Today’s guest blogger is “FedUpMom”, the mother of a 10-year-old who attends a public school in the suburbs of Philadelphia. This is FedUpMom’s third post; you can read her other entries here and here.
How we left the public schools
by FedUp Mom
As her 5th grade year began, I noticed that my daughter was becoming depressed. She came home from school miserable, looking like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. She said she hated school and she was jealous of her little sister who doesn’t go to school yet. When I told her that school shouldn’t be a miserable experience for her, she looked genuinely surprised. This broke my heart.
One day she wasn’t at chess club, which I run at her school during the recess period. When I asked her about it later, she said she wasn’t able to come because the math teacher had kept her in from recess for forgetting to get our signature on a test. The first teacher conferences were coming up, so I made an appointment to talk to the math teacher. At the appointment, I told him I wanted to cut back on homework, which we were able to work out. But we ran out of time before we could get to the recess issue.
A couple of days later, I remembered the recess problem and sent the teacher an e-mail asking him to stop holding my daughter out of recess. I explained that it caused her to feel humiliated, ashamed, and resentful, and that this was why she was so quiet in class. The teacher replied that he could stop holding her back for unfinished homework (i.e., the unsigned test), but the last time he kept her out of recess it was to do extra work, and “I told the kids it wasn’t meant as a punishment!”
So I sent an e-mail to the principal saying that I wanted my daughter out of this teacher’s classroom until the issue was resolved. The principal scheduled a meeting for the next morning with me, the teacher and her.
The meeting started out with the principal trying to scold me for the tone of my e-mail (!) and went downhill from there. The teacher claimed that my daughter was “playing” me and that she was fine in his class, just “too quiet” (a known symptom of depression, especially in girls). He also said, “You cut back on her homework, and now you say I can’t hold her in from recess. When am I supposed to teach her?” (Um … class time?)
I said that I was open to taking my daughter out of the class, which everyone resisted because it was the high-status “accelerated” math and, as the teacher pointed out, “she’s getting a B!” Accelerated math, for those fortunate enough not to have heard of it, means they try to cram two years of math into one (in this case, 5th and 6th grades). This was one reason the homework load was so heavy (about 4 times more than the regular class, I found out later).
By the end of the meeting, I had the teacher’s agreement that he wouldn’t keep my daughter out of recess any more. When I told my daughter about it, I saw an immediate improvement. She was happier, more relaxed, got along better with her sister, and helped out more around the house. But the good times were not to last.
A few weeks later my daughter came home with a note in her assignment book, “Get test signed!” She pulled out the test to show me and it was covered with red ink, with “41% F” written at the top. I asked her what happened and she said, in a panic, “I don’t know! I was worried I wouldn’t have time for the extra credit question!” (All the tests in this class are timed.) It turned out that she had misunderstood the question for one section of the test (about a third of it), so of course she flunked that section, plus the way she answered the question took a lot of time, so she didn’t get to the extra section at the back. The situation was spiraling out of control. The class made her so anxious that she couldn’t focus on the test, so she flunked it, which made her more anxious, and so on. I said to her, “you know, you don’t have to be in this class. It’s stressing you out and it’s not helping you learn.” She agreed. I sent an e-mail to the principal that I wanted my daughter out of the class, and the principal had her out by the end of the week (this was after we had started applying to private schools, so the principal was miraculously helpful.)
My daughter’s home-room teacher told me that my daughter participated more in the three days since she left accelerated math than she had in the previous four months of school.
People have asked me, “if the problem was just one teacher, is it worth paying for private school?” My answer is that the problem is not just one teacher. The problem is the public school culture, which in our wealthy district is all about squeezing achievement out of kids. My daughter was severely anxious and depressed, but as far as the school was concerned, she was a model student, because her grades and test scores were high and she didn’t cause any trouble. And if there’s too much pressure and competition in elementary school, the situation will only get worse in middle school, as the principal herself told me.
We’ve gotten our daughter into a Quaker school with an excellent reputation for educating the whole child. I can’t wait till next year.