A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dogwalk through Accotink Reflection: Tiger Mom

Note: I edited out "Crazy Chinese Mother" and changed it to "Tiger Mom" at my sister Dawn's recommendation. I had heard of Amy Tau's description of a "Tiger Mom" but had forgotten it. Mine was a real encounter and I was simply describing what happened from my perspective, but my sister felt that my descriptions might be interpreted by some as racism, which were never the intent, so I made the editing change.

Most of my experiences with parents in education have been with parents of lower socioeconomic status or of the middle class. Virtually every parent I have ever spoken with in a classroom has expressed sincere gratitude and shown a high level of deference to the teaching profession. That was not the case with a "Tiger Mom" who surprised me at the end of the day in a 4th grade classroom in an elite public elementary school where I happened to be subbing. Her blood was boiling, having concluded that her daughter was not being adequately challenged in an Advanced Academic Program classroom in an elite public school. She was seething because the teacher was not there to defend herself against her biting criticisms, enraged by the polite response she had received from the teacher who had sought to reassure her via email that her daughter was doing fine, regardless of the fact that school had been in session for less than a month, that back-to-school night remained a few weeks away, and that her daughter was, in fact, doing fine. Had I noticed how agitated the mother was, and realized that this crazed mother seemed to want her daughter's teacher's head served on a platter, I would have politely declined the engagement.

When I arrived at the elite public school last week, a violinist was pleasantly performing in the hall. The Principal considerately invited me to get a mug from the kitchen and get a cup of coffee in the office so that I would not have to wait in the line for the special breakfast that was being served to the Staff, since all I wanted was a cup of coffee. The lesson plans warned of a "hectic day." I crossed out "hectic" on the plans and replaced it with "exciting." A special ceremony was being held later that day to induct the recently elected officers of the SCA, where members of the Army Fife and Drum Corps would be performing in front of the entire school, plus VIP's. Additionally, the community was celebrating the awarding of a prestigious national award to the school from an environmental group for the school's truly remarkable green initiatives. A message from the Principal communicating expectations had been included in the plans. A member of the 4th grade team came in to warn me that a parent would be by the school to drop off popsicles during recess for her son's birthday. Everything about the day had been unusually positive. At the end of the day, since every assignment had been completed so efficiently with so much cooperation, the class had extra time at dismissal, which led students to become move the noise meter upwards. One of the students suggested that we find the teacher's Brain Quest game, which is an activity that the teacher often does at dismissal. Unable to find Brain Quest, I noticed some multiplication flashcards. Having noticed that a number of students had expressed a desire to become more automatic with their multiplication facts, I started up a game of Around the World. Mistake One was not communicating my expectation that students remain calm and by their own desks during the game, which I had assumed would be the case since the students had so calm and cooperative for the entire day. The class got a little too excited. Meanwhile, the Chinese mother was waiting, growing ever more impatient and scowling while waiting outside the door for her daughter, who did not want to leave the game. I told the daughter she should go with her mother. Before I noticed, the mother was in the classroom. I ended the game, apologized that the classroom had gotten a little rambunctious, and pointed to the television, which showed an instruction that "silent dismissal" had begun. Students complied without complaint.

After the students had been dismissed, the mother was still there wanting to engage me, and expressed her unhappiness that the classroom teacher was not adequately challenging her daughter. I told her I was just a sub, and that this was the first time I had been to the school, but having seen schools from across the county, this was one of the most impressive classrooms in which I had ever worked. Having seen clear evidence of a positive classroom environment, where students were handling the responsibilities of the classroom economy, with classroom jobs and daily double entry bookkeeping entries for credits and debits, where every student had handled their classroom assignments with aplomb, where children were unfailingly polite and treated each other respectfully, I unfortunately made the foolish attempt to attempt to help a mother notice the many positive things about the class that I had noticed. First, I shared with the mother that the students had written letters, which would be going home to parents, explaining their SMART goals for Citizenship and Academics. Unimpressed, she replied that everybody does SMART goals. Then, I showed the mother an inventory of her daughter's reading that her daughter had completed that day, and explained to her that all the students had taken the assignment seriously, since it would be factored into how their reading levels would be determined. I shared my opinion that the reading assessment the teacher was doing was a great assessment, in fact a far better assessment than SOL tests, adding, SOL scores have been consistently rising while SAT scores have been falling.

My offhand comment that the books the mother's daughter had listed were not particularly challenging compared to what others in the class had been reading was like tossing a match in a tinderbox. The infuriated "Tiger Mom" replied that her daughter was capable of doing much more challenging work. I shared with her that the teacher was doing assessments in preparation for setting up reading groups. She complained that her daughter was "not getting 12 pages of homework per night," as she had gotten during 3rd grade and that other Advanced classes were getting. Nothing had been coming home, the mother bitterly complained. In response, I expressed my opinion that her issue might be with the curriculum, which comes down from the state, and expressed my opinion that the 3rd and 5th grade curricula were far more interesting than the 4th grade curriculum, where students are required to take an SOL in Virginia history, which as constructed requires, primarily, lower level thinking, i.e., memorization, as opposed to higher level thinking such as evaluating, analyzing, or creating. I observed that the students in the class had beautifully demonstrated knowledge of SOL facts when I questioned them during Social Studies. When I pointed to the map of Virginia on a bulletin board in order to highlight the primary placement held by Virginia History in the 4th grade curriculum, the mother complained that the bulletin-board was empty, that no student work was hanging outside of the classroom, and that she had seen no evidence of higher level thinking coming home. I advised the parent to speak directly to the teacher, because many of the great things happening in the classroom such as the classroom economy and system of double entry bookkeeping may not be entirely obvious, and that I was just a sub. The mother emphasized that her daughter had gotten 600's on all of her SOL's. She complained bitterly that, based on her experience with Advanced Academic Program classrooms, and based on discussions she had been having with other parents of students in the class and other schools, she was completely disappointed and dissatisfied with the teacher.

The concept of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), a hallmark of Special Education legislation, applies to this scenario, even though it was originally intended to apply to students with disabilities. The question is or should be, to what quality of education is an Advanced Academic Program student entitled? The Cadillac or the Chevrolet?

Next: Mr. 5