Thursday, September 13, 2018

Kin in the Game

"What was your favorite part of your first day of school?" I excitedly ask my oldest child.

He enthusiastically thrusts two fingers into the air. "We got to go outside TWO times! And at lunch! THREE outside times!"

And that's when I truly realized that just because I'm a teacher, he's not going to be any different of a student. Of course his favorite times are the outside times. I've met him. I knew this. What was I expecting?

I'm a public school teacher. I've fought for public schools, marched for a better contract, prepared to vote to strike (narrowly avoided at the last minute), made videos and wrote articles arguing for the rights of public schools and its teachers, and supported the schools I've worked at however I could. There was never any doubt my kids were going to go into the public school system. It's not perfect, but it's damn good.

It's strange being on this side of the teacher desk. It's not my first time over here, but it's the first time I'm handing a kid over for an entire day for the entire year to another adult. It's different. I fully acknowledge the privilege I have as a teacher in the district my son is going to. I know the principal of his school. In fact, I taught her son a few years ago. The shoe is now on the other foot, it seems. I know his teacher, we've been in trainings together. There are three kindergarten teachers at his school and, to be honest, I would have been happy with any of the three. It's a great team. But that's because I trust public school teachers to do their best. I don't think any of the kinder team needs to be motivated by asking them if they are going to decide to be mediocre today. They all want to kick ass at their jobs. I trust that.

I probably could have gotten him placed at my school instead of the one closer to our house. It's in district, like I said. There's strings to pull if I wanted, I'm sure of it. But I didn't. I want the Weirdlings to have their own school experience, separate from me. I don't want "You're Mr Robertson's son" to follow them through the halls. I didn't want to even accidentally steal authority or power from his teachers. I don't think any teacher/parent would do those things on purpose, but sometimes things happen on accident. He's five, it might be confusing to have Dad and Teacher in the same room. He's smart and would adjust too. Still... I also wanted him to be able to get into trouble without me finding out. There's Handled In School trouble and there's Called Your Parents trouble and I know it would be hard for Handles In School to stay there if I worked there. I want to also make clear that this is my choice, not The Right Choice. I know plenty of teachers teach where their kids go, and that works just fine for them. I dig that too.

Right now he is SO excited about school. He couldn't stop talking about going to kindergarten. I started work a week before he started school, meetings and set-up and whatnot, and every day he wanted to know how many more days until he got to go to school. Got to. He counted down every night. "Dad, tonight there's four more days until I get to go to school Then tomorrow it'll be three days. Then the day after tomorrow I get to start kindergarten in two days. After that it will be one day. Then I'll get to go on the bus to kindergarten!" Going to bed Sunday night, he clenched his eyes shut, willing himself to go to sleep like a kid who has been told Santa isn't coming until all the little children are asleep.

My principal, being a cool and understanding human, allowed me to come in later than contract time so that I could walk him to the bus on his first day with my wife and the younger child. He was dancing waiting for the bus. So jazzed. When he saw it coming he was like a sprinter on the line. We had to call him back. "Come give us hugs!" He would have thrown a half wave behind him as he climbed into the bus otherwise. "Hey! You're supposed to be nervous and kind of reluctant and not so damn eager to leave us!" He did sit at a window right at the front and wave until he was out of sight.

Which bring us to my biggest fear- He is SO excited about going to school right now. He gets to go to school. It's awesome. Even the stuff that's not recess is awesome.

How long does that last? What if something happens and that goes away?

Like I said, I trust his teacher, I trust his school. I do not in any way think they are going to somehow knock the love of school out of him. But something might. And I don't want that to happen. It probably will? I don't know, I was one of those kids that always liked school. I didn't always like the kids I went to school with, but I liked school. But at some point kids kinda fall out of love with school. Sometimes it is a teacher, though not as often as the popular narrative would make it seem. Sometimes its a wall. Sometimes it's the other kids. I've always been a teacher that appreciates the idea that I want my kids to question The Man while also being The Man. Challenge, push back. But be cool about it. Can he walk that line? I hope so.

He's got long dirty blonde hair, and often when we're out and about strangers will compliment our "adorable girls." He doesn't care. Couldn't bother him less. He doesn't even really try to correct people. His favorite show right now is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (a really good, well-written show that deserves all the love it gets from all the fans except the super creepo ones). His Grammy bought him a Rainbow Dash backpack and he is all about it. I kinda hinted around asking him, "What if someone says something about you liking Ponies?" He looked at me, "It's my favorite show. So?" I think we've raised him to be confident in himself and like what he likes, but he's never really been around peer pressure before. I'm fully being a parent when I say, "What if someone is mean to him?" But I also trust the school to handle it and, more importantly, I trust him to stand up for what he likes. Still though...

He's four days in and already reminds me of my own students. I ask him specific questions about what he did in school and either get really detailed recess reports or shrugs. Exactly like I picture my students going to to their parents, no matter what cool stuff we did that day. "What did you learn today?" "Stuff. Math." He's so tired right now but trying to hold it together, getting grumpy faster than usual. "Dad, I don't wanna talk about it any more right now." Ok, buddy. But I really want to know. I wish I could be in the room with you, seeing what's going on. I've never really watched a kindergarten room go before. It seems like madness to me. But he also seems so much bigger than the kindergartners I see walked my halls. He can't be though.

We talk about the value of positive notes and phone calls home, and I know, intellectually, that that's a great thing to do. But his teacher emailed me early in the week and it freaking made my day to read how excited she sounded about him. I knew, but good to know.

I've always been deeply invested in my school and my district (except one previous district that shall remain nameless but BOY what a dumpsterfire of leadership feces). I buy in when I move in. We're all in this together and we need to support one another. Not with unquestioning positivity, that's ridiculous, but with strength and unity. When I work in a school it's my school. My district. But now, on the other side of the desk, it's new. It's his district too. Now I've got kin in the game.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.

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