Our child, Jilly Nines, will be starting kindergarten in September and last night we participated in our first parent’s night at school. We, and about eighty other parents, met the principal, the school psychologist, all five kindergarten teachers, the administrative director, two first grade teachers, the librarian, the art teacher, the physical education teacher, the night custodian, the director of the PTA, the PTA fund-raising coordinator, the director of bi-lingual education, the director of transportation, the speech pathologist, the director of the PTA communications office, four teacher’s aides and someone else. Almost all of the teachers were endowed with a charming, youthful silhouette. None looked like they could deliver the thunderous reprimands of the Sister Christopher of my youth. The night custodian, a charming woman about my age, fifty-x, looked as if she could have snapped my neck in the wink of an eye.
We learned there will be about ninety new kindergartners and five different kindergarten classes in the school. Two of the classes will be bi-lingual.
All of this took place at ‘Neath Lake Elementary School. This is the same place that my dad, Jilly’s grandfather went to school from 1924 – 1935 (first grade through high school).
By the end of the meeting, three things occurred to me:
1. In order to assure a heterogeneous (a word which should only be written with a space between each letter thusly — h e t e r o g e n e o u s) I’ll start again. In order to assure a h e t e r o g e n e o u s student population in kindergarten, as mandated by New York State law, all new kindergarten students must be screened by school officials prior to admission. I guess this applies to schools that will have multiple incoming classes as well as to provide some Department of Education number cruncher some raw data in order to prove something to someone. The children, we learned would be tested in six categories: Large Motor Skills; Cognitive Skills; Language Skills; Shape Shifting; and Cookie Eating. We were assured any number of times that this was not a test and that our children could not fail. We were told that the results of this non-testing could not, would not, should not be shared with the child’s parents. That the information would only be used to assure a h e t e r o g e n e o u s classroom population.
I have always known, and confirmed last night, that I am, for the most part, a very accepting and trusting individual. This can be evidenced by the fact that after we were informed of the fail-safe screening, I had no questions for the school officials. I did not even ask if someone should have spell checked the principal’s presentation. Oh, h e t e r o g e n e o u s was spelled well enough but I am still wondering what I should tell them Jilly’s “heigth” is. My other co-parents though are not quite as trusting and what occurred to me, after about the two-hundred-seventy-sixth question about kindergarten screening from only about six of the other seventy-nine parents in the room, was that there was another kind of screening taking place right in front of my eyes and it was this: These teachers, in order to survive the school year are going to have to ASSURE that these six parents have their children in separate classrooms. Otherwise, the lovely and patient Mrs. Greenhild will probably go postal (or hombre postaleros if they end up in her bi-lingual education program).
2. Everyone at my job is “Bill,” “Bob,” “Ruth,” “Sarah,” “Lester,” “Asshole Trevor,” or “etc.” What I mean is everyone is on a “first name” or “epithet and first name basis.” At school, it turns out that everyone is: Mrs. Greenhild, Mr. Ingram, Mrs. Lipton-Soupmix. I cannot handle this. I have to get on a first name basis with these people in a hurry or I’ll be as afraid to address them as I am to order a double-mocha-cino-mora-java-llada-roma at Starbucks. It’s intimidating. I just want to be able to say to Jilly’s teacher, “So, Julie are we having fun learning?” or “Jules, are we up to speed on the shape shifting thing yet?” (I do plan to refer to Jilly as “we” in school as I am prepared to take 100% responsibility for everything related to “our” schooling because there is no way she is getting away with the stuff that I got away with.) So, I am pretty sure the road to this kind of relationship with the staff at Jilly’s school is paved with money. Money that flows to the school in new ways. New Money. Money for a class trip to a herbologist. Maybe a new laptop for the Department of Education number cruncher. I have to get involved. I have to volunteer. I have to attend meetings. I have to vote in the school board election. I have to, well, to use the ‘f’ word. I have to fund-raise. So this constitutes fair warning. Be prepared to buy, from me, at a significant mark-up: wrapping paper, books, chocolate, costume jewelry, magazine subscriptions, doilies. Save your money. You name it. We’re selling it. You’re buying it.
3. I cried as we were leaving the school. My father walked these halls eighty years ago. He had his whole life ahead of him and he decided to have children instead. I am eternally grateful. Last night, all of the teachers, administrators, therapists talked about the children, our children, my child as if they really liked children. As if they liked my child. Already. Not ever having met her. They were articulate about what the children do each day at school. They knew when school started. They knew when school ended. They were teaching over the summer. And they were attending a meeting at 7:30 in the evening with seventy-four reasonable and six treacherously aggressive parents. Do you know how many people who work at my office would attend a 7:30PM meeting? Well, other than Asshole Trevor, no one would.
So, we’ve made first contact with our child’s educators. I hope I can behave like an adult which I think I can as long as no one tries to teach me the correct use of the semi;colon.
You can read more of Koe Whitton-Williams’ writing at www.thehalflifeoflinoleum.blogspot.com