Educational Choice: Why I worry about sending my daughter to public school

Many people don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about educational choice. Sometimes…I wish I were one of them.

I don’t mean to say that parents don’t worry about their child’s education or spend a great deal of time thinking about where they want to buy a home in order to be in a quality school district. I’m just saying most parents don’t think about their choices beyond those decisions.

I spend A LOT of time considering my options. Guess what? There’s a lot of options.

My therapist has mentioned that this may be what’s causing suffering for me- all the choices. Too many choices. I agree with her. But I also have real, personal concerns about public schooling right now. And that’s not easy for me to say because I love public education and I think it’s vital.

I’m a public school teacher by trade before I became a stay at home parent. My mom was a speech and language pathologist in public schools for 30+ years. Both my closest cousins went into public education. I love public education. And I also have some deep concerns about public education.

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First and foremost- I want to say something about teachers. Teachers are amazing. They should be paid $100,000/year for what they do for our most precious people. They do so much with so little and for very little. Most people go into education because they genuinely love children and care about education. Believe me, it’s not for summers off and paid holidays. Most teachers don’t make enough to take summers off and many teachers are still working on school holidays- I know I was!

This is not about teachers- this is about a big huge system that makes change at a snails pace and doesn’t have enough money, time, resources, support, and efficiency to run effectively. Teachers and students pay the biggest price for these issues. It’s why I became so disenchanted with public education and fear sending my children.

My biggest concerns-

  • The expectations are not developmentally appropriate. This is backed by tons of research and current best practices but it’s being ignored.
    • Behavioral expectations are not age appropriate (i.e., sitting in chairs at desks listening to lectures for far too long, short recess, short lunch, tons of transitions, too many students per class, too much focus on academics, not enough movement, etc.)
    • Academic expectations are not developmentally appropriate. We now teach kindergarteners what was originally taught in 2nd grade. They are now expected to write paragraphs with topic sentences by the end of kindergarten. There is so much pressure on non appropriate academics that the cut off date for starting school is an ever moving target. Kindergarten teachers now recommend red-shirting (or holding back) your child if their birthday is anytime after March the year before school starts. Most kids are turning 7 in kindergarten now.
    • Kindergarten used to be 1/2 day with early and late birds…it’s now a full day, 5 day/week program.
  • Parents are so concerned with the rigorous academic expectations that they are holding their children back from school so they can receive private tutoring to prepare them to read, write, and learn arithmetic their first year. And students are still failing at alarming rates. Many students, that are typically developing, are receiving remedial support and being pulled out from class due to these unrealistic expectations.
  • Students are being rigorously tested on a regular basis. Tests now start before school begins. All incoming kindergarteners are tested so that teachers can receive a baseline of all students. They are then tested again twice by October on math and reading. They are then pulled out for remedial support if needed. We then have standardized testing for which all students must prepare for.
  • All the testing and developmentally inappropriate expectations lead to a snowball effect in which there’s very little time for art, creativity, music, movement, recess, non-adult directed activities, project based learning, getting messy, and generally being a child.
  • There’s also no money for extracurricular activities like music, drama, language programs, character development, community based projects, etc.
  • There’s very little focus on the whole child. The child is not an empty pail to be filled with reading, writing, and math concepts to memorize. There’s very little need for children to spend such a huge amount of time memorizing formulas and facts when we have ready access to all that information at the touch of our fingers. There’s very little focus on teaching practices that help students deal with the world they live in- like mindfulness, environmentalism and conservation, character development, resiliency, emotional intelligence, public speaking, working in groups and teams, collaboration, budgeting and real world mathematic application, critical thinking, problem solving, entrepreneurship, internet etiquette and growing up with social media, social skills, conflict resolution, human behavior, psychology, computer skills like coding, building skills like imagination and creativity, spirituality and world religions, tolerance, languages etc.
  • We’re no longer preparing children for the world they will live in. The old formula doesn’t work anymore. The idea that you focus on academics in grade school, graduate with good grades, go to a good college, get a degree, get a good job with benefits and stay in that job till you retire is out of date. Most people I graduated college with are not working in their field. Most couldn’t get jobs with a bachelors degree and many are struggling to find jobs in their field with masters degrees. The money people are making in these so-called “good jobs” isn’t enough to afford a home or the cost of living increase. Most people are changing jobs and moving between states and even countries more than they ever did before. We live in a more accessible world now. Everything we would ever need to learn or remember is always available on the internet. You can take Yale and Harvard classes for free online. You can open an Etsy store and make millions selling boot socks. People are traveling the world writing blogs, selling online courses, and pinning on pinterest.

Now…are most people making millions on Etsy or writing blogs? No. But the world is changing more rapidly in the past 10 years than it has in the 100 before that. And we’re always at a disadvantage in trying to prepare children for an ever changing future that we can’t even imagine. We’ll struggle with this even more as technology advances at higher speeds. It doesn’t mean we continue with the status quo because it’s easier or because we’re dealing with a huge cumbersome system that can’t keep up.

Some schools, some teachers, some districts are doing amazing things. They are forging ahead and breaking walls down and completely revamping the way we do school. I commend them for trying and making such quick change.

I’m of the school of thought that less is more.

 

Let’s children be children. They have their whole lives to be stressed about jobs, responsibilities, economies, etc. Let them move their bodies, play, climb, run, and dance. Let them be creative and express themselves. Allow them opportunities to make mistakes and cultivate their natural interest and hunger for knowledge. Make learning engaging and interesting. Research supports programs that encompass the whole child and multiple areas of interest (outside of core academics). Such programs actually increase scores on academic standardized assessments. Children learn valuable, translatable skills in play.

So as we get closer and closer to the age where we must decide what we’re going to do with little bean and kindergarten- I will keep you updated on our choice.

For now, we’re considering homeschool hybrid programs, homeschooling, private schools, and the like. Not everyone has those choices and I understand that public school is one of the best choices for most families. I’m just expressing my concerns and ideas for the future of education. It all starts with a conversation.

Having another baby: Mental Illness

So B and I have been discussing having another baby since little one was only 8 months or so.

It seemed like such a good idea to me at the time, she wasn’t walking or crawling quite yet and the moon and stars were still hung by me- we hadn’t quite hit any challenging phases yet (if you don’t count the first few months when no one sleeps and your hoohaw still feels like you birthed a Mack truck)!

Then we she started moving, I started my period again (ugh), and we probably went through more awful teething or some first illness and it was like- whoa, who ever thought more than one child was a thing?!

Then we fell into a nice routine, we hit 15 months and I worried we spawned a demon for a bit, and then it never seemed like a good time…

And here we are now…

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Our daughter is almost 4.5 years old. She will be going to Montessori school after the holidays, either 3 or 4 days a week, and I’ve been feeling the baby fever like crazy.

So what’s the hold up, right? I mean it’s never really a good time, just go for it. It’s not like my oldest won’t be over 5 years old before there’s another one….

Mental illness has a lot to do with it. I have pretty significant depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. Most people don’t talk about stuff like that…I’ve never been on of those people. I mean, I don’t go telling complete strangers…oh wait, I just did! Ha! I’m not hung up about the stigma because the more I’ve chatted with people about this the more I’ve found others struggle with the same issues.

I have done tons of work on my self and many of my struggles have gotten a lot easier. I’ve been in therapy on and off for over 14 years working on trauma, tools for the depression and anxiety and parenting too! I also have done energy work, spiritual work, 12 steps for various self medicating addictions, and tons of workshops and programs with dietitians, life coaches, energy workers, and self help peeps. It’s all helped and I take what works and leave the rest. I’ve developed quite a tool kit!

I’ve also stated working with a great psychiatric nurse and my medications and diagnosis have really come together and I’m in such a good place.

This is why having another baby is such a tough decision. It’s truly a sacrifice worth making but it’s a hard decision to decide when to go off medications and how, get off birth control which helps me with hormone issues and migraines and take the leap.

Like most people, I also have a family to consider. I’m not having a baby in a vacuum. My husband also struggles with combat related PTSD, depression, anxiety, and addictions. He’s also done a ton of work and is in a really good place too.

All signs point to yes but also to no-

See when things are good it can be easy to think…

Wow, things are going so well…maybe we should [fill in the blank]…

The problem with this formula is that things are usually good because there’s a whole delicate system in place. Making changes alters that system and each change has major effects on the system as a whole!

Will we have another baby…most likely! I still feel someone missing from our family and the sacrifice we made in our treatment plans and life plans in general was so worth it!! But just know that if you’re family isn’t perfect…no ones is! Even when things look good, we have no idea what people are doing to achieve that harmony. And no idea if that harmony is even the real deal.

So advice for myself and anyone in the same boat??

Deep breath. Talk to your support team. Make sure you see your doctor, therapist and psych before stopping any medicine (made the mistake of stopping some routine meds this week without support and that was a big eye opener). And take your time. I truly believe that things happen the way they do for a reason. All the things that have happened or not happened in my life have taught me huge lessons. I’m grateful for it all- even my flaws.

Much love

Balance…it’s hard to find

Lately, I’ve been feeling it. And by “it”, I mean fried. I started noticing little signs after I took my daughter out of the Mother’s Day Out program she was in last week. At first it was little things like feeling way more tired than I normally do. Then it was noticing how much I was on my phone. A few days later I noticed how I was trying to find things to do around the house (i.e., laundry, dishes, making calls, changing appointments, organizing drawers, etc.).

Now let me say here that my daughter has been home with me since her birth. We tried a mothers day out (which is a part-time preschool program, usually run in churches 2-3 days a week) when she was 16 months for a few months and took her out because one of the sweet old grandmas was yelling at her for crying when I dropped her off. She must have been yelling at her throughout the day because she hated going to school and started crying when I put her in the car even on days we didn’t have school. It was awful. We put her in another program at a different church last year and they only had 1 day a week, she loved it! She stayed the whole year. We decided to keep her there and try 3 days a week this year and it didn’t go as well. A couple things factored into our decision-

  1. She’s an August baby and she misses school age cut offs by like 10 days or something. Preschools also follow this rule and therefore she’s in the class with children a year younger than her. It didn’t seem as much an issue one day a week because she enjoyed playing with new toys and being outside with other children. It was way more of an issue this year when she’s 4 and her classmates are 3 years old and she was going more days.
  2. The school also started enforcing mandatory naps, which they didn’t do last year. My child hasn’t napped most days since 20 months old. This was a big problem for her. They have the children all lay on their cots for a full hour. They will give quiet activities but an hour is still a long time to miss mama.
  3. They also changed assistants in the first month of school and there’s a new director so things are run a little differently this year. Not bad or good and staff turnover is what it is but it’s always hard on young kiddos. It’s even been hard on the mamas!
  4. She also had one teacher on Mondays and a different teacher on T/TH. I knew this going in and was a tad worried about it but I think on top of all the rest of the changes- it was too much!

So with all those reasons- we decided to take her out. We stuck with it for a good few months. She started crying on nights before school and being super clingy at drop off. Then she started getting upset on non-school days, worried she was going to school. That’s when we dropped Mondays because I thought 2 different teachers was just too much for her to handle. A few weeks later we decided I would pick her up before nap time because she was just really resisting going to school every day and I worried it was the hour rest time. Things seemed better for a while but she was still arguing quite often about school days and there were still tears and morning hesitation. It just seemed like so much work for me…and her…and frankly, it just didn’t seem worth forcing it on her. It’s an inexpensive program than we payed for because we thought she’d enjoy playing with children and being outdoors and yes, I’d get a break to run errands and take care of the home sans kiddo. That wasn’t really happening. The final nail was a classmate’s birthday party where all her classmates attended. My mom took her and she shared that it was pretty obvious that she was older than the rest of the kids. She just didn’t have much in common and playing was challenging because they just weren’t interested in playing the same things or the same way. That was all I needed to decide to pull her out.

So long story- but the end result was being home each day with my little one again. Which has been the norm for most of her life.

But this time felt different.

And I had no idea what had changed. Why did I suddenly feel like I made a horrible mistake? Why am I feeling trapped and super touched out all the sudden? Why am I feeling differently about full-time stay at home momming now than a few years ago?

I spoke with everyone I trusted…my husband. My mama. My therapist.

I read and searched for information online.

Was it stress? Was I getting sick? Was I wanting to go back to work full-time? Part-time? Was I done with extended breastfeeding? Co-sleeping? Did I need a month off in the South of France?

The conclusion I came to last night….it’s little bit of all that and a big fat side of LACK OF BALANCE!

So yes, my parenting style leans heavily towards attachment parenting. I’ve written about it here on my blog. It wasn’t a choice as much as a natural inclination when my daughter was born, before her birth really. I wanted to be close to her and meet her needs when she had them. This all made perfect sense to me when she was a baby. The changes and transitions were more subtle when she was an older baby. She was becoming more independent. I set appropriate boundaries for safety and behavior but I still largely spent all my time with her and there wasn’t much space. I was still ok with it (I thought). But something probably started happening and shifting for me when she was around 8-9 months old. I can now see some real early signs of wariness. These were the initial signs of burn out but I couldn’t really tell.

I wasn’t really balanced then. I needed more space but I wasn’t giving it to myself. I wasn’t noticing my needs, I couldn’t quite identify them even. I thought my agitation and frustration (mostly all inner at the point and directed towards my poor husband) was due to social needs not being met. Or needing a new food plan. Maybe I needed to lose more weight. Or start working out. Or I was depressed. Or maybe I needed to find a hobby or part-time work. This is where my brain goes every time I start feeling unbalanced but I didn’t know it at the time. I start way overanalyzing and I swing the pendulum in the opposite direction and I did all those things mentioned. I started working out and walking. I started a new food plan. I lost more weight. I started looking for ways to make money from home. I joined baby and me classes to make friends. I felt worse than ever!!

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Then as she got even older I was feeling even less balanced. Still unaware of my imbalance or where it’s coming from. My marriage was struggling even more, since life was so imbalanced…so was my marriage. No dates, hardly moments for us to share in alone time together. No marital bed. Hardly any sex. Yeah…it was a laundry list of responsibilities and tons of family time…and you can really start to see the picture more clearly now. Even more imbalanced. I started to feel some clues that I needed more physical space and I started day weaning the little one. That helped. We also moved and I made new mama friends with a great group of friends. That helped. Still not quite balanced but things got much better.

Still with the imbalance quietly raging in the background…my brain was burning a mile a minute trying to find the solution to a problem I wasn’t quite sure about…

Maybe we need more money. Maybe we need more vacations. Maybe we need more alone time. Maybe we need more couple time. Maybe we need more counseling. Maybe I need to find a job. Exhausting, right?? YES!

This all shot out of me like Pompeii the past few weeks. It was like a pressure cooker that couldn’t hold it’s lid one more second. When I brought my daughter home those few measly days and hours of alone time vanished. With it went my sanity, my rest, my peace, my no one is talking to me moments, and no one is touching me moments…and I had a mini-panic attack. I didn’t realize how much I valued this new found freedom and space. I didn’t realize until it was gone. And then…it became glaringly obvious as I spoke it out and processed my panic with my people. Yes, I could see clearly now how out of balance we had all gotten.

To be continued…

California native raising babies (and myself) in the south…part 1

So I’ve been wanting to talk about this topic for a while and I’m still sorting it all out because, obviously, my experience is ongoing. But the single act of living in Tennessee has changed and continues to change me…and honestly, I think for the better.

Super short back story- I was born and raised in southern California. My parents are both from Minnesota and are both from very politically active, liberalish, Catholic families. I say liberalish because they were progressive about certain things and not others. Anyway- I was raised by parents who left Catholicism and moved to the San Diego area. My dad pursued eastern spirituality when I was a child and my mom generally believes in being a good person and doing no harm. My mom is very socially liberal and a firm democrat and my dad used to be a democrat who turned libertarian. He’s very liberal about women’s health and anti-war. He’s very fiscally conservative and believes in a very small government.

I grew up to be very socially and politically liberal and progressive. Maybe it’s because of my childhood attending elementary school in the barrio where I was one of 10% of white kids in a dual language immersion program. Maybe it’s because my cousin is adopted my South Korea. Or my other cousin who has Down syndrome. Maybe it’s because I was raised in a household where I was given the opportunity to learn about many faiths, many different forms of spirituality and exposed to many immigrants and cultures. Maybe being raised in a home that taught healthy sexuality and accepted my sexuality as part of being human and honored my choice to be sexually active without shame had something to do with it. Or my utilization of planned parenthood as a teen. Maybe it’s because I experienced being raped in college and went through the struggle of health screenings, STD testing, and waiting to see if I was pregnant. Maybe because I dated women for 6 years and was engaged to my college sweetheart, Janna. Maybe because I taught English in China and traveled extensively. Maybe because of my parents’ values and what they passed down to me.

Who really knows fully how we form our values, our political views and our beliefs…I think they are formed over time and through experience and they can change!!

I met my husband online. He’s a marine from a rural town in Ohio. His family is very similar to mine and yet they have very different beliefs, politically and socially. They vote very differently from me and my family. My husband and I share many socially progressive views but we don’t agree on many things too- like gun regulations.

I never imagined I would be living or raising kids in Tennessee. We were looking for a change, California is incredibly expensive and my husband missed many of the outdoor activities, space and seasons of Ohio. I was becoming disenchanted with my job as a teacher and I thought I might finish my masters at Vanderbilt. So we visited Nashville…for like a hot second in spring and fell in love.

So we moved!!

I got accepted to Vanderbilt’s coveted special education masters program with a full scholarship and monthly stipend, B got transferred to the Nashville VA and we started our life here in the south.

I think in the back of my mind I always thought this adventure was temporary and when I was done with school and found my way in a new career, we’d move back to California. That’s not what happened.

Both B and I hit rock bottom psychologically, shortly after moving here. I think some old baggage caught up with us and for me, just moving away from my entire safety net, my family and being somewhere so new and different sent me for a tail spin.

I decided not to pursue the masters program at Vanderbilt. HARDEST DECISION OF MY LIFE. I realized I was just chasing a fix to a deeper issue- trying to run towards “greener grass”, which TN has tons of that… not quite the type I was looking for though…

It was a tough and dark time to say the least.

I joined 12 step and B sought help through the VA.

And then…we got pregnant.

To be continued….