I was sitting in an office with a few staff members from my son’s school when I realized that the weeks of stress and strain involving my son were getting to me. Tears started to well in my eyes. Emotions that I can’t even explain prevented me from being strong and the tears just began to flow. I don’t know how many of you have had to deal with situations in which just hanging on to your ability to function took enormous effort, because someone close to you was in trouble, but I know I am not the only one.
Let me back up. Weeks ago my life was on cruise control when all of sudden, through a complicated and confusing series of events (which even now I do not understand), my eighth-grade son’s direction in life was completely derailed. My wife and I used all our parenting skills to help get our son back on track, but it was to no avail. I had always thought that if my wife and I worked together and showed our kids our love for them, we could get through anything. I was wrong, however, and maybe the reason I was emotional was because I realized that love was not enough. It was a difficult concept for me to come to grips with, but only someone other than his parents could help my son.
The public school would have to be a partner with us in this endeavor. Would they do it? This was not about algebra skills, history tests, or even standardized test scores, this was about redirecting a child’s life. We did not need a great lesson plan, we needed compassion and caring and not just from one person but a team of individuals. Could they do it? Or would they hide behind rules and policy?
To my great relief they showed more kindness and compassion than I could have hoped for. My son became a priority to them. While we are not completely out of the woods yet, knowing that I am not alone in this battle is a great feeling.
This got me to thinking about the current state of affairs in public education being discussed in Trenton and on the talk radio airwaves, and how it is so far from the reality of the classroom.
School districts are judged as being successful almost completely on the basis of their standardized test scores. In my son’s case, however, the school’s performance was outstanding – it helped prevent a student from losing his way. That achievement won’t show up on any standardized test scores but my wife and I were not worried about test scores. How can we measure this type of achievement?
The rhetoric being used in debates about education these days tends to paint everyone with the same broad brush – teachers, administrators, board members and even public schools themselves. One radio talk show host uses a sarcastic line with special effects when he wants to make fun of public schools or teachers’ political positions, saying that “it is for the children.” It might be amusing but after you’ve seen teachers go above and beyond for students, such sarcasm rings hollow. In my son’s case, it was all about the kids, and the sincere caring his teachers showed helped a whole family.
As difficult as it is to write about this, while we were going through it, I could not talk about it, which is a common parental reaction, I think. So while we may not hear a lot about these types of successes, my son’s incident is not an isolated one. While this incident may not be newsworthy, that does not mean it is not noteworthy. Good news travels at a much slower speed than bad news and it also travels much more quietly. This was a case where New Jersey public schools performed beautifully, and I know that this type of thing is going on in schools across the state each day. Many teachers who perform acts of kindness and heroism do so quietly because that’s what’s best for the students.
Radio hosts may think it is funny to sarcastically mock public school staff about being “all about the children” and perhaps the scorn is occasionally deserved. But I know that sometimes staff members are “all about the children” because they were all about my child.
Now when the tears well up in my eyes I know what is causing them. They are tears of thanks – thankfulness for the public schools and their employees.