Friday, August 26, 2011

Putting my school worries in perspective

From today's Briefing:

Who did you get in your class this year? Who is your teacher?
Oh, wait. I mean, which children are in your child’s class this year? Who is your child’s teacher?
If you’re anything like me and my mom friends, you’ve been waiting all summer for the answers to these important questions.
Maybe you even think of your child’s teacher as yours, too. Maybe you catch yourself saying, “My teacher is Mrs. Smith,” when in fact you left elementary school in 1983.
Our elementary school posts class lists 90 minutes before meet-the-teacher night begins. Every year, I resolve to wait until 5:30 p.m. to see the list. And every year, I change my mind at 3:50 and head down the street to read the list as soon as it’s taped to the front doors.
Because after thinking about and discussing at length with other moms which teacher would be the most nurturing, which would be the most challenging, which would best understand the particular quirks of our kids, I want answers.
It’s ridiculous, really. My children attend an excellent school, as indicated by every factor I consider important: my kids’ happiness and safety, parental involvement, standardized test scores, sense of community, quality of teachers and leadership.
I completely trust our principal to hire and retain the teachers who fulfill her high standards. I may be an expert in my children, but she’s an expert in education and her staff.
Even knowing all that, what did I spend part of Monday doing? Visiting with friends over coffee and another group over lunch (after a summer drought of kid-free visits, we were all eager to reconnect), dissecting all of our kids’ classrooms.
We analyze the personalities, the friendships, the strained relationships, the mix of rowdy kids vs. quiet kids. We may even start taking mental notes for who we’re hoping will teach our children next year.
And then I got a hefty dose of perspective.
I learned of a mom trying to enroll her daughter in a suburban school. The family recently moved to Texas. The mom had waited days for her out-of-state doctor to send immunization records.
Those records finally arrived. But some state-required shots are missing.
So this single, working mom had to miss a day of work (and most likely a day of pay) trying to find a doctor to provide vaccines before her young girl could walk down the hallway and into her new classroom.
No big deal if you have health insurance. But a very big deal if you don’t.
If you’re paying cash, count on $82 for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; $116 for measles, mumps and rubella; $102 for hepatitis B.
If that’s out of reach, then you need to find low-cost options — a county health department or a nonprofit that provides health care for the uninsured.
And you need to do that in unfamiliar surroundings while you’re worried about missing work and worried about your child, who is missing out on the first days of school.
That little girl, with precisely combed hair and dressed in a brand-new outfit with sandals that match, deserves exactly what we all want for our children: a safe, nurturing, challenging classroom with a teacher who will love her and push her and gently discipline her when necessary.
I have the strong feeling that her mom didn’t wring her hands all summer over teacher selection. She probably didn’t waste energy on worrying about what she couldn’t control. She’s got bigger worries.
I am thankful that mine are smaller. I am embarrassed for the times I amplify my small concerns.
I am resolving now to worry less this year about who will teach my children next year. And to more often give thanks for the blessings I don’t always acknowledge.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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