School's Out For SummerYes, it seems bizarre to title a post Snow Day, since we're now well into June and most schools (should) have started their summer break by now. But what is summer break from school in a state like Minnesota but really a three month snow day, minus the snow*. Some schools might have seen their summer break temporarily postponed because of the number of snow days they had during the winter. All curses toward school administration for not calling a snow day after that 12 inch blizzard are quickly forgotten when the school calendar stays on schedule come early June.
Growing up in Minnesota, I always remember having at least a weeks worth of cumulative snow days during the winter. Either times or the weather have changed, both of which are probably true to some extent, or my memory is fading, which is also likely true, as my kids seem to only be averaging about one a year, with maybe a late start or early out thrown in here or there if you are lucky. While snow days (or any other break for that matter) are always welcomed by the kids, parents certainly have mixed emotions about those days off of school. If you are lucky enough to be "retired" like me, and your school district has the foresight to make their snow day calls relatively early the evening before, your biggest excitement probably comes from the possibility of catching a few extra minutes of sleep.
I've commented before that one of the best things about staying home with my kids has been the ability to be on their schedule, especially now that they have entered school and gotten busier with school related and extra curricular activities. For households with two working parents or single parents who work, days off of school, whether expected or unexpected can be a harried experience. Pending the age of your children, and the flexibility of your work arrangement, it undoubtedly leaves a fair share of parents scrambling to find a suitable overseer for their children.
During the one snow day our kids had this past winter, I was chatting with our neighbor while we were out attempting to dig out from the previous snowfall. Both he and his wife are teachers and we agreed that we felt lucky to not have to scramble to find childcare for our kids. As we were admiring our good fortune(?), I casually made the comment that maybe a requirement of having school age kids should be that one of the parents work in the school, or a school, so that their work schedule could be somewhat consistent with their kids' school schedules. I know as I contemplate coming out of retirement once the kids are all in school, working a job at their school, or one of our district schools sounds pretty enticing.
Of course I know we all hate requirements, and I'm certainly not trying to suggest that all parents, or at least one parent in each family should become teachers, just as I've suggested before that not all parents should be stay-at-home parents. I do think the notion of parental involvement in a kid's formal education has some merit, if done appropriately. As we've moved to the norm of a two income household, if there are two incomes to be had in that household, naturally it has become harder for working parents to stay connected to the formal education process. And as our community bonds have seemed to weaken, our connection to the social institutions, like our schools, have strained as well.
Increasingly it seems as though the educating of our kids has become something that we leave to the teachers and education administrators. We may do this in part because as parents we don't feel equipped to teach our kids the things they would learn in a school setting. It also gives us an out to complain about the way our kids are being taught, or not. I give special kudos to anyone who home-schools their children, as that must take an insane amount of patience, creativity and mental fortitude. And while I certainly don't think that we should all be homeschooling our kids, it would be incumbent upon us parents to think that we could, should Alice Cooper's prophecy actually come true at any point in the future.
Dropping our kids off at school, and leaving them to the teachers and various education professionals for the next 7-8 hours, it seems like another way in which we've tried to make parental responsibilities fit into the rest of our life. One of the central goals of a country, state or even a community would seem to be supporting the education of our kids. But often our collective societal action doesn't always fall in line with that concept. Two years ago, an article on the Huffington Post tried to make the argument that if we really cared about working moms, then we should increase the length of the school day. A former college classmate of mine, and incredible teacher, was quick to point out that she, like many other teachers, was a working mom as well.
When we were touring kindergarten open houses with our oldest, I vividly remember a particular school's open house, where the point was reiterated multiple times that just because a child was 5 years old, they did not need to start kindergarten if the parents didn't think they were ready. It hadn't really dawned on me until then that a common mindset when a child reaches 5 years old could be to get them out of the house or out of daycare. I found it a little ironic when paging through a Community Education Flyer and came across a series of classes titled Parents are Teachers Too. Considering how much time a child typically spends with his/her parents/guardians, it is well accepted that parents are the most effective teachers during a child's formative years. Even the best teachers have a limited ability to instruct, given the number of kids in each class, the number of classes in a day, and the number of days in a school year. A teacher's ability to make an education impact seems to be decreasing even more as it become more commonplace for teachers to spend excessive amounts of time dealing with student behavior management, something, if anything, that should be taught in the home.
And while we seem to be asking more and more of schools, both in the formal education process, but also in the development of individual character, communities tend to be supporting their schools less, and being more suspect of teachers and education administrators. Now it has become more the norm for parents to question teachers and administrators than to acknowledge poor performance by their child, which ultimately might reflect poorly on their parenting performance. Teaching thus becomes one of those "desirable" professions where everyone has an opinion on how it should be done and feels that they could do it better, but few actually want to do it, as highlighted by nationwide teacher shortages. You would think that such projected shortages would spurn us into collective action of wanting to recruit new teachers and retain the ones we currently have, or at least the good ones. But yet, this spring alone, five different states have seen teachers strike, or threaten to strike, over inadequate funding and resources^. We may say that we highly value teachers and the education of our kids, but what our actions really say we want are bigger houses, more Snapchat filters and faster delivery service for our online shopping.
Of course more goes into job satisfaction for teachers than a paycheck, and while most don't get into the field to get rich quick (if at all), there are a number who do it just for the summers off and have little to no business educating our kids. But when we lament those stereotypical outliers, we fail to recognize that we have an opportunity as parents to partner with the formal education system to make it better. If all we do is complain about bad teachers, instead of trying to support them to make them better or working with the administrators to get them out of teaching, we help perpetuate the cycle of a failed educational system. In a country like Finland, which is consistently ranked as the best in the world for educating its youth, the teaching profession is one of the most respected, has the most rigorous training process, and is compensated accordingly. The Fins also view educating their youth as a central part of their society and adjust other aspects of their lives to help support it.
If we want to make educating our kids a priority, we have to recognize that we as parents have to work collaboratively with the formal education system (if our kids are apart of it), and provide teachers with the support the deserve, both financially and from a social-emotional standpoint. We have to recognize that as parents, we are the most influential teachers in our kids lives. If we can't teach our kids basic behavioral skills at home, our expectations that the formal teachers in the schools be able to teach much reading, writing or arithmetic should be pretty low. If we view sending our kids to school, especially public schools, as a very inexpensive daycare, then we should expect to get what we pay for, which is very little.
We also have to realize that kids learn in a variety of places and in a myriad of ways. These include the formal brick and mortar schools, as well as our daily experiences and adventures. Because of this, we have a community obligation to teach our kids the skills necessary to live capable and productive lives. We can certainly shirk this responsibility, and leave it up to those with degrees and advanced degrees in education, but this will do little to fix an education system so commonly viewed as broken. It doesn't require all parents to stop what they are doing and apply for jobs at the local school, although they always seem to be looking for bus drivers. If we can't see our role in fixing the problems that exist, we shouldn't have much expectation that those problems will actually get fixed.
*At some point during the summer, as I'm attempting to lather up my kids with sunscreen, I wonder what is worse, working up a sweat putting all of the snow gear on your kids in the winter or feeling the constant cake of SPF 50 on your hands all summer. I'd say it's a toss up.
^Yes you can debate the merits and justifications for these strikes, but they are obviously happening. And given that we spend we spend about 2% of our annual expenditures on Education in a given year (less than the amount we spend on clothing!), you can easily see why.