Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – Austin, Texas

Today’s post is by Cynthia Schultz, a a former teacher with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and concentrations in English and Special Education. She was educated and taught in Minnesota, one of the few states where she feels education still matters. A single mom by choice, with a daughter she adopted from Kazakhstan in 2003, Cynthia’s 8-year-old daughter attends one of the top public elementary schools in the city. Cynthia says, “I have great respect for the principal and the teachers but refuse to believe they’re omniscient.”

I Got the Principal To Move My Daughter to a Second-Grade Class with a More Flexible Teacher
by Cynthia Schultz

For the first time all year, my daughter got off the bus smiling on Wednesday. Not the manic “I got my way” or “I’m so special” smile but the smile of an 8 year old who had a good day.

A happy smile may seem small but it was the culmination of 9 weeks of pain, frustration, tears, accusations, meetings and more meetings, doubts, fears, promises (broken and kept), and meltdowns (not all of them my daughter’s).

From the first, I felt that my daughter’s classroom assignment was wrong for her. The teacher was very controlling, causing my daughter to rebel. She came home with 40 – 50 math problems per night, 20 spelling words


(plus 5 bonus words) for the spelling test on Thursday (apparently so the teacher could make sure the tests got into their Friday folders), an AR book for reading each night, and homework from
the special ed teacher who seemed to have her own agenda. Curriculum Night revealed that any unfinished homework would be done in “study hall” when the others were at recess and children would only be allowed to check out books from the library that the teacher deemed “appropriate”. When I questioned anything, I was told “that’s how it is.”

By about the third week, I asked the principal about changing my daughter’s classroom assignment. Things were not pleasant at home. I was frustrated and overworked. My daughter was frustrated and
overworked. I couldn’t get the teacher to give on anything. The principal required a meeting. That wasn’t pleasant either.

What I found out was interesting. Apparently, it’s the parents’ decision to make, not the principal, teacher, or anyone else’s but the principal didn’t want me to know that.

I did play their game, I let them have two extra chances. After the second one, I was ignored. Guess they thought I’d given up. Then, one day, my daughter refused to go to school. The only way I could get her to go was to take her to school (she usually rides the bus) and promise to talk to the principal.

Three hours later, the principal knew I wasn’t giving up.

One week later, my daughter walked into a different classroom.

That afternoon, she got off the bus with the smile.

I saw the difference immediately. When she forgot her homework folder at school, the teacher called me and said, “Let’s just blow off the homework today.” The next day she had 5 math problems and 10 spelling words.

Friday I met with the new teacher. She’s kind, creative, flexible and seems to really love what she does. The kids have “Reader Theater” every week where they put on a little “play”. Nothing fancy, just
something fun to read every day then perform on Friday.

There are couches and a loft for independent reading time.

When I told her we may have days when we don’t get homework done, her response was, “That’s okay. We learn skills so we can use them in the real world.” Reading billboards and menus fulfills reading requirements and pricing things in the store and counting out money fulfills math requirements.

There was not one thing we didn’t agree on. Not one.

The most revealing thing, though, came as my daughter was telling me about her first day. She was very excited about the loft, the couches, the Reader Theater, the friends she was already making, the
running around the track (she loves to run) for a break in the morning. Then, with amazement she said, “And Ms. J. didn’t yell at us once today!” I didn’t know about the yelling but who yells at second
graders?

It’s only been three days and I’m trying to remain objective but I think, now that she’s in a nurturing environment, my daughter is going to blossom this year.

I can’t wait to see it.

7 thoughts on “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – Austin, Texas

  1. Cynthia, great letter, kudos to you.

    You write: “Curriculum Night revealed that any unfinished homework would be done in “study hall” when the others were at recess”

    I’ve said this before and I will say it again. Because I believe it is that important. Can we all go on an all out assault on this archaic discipline measure? Yes, I know it’s been around as long as I have, this business of denying recess to children who have not finished their homework. It didn’t work then and it still doesn’t work now. As Alfie Kohn says, it doesn’t work so let’s do more of it.

    I can say with almost certainty that my school did not deny recess for incomplete homework because I was not always able to do all my homework and I have very fond memories of recess throughout my schooled years. And that includes high school. We went out and played ball after recess.

    We know so much more now than we did then. But this is a no-brainer. Children must play! At my daughter’s elementary school, no child was ever denied recess for unfinished homework. To her credit, our director was a little more progressive than that. Sorry to say, many teachers did use recess as the stick, but with kids who were “misbehaved.” And those are the children who need it most, your classic ADHD boy who can’t stay in his seat. As an aside, there’s a famous school in Israel that allows children to stand and even walk around during class, and the discipline problems almost went away.

    Children must play. This HAS to be an inalienable right. Too bad this was not included in the Constitution. They are small. They are vulnerable. In our culture now, we take advantage of the most vulnerable members of our society; children, the elderly, the sick.

    At least in the fifties when children were denied recess, they still had plenty time to play outdoors when they got home. Back then conventional wisdom trumpeted, children must get one hour of sunshine and play every day! Dr. Spock said so. Then came “A Nation at Risk” and the rest is history.

    Time for all of you to trot out Richard Louv’s marvelous book, “Last Child in the Woods.” It is unfathomable that children should be made to sit for seven hours each day at school (our elementary was seven) and be denied the little sliver of play alloted to them. School recess is short enough already.

    To the detractors who would counter that I’ve gone all soft, I’m dumbing down education, that China is beating us to the race to the top because they probably deny recess, to them I say: When I homeschooled my daughter, we built nature into learning. We took long walks in the woods behind the house to dissect the finer points of Shakespeare. She sat on a blanket on the front lawn and worked on geometry. We spent an entire day at the US Holocaust museum during a study on World War II.

    I would argue education has gone soft PRECISELY because children are not playing. Le’ts not be penny wise and pound foolish here. Teachers I know tell me they lose so much more than they gain when kids are kept inside for recess. Children learn less, not more, when they are this restricted. I would never want my daughter to do her homework out of fear. Fear of missing recess. I try to grow a passionate life long learner. That is not the way.

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  2. Can I have your teacher for my third grader – not one of the three in our school would make me happy. Sad, but true.

    It’s not that I’m picky.

    I think it is because third grade is a SOL. Standards of Learning (Virginia testing) years are in 3rd, 5th, and I don’t remember. SOLs… I think someone in the VA board of Ed must have a sense of humor.

    Anyway, SOL years throw the whole school into a tizzy, because governmental funding relies on test results. So, I think that the bottom of the barrel teachers get stuck in these years.

    That’s my guess.

    Anyway – I am very happy for you and a tad envious.

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  3. Cynthia, Great letter, Thanks for sharing. I hope other parents can get the inspiration they need to persevere with what they know is RIGHT for their kids. Seriously, what are we trying to do to them with all this repetative, rote, boring work? I heard a child psychologist talking on NPR the other day warning us we are trying to stuff too much information into our children. He said to leave them alone; they are way smarter than us – and let them play!

    Have you heard of California’s Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights? Recognizing things way more important to our kids’ wellbeing, development and happiness … Check it out at … http://www.calroundtable.org/files/cobr_edit.pdf

    Best wishes to you and your daughter

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  4. In my world, “SOL” stands for “s-*bleep* out of luck”, which is a good description of the kids’ predicament.

    Cynthia, good for you for getting your child into the best classroom for her. You are lucky that your school has a good teacher in your child’s grade. It doesn’t always turn out that well.

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  5. Day 6 and things are still going very well. We laugh and play again. We’re a family again. That just feels good.

    Aside from my daughter tanking her AR test, she says she just clicked through the answers, it’s been a wonderful change.

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