I just got the folder back. It’s been a week, and you’d think I would know how to dress a kid and send him to school, considering I teach and I have 240 kids on my own high school roster.
But I’m failing. Kindergarten at that.
The first day, I sent the wrong snack. We’d been planning for the Big Day and Declan wanted to make chocolate chip cookies. We packed his lunch box with one cookie, an apple, and some carrot sticks, each in a little no-waste plastic container.
Now, granted this wasn’t any run of the mill chocolate chip cookie—I’m a bit of a food freak. I’m as close to grow-it-myself as I can be, and my single goal in life is to rid the world of processed goods. I shop at farms, grow whatever I can–I’ve even been known to put swiss chard and horseradish in the perennial garden, much to the chagrin of my ex-military order-loving husband. But since chocolate chip cookies do not grow in the perennial garden, we made them with locally sourced eggs, fair-trade vegan organic sugar and King Arthur flour, milled up the road a piece in beautiful Vermont.
I don’t believe that a chocolate chip cookie ever killed an overactive skinny self-proclaimed fruitatarian 5-year-old. And I thought it was a democratic society where parents had options until I received the note from the Snack Police, using the commanding “we.” “We drink water. You may send a cup or one will be provided. We also pack healthy snacks.”
I sent back a note, “We pack a variety of beverages and snacks, including organic juice, milk, and water. Additionally, we rotate fruit, veggies, and home-baked goods. We are nearly entirely organic and do not eat processed foods.”
Now, I knew we were off to a bad start. Challenging a kindergarten teacher is never wise, even for a teacher like me who hustles basketball games against six-foot students.
It was about to get worse. I had to fill out the forms. I filled out Form One–twenty minutes. Form Two was an exact copy of Form One, stamped “nurse.” What, the nurse doesn’t have a copy machine? I filled it out. I also put “did not receive” on the form requiring me to acknowledge the school handbook, which I did not receive. I read what I sign–it’s a throwback from my first career in insurance.
The very next day, I received Form Three. It was nearly the same as Form One and Form Two, but a different color and size. I filled out half of the form, putting one emergency contact, and a note on the back of the Friday Folder suggesting, “These forms take a long time to fill out and are very similar. It would be helpful if it could be filled out once and copied.”
I didn’t get a reply. What I did get when I vented was a bunch of my Mommy Friends was, “Get used to it.” and ” I HAVE TWENTY-FOUR FORMS FOR TWO KIDS!!”
“Get used to it?” We’re supposed to be reforming education and making things better, streamlined, and more efficient. If oblivious bordering on inconsiderate is the systemic norm, how can we reform education? I will not “get used to it.” Half of education reform is systems analysis. I’m just dealing with a form here, and in fairness, the teacher is really sweet, but in reality the form symbolizes all of education reform. If we can’t analyze the efficiency of how we do the smallest thing, then macro-reform cannot be accomplished. End of story. Education reform isn’t about evals, Race to the Top money, or adoption of technology if we fail to focus on the customer we serve–the student and his or her family. Education isn’t about power-tripping, it’s about humility. We serve our students. When the systems we use do not, we need to change those systems. Sure, we’re the professionals, but I like to think of myself as a consultant to a hesitant client. I provide the expertise, and get them on board with the vision. And when the vision isn’t serving them, I adapt and overcome.
In my own classroom, I think daily about how I can make things better, easier, more productive–more streamlined for my students. I don’t want them memorizing facts–I want them internalizing information and applying that material to visions and situations which change the world. Students have given me suggestions that have revolutionized the way I teach. I will not “get used to” systems that inconvenience the family, the customer. In my mind, these forms should all be digital anyway, but since we’re not there yet–24 forms for two kids?? And no news reporters are picking up on the vast destruction of the rain forest for this?
But right now, I can’t worry about any of that–I’m still in trouble, a fact which I confirmed when the Friday Folder came back once more.
About five of the forms were returned. The one with my note about what I serve for lunch had not been properly cut on the dotted line. I know this, because the word “cut” was highlighted in neon yellow and circled three times in case I was working in Braille or hadn’t learned to read that word.
The last emergency contact form, on which I’d put one neighbor because we’re moving in a week and I don’t really have friends in this city, was highlighted too. Each of the seven empty contacts were brought to my attention. I must need eight contacts in case the entire city can’t be reached and the apocalypse comes. The words “fill out completely” were highlighted in you-are-stupid yellow and circled three times. Did I mention I have never liked yellow highlighter—I find it loud, visually obnoxious, and it annoys me.
And now it just hurt my feelings, because the seven blank spaces underscored the fact that I have no friends.
When I got to the last item in the folder, Declan’s work, I noticed something. On the line that says “name,” he had, in fact, written his name, but backwards–inverted and mirrored. He can write. I said, “Why did you do this? You know how to write.” He gave me a slick smile and walked away. He had done it on purpose.
Normally, I would have “a talk” and make him apologize and do it right.
Today, I just smiled.