When raising kids in the 1990s, we lived in urban "Midtown" Kansas City. The school nurse at the time invited me to start a Watch Dog Dads program with him at the school. This was when my understanding of public schools and the people working in them began. I was getting to know other parents and myself, really. We only had two kids, one school year apart, so we were learning the ins and outs of how the school operated and where we fit in as a family.
After moving to Kansas in 2005, I helped start Watch Dog Dad programs in my two kids' grade school and middle school. The culture in suburban Overland Park, Kansas, was the exact opposite of the urban setting we left behind. Overall I spent eleven years volunteering at the schools—one whole day at a time, at least once a semester. Stay on campus, and go where they asked, including lunch in the cafeteria with the kids. Many teachers were glad to have help in the classroom those days. Another set of eyes and ears to help work with the kids. During those years, I watched each classroom transform from empty to suddenly packed with every kind of kid you can imagine. Volunteers like me would often get parked in the hall, helping kids catch up on tests, homework, skills, and other assignments. In gym class, kids took out their pent-up frustration on the Watch Dog Dads. They would absolutely smash my face with dodgeballs, laugh out loud and point when I fell, and then ask a hundred questions at the end of the hour. Questions that only pour out when one's mind is clear, and trust is in the room.
I got to know kids during those years, their stories, lives, and circumstances. It has always been inspiring, like a sunrise, chicks hatching from a shell, or a bloom. Kids are life energy.
Recently, I have been following teachers on Twitter for the last few months. Boy-howdy. My hero worship of some of America's greatest servants has been peppered with frank and adult statements of the state of teaching in America. It's crazy. Teachers are dealing with threats and assaults from parents and students. I hear teachers coping with the loss of Social Security through pension plans, added out-of-pocket cash expenses, added reports and paperwork, and legislation keeping everyone on the edge of their seats. It's like teaching is getting in the way of busy work and record-keeping. Teachers work full-time in an environment where active shooter drills are practiced as often as fire and storm drills. Does this go on at your job? Are you responsible for the lives of dozens of children five days a week? Today's teachers are also living through the evolution of education in our time. Funds are being fought over, systems are being tested, and teachers are working hard to meet federal standards and local demands. Teaching is a really tough job.
While you're on summer break and free from getting your kids through school each week, I hope you'll consider some of these things. My challenge to you? Find the middle ground. Regardless of your perspective, find the middle ground, and invite your family and friends into it. Reflect this summer on the past school year. Give credit where it's due, and in the chill of your summer time together, own what can be learned. No matter where your kids attend school this coming year, your teachers will be juggling some live chainsaws behind the scenes meeting the job's demands while empowering your kids through another year of education in America.
One more thing. You are not alone. There are a lot of programs in America, like Watch Dog Dads. Most schools have programs throughout the semester after school and on some weekends. PTA, science night, theater, music, band, and sports. Go to them! Meet other parents. Remind yourself that everyone just wants to get the best for the kids. You'll also get to know the teachers a little more. They'll be glad to have you in the building, and you'll have a chance to understand your child's day with their teachers.
Find the middle ground. Be a problem solver. Every school in America needs this right now.
Happy Thursday, Friends!