and head into the school year expecting the best. Chances are your child will follow your lead and it will be a great one.

Monday, September 6, 2010

I'm Ba-a-a-ck!

What?! You mean, when you have a blog you're actually supposed to post stuff on it? Oh, ok...
Summer is drawing to a close, the weather is gray and rainy again, and it's back-to-school tomorrow. You would think that with all my free time this summer I would have been posting at least daily. Turns out, I need the routine of the school year/month/week/day in order to give my life structure. Without it, I revert to being a lazy 15 year old who would lie around and do nothing all summer, except crack open a cheesy novel. If my kids would ever let me have two minutes to myself, that is.

I have many posts floating around in my head as I write this, but I don't want to outline them all here or you might not come back to read me again. I'll start with the first one that comes to mind.

Gavin's speech....he's 17 months old and his vocabulary consists of grunts, squeals, screeches, cooing and the words "mum," and "mama." He kind of makes a sheep noise while waving which is getting closer to "bye." His noises are inflected in much the same way as speech is, but there are not a whole lot of words happening yet. I am not one for getting all wrapped up in development charts generally, and I know the kid is totally bright. He somehow manages to make himself mostly understood in spite of his limited vocabulary! But we are coming up on 18 months and I am getting a little concerned. I am hoping that one day soon he will wake up and say, "Mother, I am absolutely famished this morning, could you please whip up some pancakes with extra syrup?" or something equally articulate. I think I was a bit of a late talker, too....Mom, can you help me out here?

In the meantime, most of our conversations lately go something like this (only with him head butting me or hanging off my leg to get my attention):

The other day I rounded on him and growled, "Ok look, you seriously need to learn to talk because this is way too frustrating for both of us!"
Not my most shining moment as a parent.

I'll let you know when he starts spouting paragraphs.