I am frustrated.
At a staff brainstorming meeting about integrating special education tools into mainstream classrooms, we focused on Mifgash Boker. Starting the school day with a discussion period gives each child much more than just the opportunity to improve his speaking and listening skills. Talking out what is bothering her that morning allows her to process her emotions, which then frees her energies to deal with the rest of the day.
One teacher inadvertently put my frustration into words, “in a way, I am their father.” So you are, Mr Teacher. Your job is no longer limited to reading and math instruction or analyzing the weekly Torah portion. You have to love them unconditionally; to model and explicitly teach values; to help the kids get along with each other; and to help them develop into better people. And you will get hours and training in order to succeed at this. The result, of which you are rightly proud, is that you – the teacher – are their address years later, when they are hurt or confused by their commanding officers or fiancées.
So here I am at home, as the mother, fighting with my child to do her math homework, or to do her OT exercises; a fight which negatively affects our relationship and may cause her to reject other things I try to teach her, while YOU get the privilege of reading the news with her at school and sharing YOUR Torah perspective. YOU get to watch her play with her friends and give her positive feedback for sharing; you get to teach conflict resolution.
Why can’t IIII get more time to really PARENT? Why can’t school have hours for “homework,” with trained teachers helping the child understand math or write her research project? Can’t the gym teacher get a few more hours? I’ll bet large stakes that my child isn’t the only one with weak hand muscles! The kids wouldn’t resent it as much if it were a part of school, and not at the expense of their free time after school. And wouldn’t it be a more efficient use of resources if the school grouped together children with similar physical or academic needs and provide professional intervention there? This would also enable children whose parents don’t have a car or money for tutors and therapies (that are only covered by the health funds up to the age at which the child’s challenges are clearly visible). Can’t the extra school hours be added for school-related items, and let us parents use after-school hours to bond with our children – to share OUR values, to play together, do housework together and strengthen our Home Team?
I fear the premise is that parents either won’t choose to spend the child’s free time bonding or teaching values and social skills, or, that parents don’t know how to really parent. But, the premise continues, taking them to appointments requires less skills or patience from parents, so we will do those.
Maybe that is true. As parents, we do not appreciate our role, we don’t realize that more than they need our food or our ride to the mall, our kids really need our hugs, our joint baking sessions (especially if the cake flops), our taking their side when the neighbor cheats at soccer, our listening ear (when they do NOT want us to take their side when the neighbor cheats at monopoly).
Wisely, many schools appreciate that ALL children need a listening ear and social support. They feel safe in assuming that most kids who need educational support – tutoring or therapies- will either move to special education or their parents will get that help after school. (I am ignoring tutoring at school, as the Ed. Min. funds so few hours that barely any mainstream students get help in school.) In the scheme of things, they are right. Emotional health IS more important than handwriting or math grades.
Obviously, I want school to create a supportive environment – to ensure that children are not bullied and to accommodate each child’s academic needs. In fact, small changes in the school model can make enormous changes in the atmosphere, and that is what this morning’s meeting was about.
However, the main emotional support that human beings require should come from their families more than from their teachers and schoolmates. Too many teachers say that they have more energy and patience for their students than for their own children, that their students come to them when they have questions and issues. But is it really “all the same” to our children? Is a teacher or Sayeret Horim volunteer’s occasional listening ear truly as valuable to a child as his own parent’s listening ear? Does a growing human really develop the same level of emotional health in a dormitory with an Av and Eim Bayit as one with available and competent parents?
In short, I am asking: does modern life truly have to contraindicate individualized parenting? Can the same resources that are used to train social workers, Elem volunteers and other professionals be available to humble parents? Can parents receive the same benefits given to teachers, such as paid conferences (on work hours) to teach the importance and the how-to’s of social interaction and intervention? Can the public-sector model of “nursing hours” (for new mothers) be extended to ALL parents, to allow them to eat breakfast or supper each day as a family, to hold family mifgeshei boker or mifgeshei erev – and galvanize the world’s most important team – the family unit?