The start of this year’s Parent Night in my daughter’s second-grade classroom was not unlike last year’s; though the room and teacher had changed, the parents were the same. They sat, unsmiling and watchful and ridiculously oversized in those tiny elementary school desks and chairs. Glancing down at the colorful agenda on my daughter’s desk, I saw that item number seventeen was “Questions.” I waited through the presentation for them to pounce.
And they did. Will we see the results of this new testing? If the testing needs to be finished by October 15th, when will we see the results? How do you propose you’ll test each student individually when you’ve got a class to teach? Why is Accelerated Reader down and what will happen when it comes back up?
The teacher discussed budget cuts, decisions made at the district level, the trickling down from the state. The parents’ eyes widened and their fingers folded into fists. I was slightly confused at their astonishment. Where had they been for the last eight months as the local newspaper printed article after article concerning the district’s deficit?
And then I realized: they hadn’t paid attention because it hadn’t affected them. When one hundred and sixty-eight teachers were in danger of losing their jobs, it hadn’t mattered. When the high school was going from seven periods to six and bus routes were diminishing and disappearing, it hadn’t mattered. But now that their children were the victims of a budget crisis, now that their children had suffered the loss of a learning lab, now something had to be done.
They started asking more questions. What can we do? Who can we talk to? They scribbled down the names of the superintendent and school board representatives beneath the handwritten letters on the desks before them (Dear Mom and Dad, thank you for coming to Parent Night . . .). They suggested we all make monetary donations to this classroom, that we pay to bring back the programs for our kids.
And that’s when I wanted to leap from that tiny blue seat. That’s when I wanted to remind them that this was public education, that our kids didn’t deserve more than anyone else in the school (or the district) just because they’re our kids and we think they’re smarter than everyone else’s. That they’re already part of an accelerated academy, that they know their multiplication tables and write essays with topic sentences, evidence, and conclusions in September of the second grade. That most of them read on a fifth-grade level. That on Parent Night, the room is filled with parents. And grandparents.
That our kids, for the most part, are incredibly privileged.
Maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about whether or not their diagnostic reading test is given on the computer, about how many minutes per day they are offered the opportunity to stare at a monitor, about the number of “points” they’ve earned for the books they’ve read. (Confession: I rejoiced out loud when I learned that Accelerated Reader was down for three weeks. My seven-year-old overwhelms herself with AR stress.)
Maybe, instead, we should think of it like this: it doesn’t cost a thing to teach compassion. Drops in the bucket are free. A budget crisis can’t keep a teacher from modeling gratitude.
After her PowerPoint presentation, which had been projected onto the screen from the laptop on her desk, the teacher switched to the document camera to make one last announcement. And then, turning off both, she stood in front of that room full of slightly fired-up parents and said this, “Let’s all just remember how blessed we are. Your kids are brilliant. And healthy. We’re all alive. We are so blessed.”