5 Changes I Want to See in Schools Right Now

1. I want schools to be beautiful spaces. 

Television is full of beautiful rooms. Every sitcom and drama has a crew of designers paying attention to every last detail from the paint color to furniture and accessories. In movies, actors and actresses move from one decadent set to another even in low-budget films. Commercials are shot in stunning, immaculate homes making many families green with envy. Reality television is teeming with renovation and design shows.

Yet our children, who are supposed to be our pride and joy, spend hours, for 180 days a year, in schools where little attention or money is paid to design. Sure some schools have a mural or two. And many teachers do a stellar job of making their classrooms more inviting than just slapping a few store-bought posters on the walls. But overall, most schools are painted drab industrial colors with flooring that is uninspired at best. Our children sit in uncomfortable chairs and look out unadorned windows.  The problem is even worse in low-income areas. In Baltimore City, I taught in a school with roaches and mice running across my classroom floor and lead in the drinking water. Many schools need to improve their cleanliness way before they consider design. But, wouldn’t it be nice if there was just a little more beauty? Don’t our children at least deserve quality lighting and a soothing wall color that doesn’t scream institution?

2. I want tissues in every nurse’s office and classroom to be softer. 

Don’t laugh. I am not asking for Puffs Plus with lotion or anything (though that would be nice), but kids have runny noses A LOT. It is so sad as a teacher when I would run out of the tissue I bought from home and my students would have to use the cheap industrial ones from the nurse’s office or classroom supply. Their sad red, raw noses are so unnecessary. We adults like soft tissues, so why not give our kids that same comfort at school.

3. I want suggestion boxes in every classroom and main office. 

I have written before about how important it is to listen to the kids. Read my post here. But really, schools would be much better places if the adults stopped more often to ask the kids what they think. Sure you would get some silly ideas and comments, but those are harmful compared to the wisdom that could be discovered. Their perspective is so different, if we were to get down on their level, who knows what we might see.

4. I want to see a student representative from every school in the district at every school board meeting. 

I have attended quite a few school board meetings over the past 2 years and most of the time they are very poorly attended events. Some school boards do have student representatives, but usually just from the high school. Why wouldn’t a school board want to hear from their younger students as well? Is their school experience any less valuable?

Secondly, I want to hear those representatives report more than just a list of events at the school. Sure I love the positive stuff. I want to know how many cans were donated at the food drive and how many scholarships were awarded to the senior class. But I also want to know if those representatives have heard their classmates talking about an increase in heroin usage or if they have concerns about graduation requirements. I want to hear if the middle school students want more arts programs or want more guidance with the challenges adolescence throws at them. I want to hear if the elementary students are stressed out by too much homework or struggling to learn typing skills for the upcoming PARCC test.

So many decisions are made in education without anyone asking the students what they think or what they need.

5. I want to see just as many parents at PTA/PTO meetings and school board meetings as I do at sporting events. 

I like sports. I played sports. I grew up in a home where sports were always on the television no matter what time of the year. But any good coach will tell you that number one should be your family, number two your schoolwork, and then maybe number three would be your sport. Yet many adults do not model this belief system and practice what they preach.

Family gatherings, dinnertime, and reading or other educational pursuits are often sacrificed or curtailed to make room for practices and games. With travel and competitive sports leagues starting younger and younger, many children are getting the message that sports is number one. And parents are so spread thin that they are not making time to stay informed and involved in the type of activities, instruction, and testing going on in their children’s schools.  And while many parents were not paying attention, education changed drastically right under their noses.

typography_quote_7___the_reward_of_our_work_is_not_by_smartgilli-d7lx1bx

Womb to the Classroom?

The second that second line showed up on the pee stick, I started reading anything and everything I could get my hands on (starting with the paper insert from that pregnancy test box and the 4 other boxes I had purchased just in case).

With motherhood looking at me down the barrel of the pregnancy gun, I felt unprepared. So reading seemed a natural reaction, it had always worked for me before.

So before the pee stick dried, I was at Barnes and Noble buying books. Well I pretended to consider buying books, while sipping  bottled water in the cafe and browsing a towering stack of books.  I read everything from the classic What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff to the sassy A Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy by Vicki Iovine to the hysterical Belly Laughs by Jenny McCarthy to the earthy practical A Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook by Cathe Olson, to the extremely natural midwife Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I also read medical journals through my doctor husband’s subscription and watched endless television shows depicting various types of birth experiences.

I was suffering from  information overload well before I even sat down at a computer and started googling stuff. My doctors most likely sighed when they saw my name on the schedule, because I came with questions, studies, research, and a birth plan of 2-3 typed detailed pages.

The point was that I didn’t take pregnancy lightly.  Like many other new mothers, I wanted to be informed, but more importantly I didn’t want to screw it up. I wanted to do everything in my power to keep that little growing life inside of me as healthy as possible.

And if that meant…

no sushi, no fish with even a trace of mercury, not too many nuts or peanut butter (just in case it causes allergies), no caffeine (not even decaf coffee just in case), no harsh cleaning chemicals, no artificial sweeteners, no contact sports, not laying on my back to sleep, getting a flu shot and endless blood work, changing over to organic dairy and produce, and of course giving up wine despite that fact that European women somehow found a way to drink some without dying of guilt…

then I would do it.

(Heck if they told me I should sit in a bubble for 9 months or my baby wouldn’t be healthy; I would have done it.)

I will spare you my 4 birth stories, but with every childbirth I made tremendous sacrifices in the interest of my babies. I switched practices a week before my due date with my first baby, because I just couldn’t trust the doctor I had been seeing. I tried to go without pain medication for my first 2 births (the other 2 were planned c sections). I took no medication after the birth of all of my children c-sections or not, because I wanted to be alert and to keep my breastmilk pure. I traveled to the NICU every 45 minutes starting less than 24 hours after my 2nd baby was born prematurely to make sure he got as much of my milk as possible and no formula. I blamed myself for his early arrival, because I had been working too hard.  I roomed in with all of my babies and wouldn’t let the nursery take them away even when I was up all night alone when my husband went home to take care of our other children.

I was the same way with my babies as infants. Holding them all of the time, reading to them several times a day (I even read to them all while in utero), wearing them in baby wraps, feeding them organic baby food (feeling guilty for not making my own), nursing as long as I could, not showing them television until age 2, rocking them to sleep, letting them sleep with me, constantly worrying about SIDS and checking them obessively…..

You get the idea. From the second I peed on the stick, I was 100% dedicated to being not just a good mother, but one that met impossible levels of perfection. Sure I relaxed a little with each of my 4 children, as I became more confident in my parenting abilities. But still, I worked damn hard to give all of them the best start in life.

But why am I writing all of this?

To brag?

No, I believe that no matter what choices we make as mothers that by nature we want the best for our babies. We may not all breastfeed, or try natural childbirth or even buy organic baby food (gasp!). But, those choices don’t define us. What defines us as mothers is our instinct. The instinct to care for our babies with every ounce of our being regardless of how many boxes we can check off on the perfect mother checklist.

Do I hope to make other mothers feel in adequate?

No, the media does this all of the time, especially to mothers. We never feel like we are good enough. We feel like everything we do is constantly judged and stressed.

  • Are the kids’ car seats installed properly?
  • Are they getting too much BPA?
  • Are their vaccinations saving their lives or infecting?
  • Are their baby blankets silent killing machines?
  • Will I be able to pull off everything I pinned for baby’s first birthday on Pintrest?

I don’t want to add more stress.But I do want to ask why do we as mothers hold ourselves to such impossibly high standards when our children are babies, but then let go so easily once our children become school age?

Shouldn’t we expect our schools to respect all of the time, effort, stress, and love that we put into our pregnancies and babies and to show the same amount of dedication to our children once they arrive at school?

Why do so many mothers stop researching and reading when their children turn 5? Does our job only include the time from the womb to the classroom? Or are we missing something by trusting our schools blindly to finish the job that we worked so hard at for all of those years?

Yes, I know we are tired, but all it takes is a little bit of time. Carve a few minutes from the DVR, or Facebook, or Pintrest and look into what is best for your school age child’s development. Then look into whether those needs are being met at school.

  • Do your kids feel safe and happy?
  • Are they excited about learning and going to school?
  • How much screen time are they getting at school?
  • Is the work too hard or too easy?
  • Is the work interesting or boring?
  • Are there enough field trips and other curriculum-enriching activities?
  • Are your board members and administrators informed and working for positive changes?

Education reform is happening right now. The schools, curriculum, instruction, and tests are changing. We work hard to give our children the best in life. And only WE can make sure that the schools are furthering those efforts. Please join so many of us who are already finding our voices on blogs, on Facebook, at school board meetings and PTA/PTO meetings.

(And I want to give a shout out to the fathers too. This post focused a lot on my experience as a mother, but dad’s have the same instincts too. Historically PTA/PTO meetings have been mom-centric, but it does not need to stay that way. Fathers bring a unique perspective to the table and are a hugely untapped resource in many school districts outside of sports.)

How have you impacted education in your school district or state? I would love to hear about it!