Emma Waverman writes about the chaos of modern family life. She is the co-author of the family cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them and is hoping to one day finish her certification as a parenting coach. She lives with her three kids, ranging from tween to grade schooler, and husband in Toronto. Emma has written for a variety of national parenting and lifestyle magazines and newspapers. When she's is not making typos, telling you what she thinks, and thinking about dinner, you can find her on Twitter at @emmawaverman. You can contact Emma at embracingchaos@hotmail.ca.

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Tuesday
Dec012015

Dear New Principal that I Will Never Meet

Dear New Principal,

You don’t know me, and it is very likely that we will never meet. I was a parent at your school for over a decade. I have a daughter who is in Grade Five but she doesn’t attend your school anymore.

So you can stop reading now if you want, as the concerns of a parent who is no longer standing in your schoolyard can hardly top your to-do list. (Especially, since our school is notorious for pushy and annoying parents.)

But I really wanted to let you know how your school let us down. My daughter is the youngest of my three kids. She is an engaging, joyful and a motivated child. She is kind and keen and social. She is also tough, organised and clever.  That’s the child I know. But it isn’t the child that her teachers saw. She was in French Immersion and slowly slid below expectations. Her reading was delayed and because of that her math fell behind as well. She was increasingly frustrated and aggravated by being behind in her work.

She would have loved to catch up – but was never given a chance. Instead, they told us and her, that she needed to work harder, she needed to listen more. When I asked about extra help I was told to hire a tutor. And no, no one could refer me to anyone good. She was never given any extra resources – instead she was made to feel that it was her fault.

 

I was told my only option was to pull her out of French, but no, there would not be any resources available to help her in her switch. And I know from experience that the school does absolutely nothing to comfort or support a child who changes streams. The playground is a rough place – full of French Fries and English muffins and woe to the child who doesn’t know what side they are on.

I didn’t realize the damage that had been done until she started in her new school this year. Within a few weeks, her teacher said to us that my daughter is sensitive, that she is nervous to make mistakes, that she thinks of herself as a bad student and a bad learner and winces at any kind of correction like a dog who has been beaten. Her new teacher’s project is to undo all the damage that has been done. Her goals are academic as well – but she realizes that my daughter’s self-definition is the key to her becoming a good student.

According to her teacher she is two grades behind in reading. Which means that she should have been given special education services at your school – at our old school. Perhaps, her levels didn’t fall low enough, maybe no one bothered because she is a nice girl, one who doesn’t like to sit, but one didn’t make too much trouble. But now she is catching up and showing that in fact, she is an excellent student who is responsible, motivated and engaged.

I think that a school is measured – not by their outliers, the high achievers or the troublemakers, but by the mushy middle. The kids who fall under the radar but who have incredible strengths as well as weaknesses. How they feel about education will shape their futures and in turn, our society for they are the majority. The mushy middle was ignored – if we asked for less homework because our kids were crying, it was a family problem. If we requested a gym teacher who didn’t humiliate our kids, we were told there was nothing to be done. If we suggested that perhaps the teachers could yell less and engage more, we were told the kids were “toxic” or needed to practice better “self-regulation”.

Your school may be different now that you are in the Principal’s office, maybe you foster a sense of community, maybe your teachers are motivated to teach with positive instead of negative comments. Perhaps you have taken the focus off of self-regulation and put it more on joy. Hopefully, you honour every student and your teachers follow your lead. Or maybe you don’t. I will never know. But I can hope.

We have abandoned our neighbourhood school. The school I used to push strollers, wagons and carry babies to. The school that was the centre of my own social life for a decade, and I admit to feeling some grief when I walk on by.

But now my daughter goes to a school that nurtures her. They tell me that she is an extremely motivated learner, despite the fact that she has obvious delays. It's not perfect, what is? But at least they see her for who she is -- warts, beauty and all --  and I can't ask for much more than that. 

Yes, her classes are now in English. But you and I both know that isn’t the whole answer. She is at a school that nurtures and respects her. She is taught by people who love teaching and want her to be the best she can be.

And I shouldn’t have to pay for that. Every child should have a chance to be seen and heard by their school community. I hope you are working hard to create that. Your students deserve it.

Sincerely,

Emma Waverman

Reader Comments (7)

Sounds like a school my daughter attends. :(

December 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNancy

I have been hearing that over and over. Have faith, it only takes one good teacher.

December 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEmma Waverman

We have had to fight so hard to pierce the feedback of, "She is just so sweet."

December 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

So sorry you've had this experience. I have been very lucky to have a very supportive school and supportive teachers in the French stream, while we sorted out some difficulties my daughter was having.

January 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Great information. It's really important to have early meditation, yoga and stress fighters for children as it's beneficial for them too. The popular belief is that only adults benefit. Here's a list of other great early learning centre in Cambridge, ON

https://medium.com/@melissastrall/top-5-daycare-centres-in-cambridge-on-b5af76cd2d51#.je59stb2m

April 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Thank you for posting this. I've worked in education for some time now and I've become so use to hearing the positive stories - but often forget these stories can be even more helpful in understanding how to improve learning and education as a whole.

May 24, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterErin Carmody

Wow..reading this article was like remembering my life back a couple years ago when my son was politely asked to leave French immersion and go to the English stream because they thought he was not learning and he was distracted. Fast forward a couple more years and an assessment paid for my husband and I and sure enough, we found out that we have a child with ADD. He was harder to teach so instead of putting in the time and resources to teach him in French, they sent him to English.

But now he is doing well in English and is a confident learner but every once in while he still thinks about his French class and is saddened because he had to leave.

Thank you for writing this article. It makes me feel like I am not alone in the crazy world of education.

And now on my son's report cards you will see an A in all his core French classes! Go figure!

August 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCharlene

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