By Tiffany Duncan
Classroom Q as of this writing…
By now all parents in the class know that we have left. I have since talked to a number of them who are puzzled about why Andrew was singled out for disciplinary measures and concerned for their own kids. Many have reservations about the teachers’ ability to handle the kids (especially the boys) and are underwhelmed with the kids’ “academic” progress (the symbolism of the new logo’s “scientific” doodles notwithstanding). Many are disgruntled and feel isolated. The parent-teacher conference is an unpleasant experience they dread. And of course more kids (boys, need I mention?) are now turning into “problem” children who perhaps need to be held back one year (an all too frequent occurrence at Hillside).
Most importantly, I have learned that Miles will be leaving at the end of the year. The parents of another boy from the group are actively looking for another school for him for next year—they are concerned that he is slotted to be held back a year. With Andrew, that makes three boys out of a group of seven. Last year, out of our group of twelve, four children left the school.
I am relieved to know that many children, from different groups, miss Andrew and are not too traumatized to invite him to their birthday parties. Our friendship with a few families from the school continues and information keeps trickling in. (The other day, I ran into James and his mother. James wanted to know why Andrew was not going to his school any more. I told him that Andrew had not been happy. “I know,” he said. “He was always hiding from the teachers.”)
One recurring question among the parents I have talked to is: “Why don’t the teachers ever have anything good to say to us about our kids?” Perhaps a search for an answer to this question could answer many others.
A final word of contrast
Things luckily came to a head for us in time not to miss application deadlines for schools for next year. (I still fume when I think of what Thomas’s parents went through.) Meanwhile we were also lucky that Andrew’s old preschool (where he went as a three-year old and for summer) had opened a new location and had space to take him. The contrast between the two schools is instructive.
The first month of our return to the old school I mainly just basked in the soothing effect it was having on our entire family. Andrew was calming down. The children at the school were happy and did not have cliques. The teachers were engaged and attentive, but also relaxed and playful. The parents were not scheming against each other or the kids. They did not hover protectively over their children, but hung out and chatted. At the end of the day younger and older siblings, some of them former students, milled happily about. Andrew was allowed time and leeway to make his way into the new routine and the new group.
After the initial pleasure of joining a happy and healthy environment I started comparing the progress of the kids at the two schools. While at Hillside the focus was on endless repetition of Montessori tasks, here the preschoolers were going through a kindergarten curriculum with plenty of time left for free play. In addition to regular dance, tumbling, and yoga classes the kids did plenty of writing, science and art projects. There were regular field trips to museums. The teachers noted each child’s strengths, weaknesses, and progress. Heck, after a long day of work, they even found the energy to play tag with a bunch of rambunctious boys cooped up inside on a rainy day.
One teacher out of the blue one day said to me: “It is a pleasure to work with Andrew.” I could have kissed her hands for that. Not that I think working with my kid, or any kid, is a pleasure every moment of the day—not by a long shot! The comment said more about the teacher, and the school, than about my son. It explained why now Andrew not only does not avoid teachers but actively engages with them. One afternoon I watched as he and a teacher had a long talk about some problem. She talked. He talked. Then they arrived at an understanding. The teachers gently but actively worked on undoing the harm done to Andrew at the other school. But they did not make an issue of it.
Andrew now routinely comes home and talks about what he learned that day from which teacher. I see that he is for the first time developing teacher/student relationships. It is a pleasure and a relief to see that his formal education has finally begun—not at a self-absorbed elite school but an intelligent preschool run by competent and kind people.