Saturday, December 13, 2014

Settling Down

Our school district sends out class assignments in late August. They claim that the "master schedule" takes that long to negotiate. In reality, I think they postpone the mailing until the last possible moment to minimize the number of calls — and complaints — they get prior to each new school year. We live in a fairly affluent community with a lot of, shall we say, "active parenting." 

How will Muffy and Biff get into an elite college if they don't get the best teachers?

I remember several summers ago, when my now teenager was heading into fifth grade. We received the much anticipated packet and my daughter was absolutely thrilled. In our lower middle school, the kids are assigned to two-teacher teams. Each group of fifty or so students splits its time between one faculty member for math and science, and another for English and social studies. It's an effective preview of middle and high school when they'll have a different teacher for each subject. 

My daughter had scored the much coveted team called "ATM." (One teacher's last name started with an A; the other with a hyphenated T and M — cute, n'est-ce pas?) We had heard good things and any mom will tell you that having your child actually look forward to the first day of school is a rare and wondrous thing.

On that first day, the two teachers showed up at assembly with a big "ATM" sign (probably hand-made, but I'd like to think they snuck out late at night and — in a selfless act of education-inspired vandalism — stole it from some unsuspecting automated teller machine). They had a chant, the sort you would hear at a pep rally, something about being "the best, better than the rest," blah blah blah. The lucky ATM kids fell in line, excited and motivated and driven and spirited and enthused and ... and ... and ... 

You get the picture.

All good, right?

Apparently not. A and T-M were taken aside and respectfully asked not to crow about their team anymore. The sign must be put away, the rallying cry forgotten. You see, the lower middle school powers that be were concerned that the kids in the other teams would feel left out. So, the two teachers were asked to stop making their kids feel special.

Wouldn't a better solution have been to ask the other teacher teams to come up with a way to make their own groups feel special too?

This struck me at the time as a very silly exercise in dumbing things down, in settling for homogenous mediocrity rather than striving. The school was so concerned about making sure things were equal that they lost a chance to make things extraordinary.

As far as we know, we only get one shot at this life business. With any luck (and some attention to homework), fifth graders will only be fifth graders once. The same is true for high school juniors. I hope my daughter's teachers remember this, and I hope she herself makes the most of every moment.

Don't settle down.

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