So the Montclair kindergarten assignments have gone out. You’re either elated you got your first choice or disappointed you didn’t. Even if you got your first or second choice, you’re probably wondering: Who will my child’s teacher be? Will it be a good fit? Will my child succeed?
All valid questions and I’m here to remind you: Stop freaking out.
The truth is, whether your get what you want or not, this is just the first step. Thus, there is plenty of time to freak out.
Spend your energy instead on loving your children. Getting them out in nature. Going on joy rides to nowhere. Impromptu adventures. Soon summer will be over and the opportunity will end. School begins and the structure and routine that is necessary will ensue.
Contrary to conventional wisdom and practice, anticipatory anxiety is not the greatest motivator. Worrying about getting the right school or the right teacher is not helpful. And later, just getting to the next grade or scoring well on a test should not be the point.
Look, I know how you might be feeling. When my oldest entered kindergarten I was a mess—for more reasons than just my own separation anxiety. I didn’t agree with his teacher’s philosophy. I stayed out if it as much as I could—it was especially difficult because this is what I do. I train future teachers.
I have some pretty radical ideas about education. Which include (and research asserts) the idea young children learn best through play, exploration and inquiry. Also, there’s an important difference between education and schooling.
I challenge you to broaden your notion of “good education” to include meaningful experiences that give your child the opportunity to gain knowledge and skills to become an independent, critical thinker. If we stay stuck on schooling we succumb to the notion that our only goal for our children is getting a good job. Not unimportant, but limited in scope, for sure.
Now before you judge me as a liberal with an outdated hippie philosophy. I certainly believe in routine and structure and I am not beyond behavioral charts and bribery to get students to conform. What I am arguing is that conformity and compliance should not be the sole goal. So stop freaking out about school. It is not the end, it’s the beginning.
And guess what. I exercised my right and choice to switch school environments after my son’s first year in the school where he was placed. We’re happier at our new school but my job wasn’t, isn’t over. It is a fantasy to think that if we get the “right” school or the “right” placement that everything will be perfect.
In both school environments I had to pay attention and help my child conform to the expectations put on him in school. And I made sure his teachers didn’t skip over his gifts (which can be easy to do when you have 25 plus little one running around, have you tried it?) I made it my job to remind them of his creativity, his sense of curiosity and his imagination. I challenged a one dimensional view of him as a dreamy kid.
You can do the same thing, and in this culture and climate, that is certainly a privilege. And the truth is, if you’re middle class, any of the problems of uninspired or mediocre teaching you might encounter will likely be ameliorated through the privileges you enjoy– travel, quality children’s literature, healthy diets, fresh air, recreation…
Your school choices will not save you from the challenges ahead. It is still your job to pay attention after the school assignments go out and after you find out if you got the “good” teacher.
With that said, here’s some advice:
- Let your child develop his or her own relationship with their teacher. The ones that come off as cooky or with no social skills with adults can be the best with kids.
- Ask your kid questions and praise them for their curiosity and questioning. Notice when they are thinking critically, not only when they get a right answer.
- Meet with the teacher in person– it humanizes you and it humanizes them. Teachers are not your servants. And you shouldn’t be seen as a threat. You both have the best interests of your child at heart.
- Pay attention to the demands put on the teachers in the district. Pay attention to the administrators and how they treat the teachers. Pay attention to how the teachers treat your child.
If after you’ve given it time and space and let your child have his or her own journey at the school where they are placed, then, by all means, you have permission to freak out. And DO something about it. In the meantime, enjoy your summer and save the freaking out for later when your child really needs you to.
Eloiza Jorge, MA, CPC, is an educator and coach. A Montclair native, she can be spotted around town leading dance classes at the Y, picking up her kids from school, or running to teach a class at MSU. She coaches clients from her home office. You can find her online at deepeningwisdom.com