Choosing the right school makes for happiness all round, hopes Tracy Engelbrecht.
We had some dodgy initial preschool experiences when my children were little, so I know all about crying children and crying mothers and wicked teachers on rampaging power trips. It sucks, such a lot. It affects the whole family, saps your energy, makes you doubt yourself. Seeing your child unhappy just hurts.
Thankfully we’re over that now and both children are happy.
Trick is to pick the right school from the beginning, but that’s not always easy. To do that, you need three things: open eyes, open ears and an open mind. From preschool to high school, it’s the same deal.
Choosing a school
Look at the convenient schools in your area first. Visit, talk to the principal and teachers. Watch the children. How does it feel to you? During interviews, ask questions specific to your child and their needs – don’t just listen to the answers but watch the reactions you get from the teachers. Do they answer comprehensively and openly or do you get a sense of defensiveness or arrogance? Do you get the feeling they’re doing you a favour, or so they seem genuinely interested in your family? Listen to what parents from the school say. Note their parenting style. Recommendations from other parents are no good if they come from people with a completely different outlook to yours.
Consider schools that you might not have thought of immediately. Don’t set your heart on a school before you’ve seen it and others. Don’t pick a school just because everybody else in the family went there. Even siblings sometimes do better in different environments.
And the best school for your child isn’t necessarily “the best school”. Don’t make a choice based solely on “a good name”. Private school might be good for some, and it certainly does have many advantages, but it’s not for everybody. There are some wonderful government schools out there, and fancy equipment and sports fields don’t always add up to a better education. Even 100% pass rates don’t tell the whole story.
There is only one way to judge a school, and that is by the teachers - the way they teach. Teachers who teach with love and contagious enthusiasm, teachers who you feel comfortable talking to, teachers who don’t make you feel like an outsider in your child’s life, teachers who hug. Do you as a parent feel welcome, or is the place intimidating and somehow off-limits to you?
Every school has some irritating or seemingly silly rules, and the truth is that both you and your child simply need to suck it up and accept it. Choose a school that doesn’t have too many policies that you disagree with, or else it will be a constant battle, and that’s no fun for anybody. Don’t base your educational expectations on your own schooling: things have changed. Open mind, remember?
A teacher who knows
The best way to judge if your child is in good hands is the dreaded parent-teacher conference. Do you both see your child the same way? They should tell you things about your child that you already know, emotionally and academically. If the teacher is telling you things about your child’s behaviour, performance, potential or personality that you simply don’t agree with, then somebody is missing something somewhere. Is it them, or is it you? It could be either. Be honest with yourself about that, but realise that while they might certainly have a different perspective, if you constantly get the feeling that they’re not “getting it” then you need to rethink your options, especially if it’s a general school atmosphere thing and not something unique to a particular teacher who you can escape next year.
What if your child (or you) isn’t happy? First thing, try and figure out exactly what the problem is. The work, classmates, teachers, or a particular teacher? Maybe it’s a home issue that’s showing up as disruptive behaviour or slipping marks. Maybe it’s simply a developmental stage that’s giving trouble, and moving schools won’t fix that. Get the teachers involved. Sit down with them and explain exactly how you perceive the problem. They should be willing to help you sort it out, whatever it takes.
You should leave with the relieved feeling that there is a plan in place. If you don’t get that feeling, then maybe it’s time to consider moving. We know our children best. We do. If something feels wrong, it probably is. Question yourself, but trust yourself too.
So – here’s to no crying moms this week! Happy tears only, okay? Oh, and don’t forget to hug a teacher. They deserve it.
I’m off to iron school uniform. Yay?
Have you changed your child’s school? Why? Was it the right decision?