Monday, November 27, 2006


Parent-Teacher Conference

Last Week, The Wife and I went to a parent-teacher conference with The Boy's kindergarten teacher.

TW and I actually high-fived as we left.

His teacher commented that he loves to read, and that his vocabulary is much richer and more expressive than most of his peers'. She asked how old he was when we started reading to him; TW commented that we have a photo of me reading The Runaway Bunny to him in the hospital the day after he was born (which is true). Our theory was that it doesn't really matter that infants don't understand what's being read to them; what matters is that they get lap time, they hear your voice and words, and they get used to being read to. By the time they're old enough to get something cognitive out of it, the emotional link is already there. We've done the same with The Girl, and she's already wild about books at age 2 ½. (She actually finishes sentences when we're reading books she knows. It's kind of unnerving. “George was...” “Curious!” Her attempts to pronounce “binoculars” (from Curious George Goes to the Beach) absolutely melt my heart.)

The teacher also commented that he's very considerate, liked by all, and very happy there.

I know TB is a great kid, and I know we've worked hard to prepare him and caught any number of lucky breaks, but it's still incredibly gratifying to hear praise like that from his teacher. He's really thriving at school, and he loves it there.

He's had plenty of preparation. Since TW worked until TG was born, TB was in daycare full-time from age four months to about age three. At three, we downshifted to a few days a week, mostly to save money. At four he went to our town's public four-year-old preschool program five half-days a week. By the time he got to kindergarten, school was old hat. I'm a little worried about TG in that respect – since TW has been home with her since birth, she hasn't had the same exposure to preschool. We'll start dipping a toe in the water next year, but those first few separations will be hard.

(The director of the daycare TB went to was wise beyond her years. She suggested to TW dropping him off about 15 minutes early on the first day, so she'd have time to cry in the car before driving off. Turned out to be a good call.)

I worry a little about his school. Property taxes in our town are levied on the “squeal like a pig” theory, and the town is fully built-out, so school funding pretty much is what it is. The district eliminated buses a few years ago, and the classes are a little bigger than I'd like. (TB's kindergarten has 24, with one teacher, a part-time aide, and two room Moms, one of whom is TW.) State aid is flat or declining, so, as with my cc, the school is doing the best it can with what it has. It's still in decent shape, but the future looks tough. The voters are (justifiably) cranky about continued tax increases, the school-age population is climbing, unfunded mandates drop from the sky like anvils, and we can't realistically expect a shopping mall to come along and generate new revenue.

I'm not asking the school to work miracles. I fully expect that TW and I will be TB's primary teachers for a while, and that the habits we try to inculcate at home will have a major bearing on how he does. That said, though, I want his school to be worthy of him. He's a smart, sweet, earnest kid who honestly wants to know all kinds of stuff. I want him to have that chance.

I felt the same way. My kids went to public school in a blue-collar suburb of Northern City (I think it's the same one). The population is aging and the big manufacturer who employed everyone in town is shrinking faster than a thing that's shrinking really fast, so our tax base was eroding quickly. Much less tax money from industry, and the older population kept voting down school budgets. ("I don't have children in schools, why should I pay for them?" Uh, appealing to the bottom line, because you want your house to be worth something when you decide to sell? Oh, don't get me started.) This district is having serious problems with NCLB testing, an unresponsive board and teachers' union complaints.

My older daughter won a National Merit Scholarship. The younger one just missed. They both entered college with 22 hours of AP credit. 1570 and 1450 on their SATs. Lots of extra-curricular activities, notably in music and theater. Both won tuition scholarships to good colleges. And, most importantly, they enjoyed school and had teachers who mostly cared about their progress and taught them more than competently.

You have to stay involved in the schools, talk to the other parents about their experiences with teachers and be insistent on getting the best. It can be done, and done well.
Out here in the West, our schools are wildly under-funded and in need of teachers who flee to neighboring states for more money. We were lucky to find a school which requires 3 hours per week of classroom volunteering (for each kid in school). Son is in a classroom with 22 kids, and a minimum of three parents (plus the teacher) at all times. In spite of the fact that our state is usually number 48 or below in funding per student, I think we're lucky. We get to see what's going on in the classroom, we know his friends and their parents, and the community is self-selecting, so everyone cares.
And I agree about reading and talking to kids. I remember telling my Son everything I was doing in detail and thinking to myself soemtimes that I was ridiculous. But his vocabulary is good and his favorite thing to do is make books.
But I worry about Son. The child of two academics? Good luck to him!
Congrats on your parent-teacher conference. It's good to walk away from those feeling like you're doing something right.
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