You know what I think is fantastic? I think that it is fantastic that for social studies this week, we can do a week worth of lessons on Mardi Gras. I think it is even more fantastic that going to parades tonight, MY FIRST EVER, serves as a field trip for Social Studies. We have learned the history of Mardi Gras so far this week, along with traditions, symbols, and vocabulary. We will be making King Cakes and shoe box floats. And yesterday we went and got our costumes for Mardi Gras Day! Well, Cleo and I did. My husband couldn’t find a masculine plain white mask. He won’t tell me whether he is going as Jason or Mike Myers (am not a horror girl so I have no clue who anyone is except Freddy Kruger), a mime, or some guy wearing a white mask 🙂
It is amazing to me the difference that I am seeing in my daughter. She is now sleeping through the night. She is smiling and laughing more. It is like all of her worries have been lifted off of her and she is a different person. Now, I realize I should have known this was going to happen as she did say going to that school was like being a paper back and having all of the air smashed out of it, but I didn’t realize, really, how deeply this was affecting her. I am really happy for her.
One of the things that I find absolutely interesting, however, is to see that she was getting A’s in math, but she is not at a third grade math level. What I find even more interesting, however is that some of the concepts that she should have learned last year in 2nd grade, where she also earned As, are concepts that she struggles with to fully understand. I find this really disheartening. Really, really disheartening.
So, back to basics we go, because I want her to understand these concepts so she can understand OTHER concepts. It’s important, even when she rolls her eyes at me and asks why in the world she has to review the stuff she already knows.
We went as far back as to telling time. She likes to do the digital thing, and now I know why, because she never fully grasped the telling of time. The concepts get jumbled in her head. I can appreciate this, I am 32 and cannot tell my left hand from my right. It’s the little quirks that make us, right? BUT, telling time is definitely essential because not everywhere she goes will there be a digital clock. Everywhere I go, however, I can lift my hand and find which side makes the L 🙂
Here are two poems that I had Cleo write down:
The Clock Poem
I’m in the clock crew and I’m okay!
I tick all night and I tick all day.
I’ve got two hands, I’m having a ball,
Because I’ve got no arms at all!
My big hand can move sixty minutes in one hour,
I’m the one with the strength and power.
My small hand isn’t quite as fast.
If they were in a race, it would come last!
It takes so long just to get around (12 hours you know),
It’s careful, small, and slow.
Now meet my friends that help me tick-tock,
Half past, quarter past, quarter to and o’clock.
(to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus”)
The hands on the clock go round and round,
Round and round, round and round.
The hands on the clock go round and round.
To tell us the time.
The short hand on the clock
Goes from number to number,
Number to number, number to number.
The short hand on the clock
Goes from number to number.
To tell us the time.
The long hand on the clock
Goes around by fives,
Around by fives, around by fives.
The long hand on the clock
Goes around by fives.
To tell us the minutes.
Writing these down seemed to do the trick for her!
I am sending off my application for a homeschooling group in the area. They do a lot of wonderful things and really provide an outstanding social environment for the children. Cleo is an old woman in a child’s body. She has been through a lot of rough stuff. I want her to have kids to just be kids with, no matter the age. She needs to learn to like to get dirty and play in the mud and have fun! So that is the next challenge I am tackling.
All in all, though, the decision to homeschool has been a good one. We are all much more relaxed – Cleo not suffering from being the odd white girl out and some of the harassment that goes with that, me not worrying about Cleo all of the time.
I’m Catholic, not quite non-practicing, not quite practicing. I have issues with some of the doctrine of the Catholic church and it has been quite some time since I have attended mass, though I have sought counsel with a priest when I was facing one of my more difficult times in life. My daughter has religious education free of dogma and I don’t believe that I NEED to gather with a bunch of people of my same faith in order to have a relationship with God.
Another thing that I’m not is an uber-conservative. I am pretty liberal, actually, empathetic perhaps. I don’t really subscribe to one political ideology and have voted both conservative and liberal, but I have no real ties within the religious right that guide me in my decision making process. I don’t agree with the two party system, nor do I agree with bailing out for the sake of bailing out, or voting based on what the church tells you to. That’s just me. Life isn’t black and white, and I tend to live in the gray.
After much thought, I have decided that I am going to homeschool my daughter. There, I said it out loud to someone other than my friends, so now it is real. Why did I bring up my religious and political beliefs? Because I didn’t want the basis of my decision to be lost on the stereotype that tends to follow homeschooled parents around: ultra-conservative and very religious. My decision is based upon the fact that: 1. New Orleans public school system is a disaster 2. More specifically, the Recovery School District is a disaster 3. With the exception of a handful of schools, the schools are a disaster 4. I value my daughter’s education.
Somewhere between the pro and the anti propaganda lies the truth about homeschooling. I’m a middle ground kind of girl – see religious and political beliefs – so I choose to take that as I go into this venture. It isn’t something I went into lightly. I did my research. I compared teaching models and curriculum. I spoke with people who had both positive and negative experiences homeschooling. And I weighed the pros and cons of keeping her in the particular school she was attending while in the Recovery School District, and the pros of homeschooling her far outweighed the pros of not.
There are some things that I am still researching and a few people I plan on contacting about their experiences and recommendations, but to homeschool is the final decision made at the end of the day. I do wonder, though, how many have chosen this option (if it is even an option with the fact that so many families need two incomes to survive) because the schools lack a lot of things down here, the good ones are impossible to get into and waiting lisst extend out what seems endlessly, and private school simply is not an option for them?
Another point of interest, at least to me, is that back in the small area in Wisconsin I spent most of my life, many people I went to school with have opted to homeschool their children and the education system doesn’t face nearly as many challenges as ours in New Orleans. Are more people simply deciding to take control of their children’s education?
I have decided to create another blog, though, to chronicle my adventures in homeschooling. Mostly as a reference clearinghouse for myself, but to share my struggle with the decision and the steps I have taken. I’m not only a list maker, but I’m a chronicler too. 🙂
In this post, I discuss the observations that I have made while volunteering at my daughter’s school. Some of the observations were disturbing, some disheartening, and just plain frightening to me, not only as a mother, but someone relatively new to the “public school system” in New Orleans. I’ve been in the unique situation to speak to both teachers and parents about the apparent disconnect between school, staff, parent, and child and really wanted to do something about it¹ and I created a proposal to start a Parent Association at my daughter’s school. I even volunteered my efforts to its creation and implementation.
I spent a great deal of time researching urban education models and parent associations and the comparisons of a parent association to the PTO/PTA model. I also spend a great deal of time researching the effectiveness of parent associations, particularly in urban communities and in communities that are under-funded, unfortunately something that generally goes hand-in-hand. This isn’t a concept new to the school, as it was mentioned previously by a school social worker and the principal to meet with them about getting this going. Currently, our school has nothing – no PTO, no parent association, nor a parent teacher liason that actually does their job. ²
I received a response yesterday denying the creation of my proposed parent assocation. I was told that an administrator would have to be involved and that currently, the school was not ready for this internally.
You have a parent here who is trying to make a difference in your school, reduce the complaints of staff being over-worked, and helping parents, teachers, and students be on the same path for a better education and you are denying the creation of such a powerful tool? Come again? It has nothing to do with budget. This parent association wouldn’t require one single cent of the school’s funding.
My proposed parent association would not be a fund-raising effort. There needs to be a base of support outside of school administration for parents and children before fund-raising could even be considered, and in an urban area full of crime like New Orleans, I don’t think selling candy bars is really a great idea. That point was met with agreement, actually. Essentially, the proposal included real support for students and teachers like a homeroom parent³, school-wide newsletter produced regularly informing parents on important things like days off from school well in advance, progress the school is making, and upcoming events. Currently, parents are given a note a few days before school is scheduled to be out, the date of LEAP test hasn’t been communicated, and we have no idea why there are people walking around the school with blue prints and visitor passes. Weekly newsletters from teachers letting parents know what will be expected for homework the coming week, so there can be no excuses of not knowing what the homework assignments are for, or letting parents know of class achievements and recognition of students doing well that week. If it were not for the fact that I volunteer in my daughter’s classroom, I would not know most of the children in her class. Quite frankly, I believe that is tragic.
Small steps that could mean so much.
Do schools REALLY want parents to get involved, as they cheer-lead in orientations before school starts, or do they really want to be in charge of it all and hope that parents will simply comply with the status quo?
School by Supertramp
1. Because I am foolish and have this whole save the world to make it a better place complex.
2. The same staff member I talking about smacking her child aside the head.
3. Something the school sent sign up forms for in September and have yet to do anything about the information they collected.
I remember the day that my husband and I loaded up our car and moved South. Both of us had been entangled in really bad marriages previous to one another – his dealing with a manipulative gold digger – mine dealing with an abusive control freak. His ended years before mine did, mine ended soon after my mother died, when I fled my former family home with nothing but a garbage bag with clothes in it, staying from couch-to-couch for a few weeks here and there, until I found a very, very modest apartment that I could afford on the minimum wage salary I was making, a consequence of being a stay-at-home mother for far too long to be taken seriously in the workforce.
We left Wisconsin on a hope and a dream, planning to reclaim our individual lives, planting the seed of what would become our collaborative life. We loaded our little car up with all those things we cherished – books, photos, music, a kick ass sound system, and our clothes – and hit the road for a twenty-two hour car ride, without stops, to land in New Orleans. This had been one of the most impulsive decisions I have made in my life, one necessary if I were to ever have peace from the demon that haunted my life for a decade. We stayed in a boarding house, not wanting to have an obligation to a lease for a house in a neighborhood that we knew nothing about, and shortly we moved into a house, furnishing it little-by-little, until we made it a home. When the children joined us, as planned, the rebuilding of our life was complete. A little piece of that was swept away, however, when it was ordered in Wisconsin that my youngest two would have to split time between New Orleans and Wisconsin with a father that placed a call once every few months, but who had an attorney (and his future father-in-law) that was not only of the state of Wisconsin family law committee, but also the Godfather to the Court Commissioners oldest child. Add into that equation the refusal to hear Louisiana-based testimony, and you have a situation bound to cause heartache.
We adjusted, though, my oldest daughter enjoying becoming an only child for most of the year. We got involved in her school. We laughed. We cried. We went through really hard times. We dealt with my health issues, an intrusive mother-in-law a few beads short of a full necklace, and my daughter’s Asperger Syndrome. In many ways, it has been an adventure, really starting out as a young couple, ready to conquer the world. In many ways we are still that young couple, with my husband searching for a job that utilizes his law degree, and me waiting patiently to take the Para Pro test to get a job in the RSD as a Teacher Assistant, and then, one day a teacher.
Those who know me tell me how strong I am, amazed at the things I have lived through to talk about, proud of holding my head up high, not allowing myself to be a victim or to make excuses, but accepting life for what it has been, and always holding onto hope. They have given me credit for my emotional strength, the quiet grace I hold myself in when things seem the darkest. They have admired that when life has demanded it, I have rallied and fought, winning in one way or another.
I’m not exactly sure of the answer so early this morning, as I ready my daughter to begin another day at public school, a school I wish she didn’t go to, but am thankful it is one of the better ones if she has to. I wonder if this is my failure or if it is a testament to my naive-nature, simply being happy with what I have and not longing for a whole lot more. It is an attitude instilled into me at a young age by my Irish father and my English mother, something they wanted to appear in their only American-born child, so she never forgot where she came from, so she never became like the children of their friends – spoiled and thankless, feeling entitled, forgetting the importance of family.
I sit here on the sidelines of my life this morning, after experiencing a truly traumatic event, and wonder if it is really that I am strong, or that I have done what I have needed to do to survive. Is it really that I am content with the little things, or am I merely complacent as to not have any hopes dashed to the floor when they are not realized by life, only little longings in my mind? Or perhaps I am simply thinking too much this morning, a direct consequence from experiencing a violation in the place I escaped with high hopes and dreams for a different life, a better life, a happier life and little to no sleep.
Recently, I spent an extra day volunteering in my daughter’s classroom. I arrived and nine and stayed until school dismissal, helping with the lessons of the day, explaining new vocabulary words, trying to correct bad habits like “We be doing this lesson, Mrs. M”, and generally observing. I love my time in the classroom with the kids. I really do.
That being said, while wondering the halls and inside the class, there are a few observations that I made that were disturbing to me. I know if I have observed them, others have as well. If others have observed them, why aren’t they as shocked as I am?
1. I observed teachers text messaging while walking their students down the hall, in the middle of classes, and while students waited to ask their teachers questions. This didn’t happen in the classroom I was in, as the teacher felt the same way about this as I did, however it was happening enough for me to notice and to be highly annoyed.
2. I heard one teacher share personal information with the class about one of her students. The door was open, so anyone passing by could have heard this as well. It dealt with the children confessing to abuse at home, and now the police were getting involved. This should be a good thing, right? Well, according to this teacher it is not, and she instructed her students to not tell anyone anything that happens at home because you could easily be taken away from your parents. (I. WAS. SHOCKED.)
3. I heard various teachers yelling throughout the day at their students, cutting them down, asking “What is wrong with you children?” and singling students out. I saw a few students reduced to tears, then scolded for showing any type of emotion.
4. I witnessed a mother, a school employee, come into the classroom when her son was completely out-of-line and smack him across the back of the head, telling him to answer a question, threatening that if he didn’t she would embarrass him in front of the whole class. (Granted, this child was being a discipline problem, but did that really have to happen?)
5. I witnessed a volunteer from one of the colleges disrespect the teacher during a discussion on slavery, telling the teacher that she was absolutely wrong, and that black people did have a write to be angry at the white people in the United States because we took advantage of them. The teacher was trying to explain England’s role in slavery. It should be noted that the volunteer does not come in to volunteer in class, but to serve as a reading buddy for one of the students, and is only at the class door while waiting to get the student and while bringing the student back to class.
6. I witnessed a teacher become so angry at a student that he threw a project that he made across the room, breaking it, telling the student that he was now going to get an F, when the student did amazing on the project, the teacher was just at his wit’s end for the day.
7. I witnessed the amount of supplies that teacher’s buy for their own classroom, everyday supplies, that the school does not reimburse them for.
8. I witnessed the sub par offering that RSD considers a decent hot meal for lunch. Every lunch, with the exception of two served occasionally, consists of something over white rice. Still trying to figure out if that is a regional thing or if that is a way the RSD tries to save money.
9. I witnessed four fights. Each boy trying to prove how hard he was to the other. Each boy targeting a much, much smaller kid.
10. I witnessed a social worker really get through to a kid by relating to him on his terms. I heard the whole conversation from the hallway, however, instead of meeting the kid in private where they could talk about what was really going on.
11. The granddaddy of them all, to me anyway, is when my class was getting their science homework. The workbooks were passed out, mostly because the students do not have room in their desks with all of the LEAP textbooks and workbooks they are given, and they were discussing the homework as a class. One student raised his hand and when called on, he told the teacher his workbook already had writing in it. The teacher responded, “We didn’t get new books this year, so you are just going to have to ignore their answers.”
Call me naive. Perhaps maybe I am a bit to the workings of an inner city school, but can’t they at least provide the children with workbooks each year so they can actually learn? I understand the importance of the LEAP test and what the data means for the school, but do we really want our children to fall further behind in things they should currently be learning because “We didn’t get new books this year?”
Anyway, some observations made that were odd enough to impact me for the day.
Elizabeth Wurtzel annoys me. Really, she just does. Right now I am sentenced to reading each of her books and to get through them has been a pain-stakingly difficult process. I just want to tell her to buck up, make better decisions, and quit action like she is the voice of my generation because, dammit, she is not MY voice, nor is she or was she ever the voice of my friends. Excuses, excuses. That is all that I am reading. Someone needed to really hand her a life where she didn’t have the opportunity to make excuses, but had to be busy living so she could survive. It isn’t that I don’t understand mental health or mental illness or addiction. I DO. It’ s just every book, every essay, and every article is the exact same thing.
Yes, I am over-dosed on Elizabeth Wurtzel at the moment.
Class today was great. The kids were so excited to see me today and gave me a great welcome back. I helped them with geometry, learning about symmetry, and did some correction of English – work on commas. I leave the classroom with a full heart, despite some of the difficulties and problems I witness, I always do. I am excited to go back tomorrow. Tomorrow is creative writing.
I thought it was interesting that the kids were talking about the murder of Wendy Byrne. Half the class is split that the parent’s turned the children in because it was the right thing to do, the other half believed the parents were sick of dealing with the children and didn’t want them anymore so that is why they turned them in. I think that is interesting, though I am too tired to look at what that really means. Another interesting thing happened today. My daughter came up to give me a hug and one of her classmates that has taken a particular shining towards me asked, “Do you guys do that a lot? Hug?” I told him that yes we do. He then told me that his family doesn’t. That broke my heart. I told him that my family wasn’t very affectionate either, which is why I make sure I am affectionate with my children. I told him that he would have to make sure he did that with his kids. He said he was never going to have kids, not with how crazy the world was. I thought that was very astute from a nine year old, and a bit sad, too.
I am reading a book on human trafficking written by Linda Smith, who served in the U.S House of Representatives for Washington state, and founded of Shared Hope, International. Shared Hope, International is an organization founded to fight human trafficking, being inspired by a trip to India and seeing young girls caged up and sold for sex. Her organization has done a lot of work. In reading the book, a short little number, it is difficult not to cringe as she describes what she has seen. If you can get past the calling-from-God-isms that she writes about here and there in the book, I suggest going to the Shared Hope website and request your free copy. More needs to be done. I am currently reading more about human trafficking in the United States, particularly in Louisiana, and the things that I am learning – it is disgusting that people are treated this way.
My daughter was very sweet tonight and left a card on my bed for me. It was a thank you card and inside she wrote:
“Mom, Thank you for loving me so much and everything you do from cheering me up to making me smile. I love you like a puppy and will take care of you every day. Love E”
I totally needed that tonight, as I was a tad bit cranky. I have the best daughter. I really do.
Like a superhero transforming from Joe Dirt to Captain Crankypants in a telephone booth, every Wednesday and Thursday, for an hour and a half, I transform from Amy to Mrs. M. I don’t become a superhero, not in the traditional sense, but I become a teaching assistant – volunteering my time to my daughter’s classroom, helping students, helping teacher, and helping myself. I first suggested this when I saw how daunting the task of public school teacher was in the New Orleans public schools. I wanted to help. I wanted to be involved. My daughter’s teacher graciously took me up on my offer and for the past semester I have been explaining, teaching, leading, and caring. Sometimes I help with group projects, other times I correct papers. Once in a while I get in front of the class and lead.
It can be frustrating at times, don’t get me wrong. I have broken up a couple of fights. I have had to raise my voice and do the countdown that, at home, means trouble is brewing and mom has gotten in touch with her Irish side. I have had to stare down a boy that told me he was grown and could do what he wanted. And a few thought they could get away with things, not realizing I was always a step ahead of them. There were a few times I cried, like when I saw a mother punch her son in the chest in the hallway when she came to pick him up. Sometimes I have felt that whether I was there or not didn’t make a difference to the kids – some were past the point of breaking.
And then today happened.
For the past two weeks, I haven’t made it to assist in class. I was dealing with a lot of really heavy issues, along with some chronic pain that crescendoed to being unbearable and left me stuck in bed most of the week.
Today was the first day that I had picked my daughter up from school, trudging up the stairs to the entrance, then the stairs to her classroom. I waited patiently outside the classroom door, not wanting to be one of those parents that felt that since I was there to pick her up, instruction automatically ended. Finally, it was time for class to end and I popped my head in the door. I was greated with a chorus of “Mrs. M!” “Mrs. M!”
“Hey Mom!” my daughter greeted me, handing me a yellow envelope.
To: Mrs. M
From: Ms. S and Class
I checked in with Ms. S quickly, letting her now that I would be there on Wednesday and was feeling pretty good.
My daughter and I walked down the steps to the exit, then the many of steps until the sidewalk, chit chatting about her day, what she had to suffer through for lunch, and the homework she needed to do before I would let her finish reading Charolette’s Web when she asked what was in the card.
I opened the card up, read it, and tears instantly fell down my cheeks. Those who know me well will tell you I tear up, but not often do the tears actually fall. This was one of those rare moments.
“You are in our prayers daily, in our hearts hourly, in our thoughts always,” the card read.
It was when I turned the card over that I began to cry.
I hope you get better soon – Michael
I hope you get well so you can come visit – Kamesha
I hope you will be ok – Love, Eboni
I hope you get well and I wish you a happy new year – Jotavia
I hope you will be fine – Sydney
I hope you feel better soon – Ronell
I love you because you help us well – Dante
Thank you – Terry
Thank you from all of us and I hope you have a good recovery – Israel
I love you for helping us – Sheldon
I am very glad you help us. Thank you – Janari
I hope you get better – Denver
I hope you feel better – Azlynn
Get well soon. I think about you! – Keyanna
I hope you get well. I miss you – Ashley
Feel better soon – Lyric
Thank you for helping the class. – Trey
I hope you re feeling better soon – George
Mrs. M come back soon! – Harold
I hope you get better and can help me write my basketball story – James
It was in that moment, my decision was made, I cannot leave this city. This city, those kids, they need me.
I love New Orleans. The REAL New Orleans. The New Orleans that you don’t see on Girls Gone Wild Mardi Gras or any snapshot taking by a bunch of sorority girls on Spring Break hitting up Bourbon. I love the New Orleans that represents strength, pride, tradition. I like the New Orleans that fosters creativity, that holds the Audubon Park and Zoo, that makes up City Park. I love the shotgun houses, the slave shakes, and the fact that on Fat Tuesday, every single business is closed. I love the New Orleans that represents good people, hard working people, people who love and live.
Unfortunately for me, I don’t see much of that New Orleans right now. This is probably my own fault, still adjusting to life in the Big Easy, life away from my small pond in small Wisconsin where I was a rather big fish. It is really different. Very different. And, unfortunately, I haven’t fully allowed my roots to plant deeply in the ground, wander too far away from my home Uptown. And I allow myself to read nola.com – the comments, the stories, the articles – and it makes me very, very afraid. This isn’t to say New Orleans is a bad place to live. Again, I love New Orleans – it just scares the hell out of me.
Maybe it is because I haven’t allowed myself much time to really get to know New Orleans outside of my comfort zone, to meet people, to make friends, to get involved. Maybe it is becaus I don’t know how I get involved or where to even start. I would love to be able to feel comfortable going out for the night with my husband, hanging out at Carrollton Station or Maple Leaf Bar or adventuring out to some other part of town and taking in a play or seeing an art exhibit. What stops me from doing this? Well, I can count on my hand the number of people I know in this city,not related to my occupation, and I couldn’t ask any of these people to please watch my daughter for the night. It is a cycle for me, you see, and one that I find plenty of excuses to keep running in circles.
Maybe it has to do with being mugged at 4:00 in the afternoon, walking my daughter home from school on Carrollton Avenue. Or maybe it has to do with going to bed, looking out the window, and seeing someone on my porch, attempting to still my plastic lawn chairs that I bought for $4 each at Dollar General. Or maybe it is the comments made to me when I pick my daughter up from her publis school. Or maybe I am just not cut out to live in the city, any city. I have developed the coping skills for living in a city, especially this city. But I love this city. I really do.
Do you see the battle that is constantly raging inside of me?
No, let’s not.
Yes, I need to get out of here.
No, you don’t – this place is your home, remember how you felt driving into the city with your possessions packed in your car, excited?
But that was before the crime.
Crime is everywhere.
But not like this!
In some places it is worse, you don’t know what you are getting into.
Someone was murdered near my home.
Her son did it.
You can’t count on the police.
Avoid situations where you need the police.
People die in the jails here! People are beaten!
I can’t argue with that. That is very true.
It is like having two people inside my body- one going to the right, the other to the left – ripping me entirely in half. In some ways, it feels like being locked away in a prison, almost afraid to leave your home, no matter at what time of day.
Am I being over-dramatic?
That is entirely possible. It really is. I am from an unincorporated town in Wisconsin. I milked cows, fed chickens, and took care of rabbits growing up. We left our doors unlocked. We rode our bikes after dark. Our neighbors knew one another, looked out for one another, and cared when things happened.
So, New Orleans, how do I embrace you – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and fully bloom where I am planted, without the whispers in my ear of Hammond or Robert or Baton Rouge? How do I walk outside, not afraid, and explore?
Probably one step at a time. Courtwatchers. Maybe a book club. Perhaps starting a writing club. Something. Anything.
New Orleans, I so want to call you home, but at what cost?
My piece-of-mind? My daughter’s education?
I really don’t know the answer, but feel much better saying it out loud than keeping it buried inside.
My heart is in this city, but it is held prisoner by the thug mentality. In that respect, the fear of my safety and that of my child, they win.
They fucking win.