Making the Case for Teaching as a Spiritual Journey - Part II: Project Isa
The most difficult choices you will face as a parent are your children’s educational ones. While volunteering at the school science fair setup, I met two moms who shared the sentiment. Two of us were new families to the school and the other a veteran. The veteran mom said, “We’re going through that same thing with our oldest son who is in middle school this year—and I just have to keep saying to myself, ‘When I look back, did it really make a difference?’ I mean, we all survived right? Did the school really impact who we are today?”
There are many things I don’t remember about grade school. I don’t remember my fourth grade teacher’s name. I don’t remember the names of the bones in the body, though I do recall coloring a life-size skeleton. I don’t remember what it was about Jason Conger that made me crush so hard. And, I don’t remember the names of the boys who sexually harassed me on the school bus.
I do, however, remember the way Mrs. Gretzmacher let us hula-hoop on the tables when we met our reading goals. And I do vividly recall the science teacher’s rage when I brought to his attention that he wasn’t being fair in his distribution of homework detentions. I also remember the way the Home Economic teacher laughed along with the kids who mockingly formed a circle around me, imitating sounds meant to represent American Indian chants.
I’m an educator. I have to believe it matters. If it doesn’t matter what experience your child receives in school, then my life purpose doesn’t matter. Schooling matters. Positive and negative, it all influences. I know what she meant though, and in a way, she is right to some extent. The positives of having a teacher like Mrs. G alongside the negatives of being picked on both influenced me, yet I am who I am today as a result of having lived both. We cannot shield our children from every potential hardship—and in fact, can do detrimental damage to them if we deny them the opportunities to face challenge. And yet, the challenges ought to be manageable. The challenges ought not break their spirit.
I want my child to wake up every day and say, “I can’t wait to see what we’re doing today.” Is that really too much to ask? When I pick Isa up from school in the afternoon and ask her about her day, the only positives she can recall include recess interactions with other children and the earning of trinkets that affirm she is being a good kid.
I know that she is learning. Her reading and math skills have sky-rocketed. The school is doing its job in traditional terms of “educating” her. And, with the use of a scaffolding reward system, she is meeting expectations of forming good character. So why isn’t she happy? Why aren’t we happy?
Because she is not excited anymore. When I wake her up in the morning, she does not anticipate the day’s journey. As a room parent, I have the rare opportunity to observe her in her learning environment—and she is not there. She is doing all the right things. Filling out all the necessary worksheets. Gluing all the necessary pre-cut pieces together . . . but the essence of who she is as a naturally curious child is dimming.
As both a parent and an educator, how can I possibly sit by and do nothing? I can’t. And so, this week has been spent in the tossing and turning reactions to a challenge we are not entirely knew to. Having survived these hurdles with an older child, we are having to once again face the challenge of determining the best educational choice for our child. What is the best way? Right now, with my own goals still in pursuit and not bringing home a consistent paycheck as an adjunct community college instructor, we can not contemplate a return to the private school environment. There are charter schools in the area, but it may result in getting her in and then falling into the same dilemma. We don’t want to bounce her around from one place to another. There needs to be a sense of consistency.
As parents who believe in the importance of institutional education we never thought we would contemplate home-schooling, but that’s the alternative we are most seriously considering. My husband and I both believe children need interaction with other children, they need the social challenge of collaboration in a game of make believe (“You can be the monster and I’ll be the princess.” “I don’t want to be the monster . . . how about we both be princesses, and . . .”), they need the structure of classroom expectations, but they also need excitement.
Project Isa. That’s what it will be. Can we provide her with enough opportunities to help her continue to face challenges while also preserving her spirit?
I’ll let you know.
Jenn Gutiérrez holds an M.F.A in English and Writing. Previous work has appeared in journals such as The Texas Review, The Writer’s Journal, The Acentos Review, Antique Children, and Verdad Magazine. Her 2005 debut collection of poems titled Weightless is available through most online book outlets.