to the superintendent

In her highly ranked school
within the county public school system,
here’s what my fourth grade daughter is learning this year.

She’s learning that it really doesn’t matter
that her expectations of what constitutes a good learning environment
(generated by her own experience
over the past four years at this school)
have been let down,
that what she needs in the classroom
as a good student doesn’t effect needed change,
that her parents’ concern is disregarded—
that we can make our voices heard—
are politely received and practically ignored,
that we can write letters and they’re filed.
She’s learning that her parents can’t make it better.

She’s learning that the school leaders are part of a bigger system
and that whatever they might like to do or say,
they’re not allowed to,
that we don’t actually know what they’re doing,
and that systems develop around need,
and without discipline, intentionality, and transparency
risk becoming more interested in sustaining themselves—
their rules and processes,
than in meeting the need they were originally designed to meet
and, in this case, protecting the children entrusted to them.

She’s learning that the stagnancy of the status quo
delays and sometimes indefinitely extends
any possibility of constructive change,
that maybe (maybe) those things being heard and filed
will allow for improvement down the road,
but that she and her fourth grade school year have been written off—
that the most we can hope for is that her younger sister
won’t have to face this same situation.

Though she’s also unfortunately learned,
in talking to parents of children now in college
who remember this teacher and her lack of teaching skills,
that incompetence and stagnancy are evidently acceptable in the system.

So she’s learning that she only thought the priorities of her classroom
were primarily about teaching her,
and that enabling her to be the best possible fourth grader
is not, in fact, how she’s being prepared for fifth grade.

She’s learning that it may well be
that who a teacher’s mom is,
and what that mom’s relationship was
with said teacher’s long-time principal,
matters too much,
and that in a system that places so much value on accurate evaluations,
teacher evaluations don’t necessarily reflect the reality of a classroom,
and that “dotting i’s and crossing t’s” matter more than doing what’s right.

is she learning some life skills:
the “realities” of life,
how to cope with another’s incompetence,
with boredom, busy work and the lack of preparation of those in charge,
with politics in the work place—
how to not absolutely explode in frustration
within systemic lethargy, ineptitude and oblivion?
Maybe so.

Not what I wanted her fourth grade experience to teach her though.

And she’s also learning that someone can not do their job and keep it,
that someone who should not have been allowed
to remain in the classroom has been,
that there are thus things more important than her education.

She’s learning that the best learning environment
is not always the school’s highest priority,
and that what’s best for the students is not always the path chosen,
that the entire ethos of a school environment
can be subjugated to one toxic element.

So she’s learning that a teacher
doesn’t have to learn the names of her students,
doesn’t have to take pride in the way her classroom looks,
that she can fall asleep during the school day
and not pick up her students after activities,
that she can leave them in the hall outside the room
where she’s supposed to be and isn’t.
She’s learning that a teacher can disappear for four months
and then return to replace a beloved and effective long-term substitute
with no word of explanation.

She’s learning just how a teacher can make her students
feel like they’re unimportant—
not worth preparing for,
staying awake for, being present to—
and how a system can make students feel like the work of teaching
is, in the larger scheme, less significant and consequential
than—well, something.

So, the school—the wonderful school
that has nurtured her from kindergarten,
taught her and cared for her—
the wonderful teachers that have not only taught her subject matter,
but have had her playing school at home—
first acting out the role of teacher
and lining up her dolls and stuffed animals as students—
then making believe with her sister,
the school that has graded my daughter
and held her accountable to her best work
is failing this year—
is failing her—
letting her down in not holding itself accountable to its best expressions.

So my word to the system:
whatever processes
you have so clearly prioritized over her fourth grade year,
they do not justify the price she has paid.
Whatever reason you have for not acting now
(and for not having acting for the past however many years)
to make changes—to make improvements,
you are protecting someone and/or something
at the expense of this year’s fourth graders
(last year’s fourth graders/next year’s fourth graders).

She’s not playing school this year,
and I’m more mad than I am sad … which makes me madder
and sadder.

So amidst congratulatory noise about how good the school is
(and it is)—
about all the wonderful staff and teachers
(and almost every other one for both our children has been)—
about scoring so well again on the MSA’s (100% last year),
amidst all that makes our school what it is,
someone owes my daughter
an apology.


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