I had Lily’s first ever kindergarten parent-teacher conference this week. To all of my friends that have kids older than Lily, I am side-eyeing the shit out of you right now for not telling me how stressful this is.
I was really nervous, as in, I felt like I was going into a job interview. It just felt like it was going to be a test of my character, a test of what kind of parent I am, what kind of parents we are, even though we’re not technically we anymore. I felt like it was judgement day, a meeting of first true impressions, a meeting where this teacher would predict Lily’s entire future based on what kind of mom I seem to be. I had this enormous battle in my mind about how this teacher was going to view this split life that my child is now living, since she was already aware of the impending divorce. Does she judge me for this? Does she know that I’m fucking up my kid? I’m assuming we’re all fucking up our kids somehow but surely those who divorce are doomed. All a bit irrational and dramatic, absolutely, but that’s how my monkey mind works.
This teacher, God love her, is a 35 year veteran of the field, which made my irrational fears even more pronounced. I was feeling as though she could smell the fear on me, like an animal would. She is by no means a scary woman. She is a sweet, southern belle from Tennessee with long blond hair that reaches past her butt, wears long flowing skirts, and has the most gentle voice I have ever heard. But knowing she’s been assessing parents’ and dealing with our shit for 35 years, she can certainly smell fear on us. I truly felt as though she could see right through me, knowing that I don’t even like kids, aside from my own. I was prepared for all the judgement… especially when I realized less than 5 minutes into the meeting that Lily’s dad wasn’t going to show up. Oh.My.God. Now we’re that dysfunctional of a family.
As she started diving into the gigantic stack of paperwork she had to go over with me, the anxiety in me shifted from my own insecurities over to the metrics she started slapping in front of me. Computer generated assessments with Lily’s name stamped all over them that truly looked like they were written in Japanese. The teacher was feverishly explaining each piece of paper, what it was assessing, how Lily faired based on “standards”, where Lily needs improvement, what grade level Lily is preforming at for math and reading, what a 1.25 in math meant versus a .78 in reading meant, what they will assess each quarter. I’m pretty sure I stopped listening at one point because this was so overwhelming. The whole dynamic of the meeting began to shift as I slowly began to realize, this teacher does not have time to judge me. All she has time to do is “assess and reassess”, in her own words.
I watched her as she was relaying all of this “necessary” information to me, as she is almost breathless because there was just so much to go through and surely we were in a time crunch because she needed to get to one of the other 17 parents in the class right after me. It started to become clear as day that the only judging she’s doing is on herself because that’s what the government is telling her to do. Assess and reassess. These kids are supposedly just a reflection of her in the state’s eyes. This poor teacher, along with all of the other public school teachers, have a ridiculous amount of stress put on them with all of these assessments and standards.
All of my original questions went by the way-side because honestly, at this point, I just wanted to know why the hell my five-year-old needs to know what a trapezoid is. I do not even know what a trapezoid is, for Christ’s sake. Seriously. Screw wanting to know if my kid is well behaved because I doubt that this lady has one second to truly focus on a student’s behavior, as long as it’s not extreme, because she’s too busy with these damn metrics. We spent approximately 25 minutes discussing assessment results and 5 minutes discussing Lily. That is beyond backwards to me.
So, I did what every obnoxious but well-meaning parent would do: I stopped her mid-whirlwind discussion and said, in the nicest way possible, “Um, what happened to kindergarten?? Isn’t Lily just supposed to learn her ABC’s and 123’s? What IS all of this? They’re FIVE!”. The teacher took a giant deep breath and paused. “Well, I know. I agree. I really dislike what we have to do here. My first kindergarten class in 1978 had nothing more than a kitchen, some books, and a playhouse. None of this”, she explained, as she looked down at the pile of paperwork that was now accumulating in front of me.
Listen, I already had a tremendous respect for teachers before this meeting. This is one job I could honestly never do. First and foremost, I hate kids, but for what teachers get paid compared to what they have to do is nothing short of obscene. Paperwork, grading, lesson plans, puking kids, behavior problems, shitty parents, the list goes on, but then to have these Core Standards, or whatever the hell they’re calling it now, dictate how these teachers are required to teach? It’s complete bullshit.
As a society, we’re all sitting around scratching our head’s wondering why ADD/ADHD is on the rise? Why are mental disorders such as depression and anxiety showing up more often in childhood? Why are our kids getting sick so much more often than in previous generations? Why are teen suicide rates climbing every year? I will tell you something, this academic pressure that begins at the age of five is not helping any of these issues. I will even be so bold to say, in my unscientific opinion, that it is probably one of the most severe contributing factors to all of what I mentioned. How can it not be? No matter how this work is being presented to children, it’s still work. There’s no rest time, very little extracurricular time for things like art, music, and science, there’s no pretend play anymore. It’s mostly work. Hard work for these babies. The work Lily is doing in kindergarten is what I did most likely in first or second grade. Why this pressure? I honestly would like to know why, because let’s face it, America is extremely far behind when it comes to education. We don’t even crack the top 20 in proficiency in math in reading globally so don’t tell me that these government mandates are working.
So, what was my lesson learned in my first parent-teacher conference? Well, first I learned that it wasn’t about me, which was shocking, but more importantly? Our educational system is failing our kids and teachers. Getting back to basics and taking some of the pressure off would benefit everyone. Let’s go back to rest time, playing house, doing more crafts and less homework, talking to our kids about how things work instead of letting computers assess how our kids work, playing puppets instead of looking at active boards. Kids need to be kids. Let’s not force them into the rat race and monkey mind so early.
As for Lily, yes, I learned she’s pretty smart…but I knew that without having an assessment tool. And right now? She’s playing on a playground with her dad, not doing any one of her 20 pages of homework. I wouldn’t have it any other way.