About Me

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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Points of View

This past week, I lectured on social science paradigms. (Don't worry, I'm not gonna do that here.) Paradigms are basically points of view -- and the point of telling you the obvious is that we are, as a college English teacher was fond of saying, "constrained by our biography."

That is, it isn't always easy to be aware of what we assume, or what other people assume about us, until we (often mistakenly) say or do something that really pisses somebody off. THEN we're REALLY aware of how we are coming from different places, or, in social science speak, operating from different paradigms.

What I did this week was (unintentionally) run my paradigm smack-dab into a friend's paradigm, unwittingly making her really furious. See, I'm a parent (of three kids, two school-age) and she's a teacher (of fourth graders). She isn't a parent, though if she were, she might still have a different opinion of what I was so incensed about, due to her professional point of view. That's normal.

Here's the deal: many of us parents (particularly parents who work outside the home) are increasingly irritated (the polite word) at the number of half-days, no-school days, and in-service days in our kids' school schedules. We already rely on a carefully-planned arrangement of aftercare and coordinated "it's-your-turn-to-get-the-kids-today" schedules as it is. The family schedule is in a precarious balance, but most days it works pretty well, as long as the schedule isn't changed.

But, when schools throw us these odd days (no matter how much in advance), it leaves us scrambling to arrange care that is often hard to find. Few people want to commit to taking care of your kids when the number of days is so few and so random that it isn't financially fruitful -- or logistically possible -- for them to do so. And, for reasons I absolutely do not understand, a frighteningly large number of parents are comfortable leaving their middle school-age kids alone at home all day. I'm not in that camp.

To be perfectly honest, not only do I wish schools had a more consistent schedule (like kids in school 8:30-3, M-F, most weeks except for a week in Dec and a week in the spring), I'm all for shorter summer breaks and fewer holidays too. Schools still run as if there is an available family member in the home, able to care for the kiddos when school is not in session. They also seem to assume we're all farmers, too. Why else do our kids have these ridiculously long summer breaks?!

There are an awful lot of us without nearby relatives(or nearby relatives who also do not work). We have no family within 100 miles, for example. And the two family members we have (the ones who live 100 miles away) are a) ill and b) work full time and have their own three kids. It's hard enough (and expensive enough) to pay for all that summer camp and regular aftercare, let alone these additional days. And I can't rely on family for help.

So, I mentioned on Facebook how irritated I was at this predicament. This month, for instance, I have a kid home EVERY Friday (the middle schools here have different no-school days than the elementary schools). To top it off, my district has early release Wednesdays EVERY Wednesday -- something I find annoying as hell and wish so they would get rid of. It means EVERY Wednesday I interrupt my class to make sure that my middle schooler got in the house, locked the door behind her, and is OK. If she were actually in school like a "regular" day, I'd be able to get home before her and wouldn't have to interrupt my class. Aggravation!

In addition to those October changes to the regular schedule, my other child's aftercare program has an inservice day on a Monday this month -- so no aftercare that day (his Dad will have to take the afternoon off, because I teach Monday afternoons). All in all, SIX of my work days this month involve trying to find alternative care and/or not work (theoretically, I work M, W, F). I think I have more than enough justification for being irritated at the public schools. It's doubly ironic, since schools (and aftercare programs) are largely staffed by working women.

But my venting my frustration made my friend mad. True, in hindsight, I wish I had been a bit more diplomatic in my wording. In my defense, we are talking about a Facebook status line here...a place well-known for inflammatory wording intended to get people to respond (and that it did).

Anywho...she felt that I was venting at her expense, that I was not supporting public schools. She said I should either send my kids to private schools or not complain. She went on to mention several things that, indeed, many parents are not sufficiently aware of: her lunch break is all of 30 minutes; she deals constantly with kids with pretty terrible problems; she spends her "free time" calling DYFS or helping kids with homework; she annually spends more than $1000 of her personal income for school supplies that are not provided by the district; she works 10-12 hour days. She DESERVES these (often unpaid) days without the kids, so that she can get caught up on the latest changes to the curriculum. Indeed, if we parents think the constant changing of curriculum and testing is nuts, think of trying to change your teaching style or lesson plans every year or so. Indeed, teachers are "on" more than most of us are, and they are confronted with a bucketful of problems (everything from social work to curriculum changes to credentialing) all while having to maintain a professional demeanor in front of our unruly children. Yep, it's job I wouldn't want. But I'm so glad other people love the work (as my friend does) and that they do it well.

But my concerns (needing the schools to be in session for more days, and longer days at that) are not hers (needing more breaks, more support from parents, fewer additions to her teaching expectations, fewer hoops to jump through, fewer kids with problems). Her assumption about my problem ("your child care problems are not the school's concern") and the proposed solution ("go find out what is available in the community, or get together with other parents and establish it yourself, either be part of the problem or part of the solution") belie her simplistic interpretation of what is involved (and an assumption that I haven't already been looking for options). Sure, I'd love to part of the solution, but, frankly, this is a large-scale STRUCTURAL problem with our public schools, and it's gonna take a lot more than an occasional backyard camp or jumbo craft session with my kids and their friends to solve it. Similarly, my "Parents work! for God's sake! Why not teachers!" was just stupid, but also indicative of how deeply in my own world (my "paradigm") I was at the moment I wrote that.

But the interaction gave me a great opportunity to think of how ironic it is that the interests of parents and teachers are often NOT in sync. How unfortunate, because the ultimate goal -- raising the competent, confident leaders of tomorrow -- is. Time to get us all at the same table and find a paradigm and a structural solution that can benefit us all. Wanna come to the meeting? I make great coffee. But you gotta find the childcare. :)


  1. As usual, this is very well written. I know Janet is somewhat sensitive to the ire that surrounds the patchwork of non-kid days that make up the school year. Part of it, I think, is that teachers tend to bear the brunt of the anger/frustration, but they really don't have anything to say about it. For example, teacher unions are a force to be reckoned with, and, over time, they have negotiated these in-service, grading, etc. days as benefits. Budget cuts (and furlough days like today, 10/9) also add to the problem. So, teachers work hard, take pay cuts, follow the union contract, etc. and end up taking crap for it. It ends up feeling a bit like that other good old saw: public employees are all lazy, overpaid and only interested in padding their cushy retirement accounts. You hit the nail on the head by calling it "structural." Another way to say it is "not easily solved"--especially by the putative principals in the drama.

  2. I really feel bad for my stupid teacher comment; I ALWAYS have felt it's a structural problem that is long-past due for a solution.

  3. My kids spent five years in private school before returning to public school. One big difference is that the private school sponsored "holiday" camp for half days, days school was not in session, virtually year round. Yes you did have to pay extra for it. Because we were on scholarship we paid very minimally. But I am wondering if this kind of solution might work in a public school setting....

  4. Hi,
    I am a parent and a teacher and just read this. I am perplexed by your position. In my school district the yearly calendar was published last spring, giving me ample time to arrange for childcare on the early release Wednesdays and the teacher work days. Your friend, whom you refer to in your post, does not have children, but as a teacher has far more experience with children than you do. I think it is ridiculous that many parents today expect schools to raise their children and provide child care while the parents are at work, or otherwise engaged. When I decided to become a parent, I accepted the concept that I would be giving up any and all private time I had--it comes with the job. And my job as a parent comes before any other job I might have. In fact, I gave up a job I was passionate about--teaching English--because doing it well meant NOT being a good mother. If you want day care, pay some one. If you want public education that truly educates your children, work with the school district to improve the system. Complaining solves nothing.
    Eila Overcash
    English Teacher

  5. Eila -- Thanks for the comment (I think). First of all, I *DO* try to find day care. I guess I didn't make it clear enough -- finding care for the younger kids is not the problem (there are fairly good systems available, and we've been using them and paying out the WAA-ZOO for years). But there is literally NOTHING for the middle school age kids. And this many extra days in ONE month is a bit much. Really. I'm not alone in feeling that way.
    The other thing -- I HAVE made several calls to schools around the district and to the district headquarters itself. You assume that just because I "complained" here (I thought of it as writing an essay on a valid problem faced by many) that I've done nothing but.
    As for the parenting-versus-working thing, in today's economy, those of us with jobs (we know we're lucky) aren't going to be giving them up to spend more time with our kids. If we do, there might not be a job to go back to.
    It's a STRUCTURAL problem that requires a structural solution; it affects far too many people for it to be simply a matter of "figuring out one's own arrangements."

  6. I know this doesn't actually help but do know that if I lived closer to you I would be happy to help you on those schedule-nuts days. :)

  7. Elia: First of all, I googled you and found your blog. It really is excellent. I teach writing at a community college and you offer some great resources.
    Second, however, I do disagree with what I undertand to be your premise in your response to Elaine's post. Perhaps I misunderstood. You seem to suggest that because mothering is more important than paid work, any paid work should be minimized to meet your children's needs.
    I would like to offer that I do paid work because mothering is so important to me; my husband and I could not afford our modest mortgage and to clothe and feed our children without my admittedly meager financial contributions.
    As the mother of a middle school student, I share elaine's frustration about the lack of after school care for our youngsters. At 13, my son is old enough to be home alone, but is it developmentally appropriate for him to spend huge chunks of days unsupervised?
    It is a community problem; teen pregnancy is most likely to happen between 3 and 5 p.m. Our public libraries are overflowing with children whose parents cannot afford to pay for afterschool care patched together with paid babysitters.
    Blaming the "victim" in this case, Elaine, does nothing to solve the problem either.
    Are there public schools which offer holiday care, after school care to this population? Ours in NJ doesn't and it sounds as if yours in Ore. doesn't either, Eila.
    What would you propose?


Politeness is always appreciated.