School of Hard Knocks (Relatively Speaking, of Course)

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School of Hard Knocks (Relatively Speaking, of Course)

By Andrea Goto

Before my daughter was born, I had some very strong opinions about education. I didn’t buy into all that touchy feely everyone’s-a-snowflake-and-gets-a-ribbon-just-for-trying kind of junk. If you can survive the embarrassment of passing gas during circle time or enduring 3-years of being called “Bun Head” because your mother insisted that your hair looked so pretty that way, you would be better prepared for the real world and all its cold-hearted glory.

I still feel the same way, just not when it comes to my child.

When touring potential elementary schools, I looked for nurturing teachers and classrooms blessed with at least a hint of Feng Shui. I imagined an extension of our home; a quiet place where teachers don’t raise their voices and children do the right thing because, well, it’s the right thing. No, my child isn’t perfect, but because she’s mine, she’s more perfect than most. She’s very neat, rather quiet and incredibly self-aware. One day when she was feeling anxious, she began to cry. Then she looked in the mirror and said to her reflection, “Really, there’s nothing to cry about,” wiped her tears and moved on.

Of course, I didn’t find that school, at least not for under $8,000 a year. So I enrolled Ava in a large public school with a really good reputation. Reputation for what, I wasn’t exactly sure. Producing early readers? Military cadets? Nobel Prize winners?

“The teachers don’t even say ‘please,’” Ava complained on the first day. “And you can’t wave to your friends in the hallway or talk during lunch.”

I should’ve known something was up when Ava wasn’t eating her twist-top pouch of applesauce.

“I couldn’t open it,” she explained matter-of-factly.

“Why didn’t you ask your teacher for help?”

“I did. But she said, ‘Maybe you should ask your mommy teach you.’”

Or maybe I should send her to school. You know, the place where people teach.

If a teacher had said that to me when I was 5, I would’ve felt ashamed, built up a heaping load of resentment and probably started eating my hair. But my kid shrugs it off.

They even want me to drop my child at the front door. “She’s a big girl now, Mom,” the teacher on patrol sings as she blocks the entrance to the kindergarten hallway.

No, she’s not a “big girl.”  She’s 42-inches tall and still believes she’ll grow up to look like Barbie. I have one kid and no job, so I can do this ALL DAY LONG, lady.

Then there are the uniforms. And the reading logs. And the homework. And a list of rules so long, it would make the IRS proud.

But despite the fact that I feel as if elementary school is preventing my child from becoming a freethinking individual (and thus compromising her ability to secure the Nobel Prize), Ava really seems to like it.

“It was awesome!” she says everyday at pick-up even if she’s starving and partially dehydrated because trying to open a Capri-Sun on your own is like trying to put an IV in a goldfish.

So this is where the overprotective parent with a little too much free time must step back and at least entertain the idea that these people know what they’re doing. My child is safe, engaged and thriving. She’s proud of what she has learned to do on her own, both in the classroom and the bathroom (I truly didn’t know she was capable). With a little tough love, she has developed a thicker skin. She understands abstract terms like accountability, responsibility and how to be considerate of others, which she defines as “not kicking other kids in the head.” At 5, she understands that bringing a Batman cup to school is social suicide. She tells me how she wants her hair done, so as to avoid unwanted monikers such as “Bun Head.”

If only I had gone to this school.

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Reader Comments:


How sad. Elementary school isn't the wild safari - it shouldn't be survival of the fittest. I've had to use "grippies" to get open packages myself. I can't imagine a 5 year-old trying to get some of these ridiculous food safes open. Poor thing!

By Conni Smith on October 18, 2012


I just watched the Dr. Oz Show and heard you confess to your one vice. I am 62 years and have been smoking for 45 years. I just quit on Oct. 3 with the help of Chandix which was prescribed by my doctor. Believe me, Paula, if I can quit, you can quit. Best of luck! I'll be rooting for you and, please, keep me in your thoughts, too. By the way, love your cookware. My son bought me a set last Christmas.

By DOTTIE COOK on October 11, 2011


So interesting to hear everyone's experiences. In defense of Ava's teachers, I can already see that they really do have her best interests in mind. They instruct from a loving place. That is not to say that all teachers do. I'm aware that I will have some battles in the future and I will gladly rise to my child's defense when needed since I am her greatest advocate. But I can't expect them to wipe every bottom and unscrew every lid. After all, there's work to be done. The funniest thing is watching how proud Ava is of her accomplishments when someone finally gives her the opportunity to do things on her own. Thanks again for all of your comments!

By Andrea Goto on September 30, 2011


I will have to respectfully disagree... I had an Ava and those types of school experiences taught her that she could not depend on adults outside of her family.... that adults can lie, speak unkindly, cheat and generally treat people like crap just because they happen to be under 45 inches tall! I was told by a guidance counselor when I objected to her teacher saying in front of the ENTIRE class "did you take your pill(add meds) because I think maybe you need a better pill because I don't think it's working" (my child is highly gifted but LD was a straight A student who had no behavior problems per the school NOT just me!) that perhaps she needed THERAPY so things like that wouldn't bother her so much??? WTH?? I think it would be a sad day when kids would begin to not be bothered by being treated in rude and disrespectful ways. We opted out and have homeschooled... there are still crappy adults in the world but she learned to find her voice and to expect that the adults in her life would keep her safe and would help her when needed. She is now a Junior at a private women's college where she has a full academic scholarship and is a student leader. I am not sure where she would have been if I had taught her that adults wouldn't help her if she needed it and that it was ok for the world to work that way. Ava's story makes me sad... she's already learned that outside of her family the people she spends the most hours of her day with won't help her if she needs it.

By Lisa Blocker on September 25, 2011


Wow, that school sounds just like my son's except his first grade teacher refused to let the kids talk in class or help each other. I think as parents we forget that the kids will love their school because it is the only school they have ever the beginning at least. Loved reading this.

By Teresa on September 24, 2011


As a former kindergarten teacher, it makes me very sad that the teacher wouldn't teach your daughter how to take the top off of the applesauce. It would demonstrate that people should (and do) help others and the next time your daughter would know how to do it on her own. A win-win! Also, I know lunch periods can get loud but, if the children can't talk during lunch then a) when CAN they talk? and B) how will they ever learn to socialize with each other! Having said all of that, I am happy that your daughter is enjoying school and that you are able to look for and find the positives! I hope you have a wonderful year!

By Anonymous on September 24, 2011


Sounds like the teacher has some unresolved issues.

By myrtle miller on September 24, 2011


I can remember all the things that i would not "allow" my child to do once i became a i am almost 18 years & 7 kids later! I have eaten more crow than i would ever like to admit, but i wouldnt change it for anything. My kids have taught me about as much as i have taught could be the other way around! Its always nice to read how other moms deal with daily activities & the stress that life tends to send our way. Thank you for sharing.=)

By nicolle valles on September 24, 2011


I totally sympathize with you my children range from 4 to 14 and I still want to run on the football field and scream at the coach when I see him screaming at my kid berating my son because he couldn't take down the 15 year old kid who looks like he's been on steroids since 10. I mean how many 6'3" tall 220 lb.15 yr olds do you know. But, I sit there and I smile, while my husband gives me that look that says mind your own business, he's got to fight his own battles. You never want to stop protecting them, that's just part of being a mom.

By Michele Pysz-Wright on September 24, 2011


There was a teacher like that in my son's school a couple of years ago. Wouldn't help the kids if their lives depended on it, especially at lunch. My darling child was 5 at the time when a friend asked the teacher for help with a lunch item. Teacher said no and my kid piped up, "well isn't that your JOB?" HE then turned to to little girl and helped her with whatever it was. She was outraged and mortified as the principal told me later that day, as she laughed hysterically. Needless to say that teacher is no longer at the school. There is nothing wrong with assisting a child from time to time, especially when it comes to them eating.

By Des on September 24, 2011


I really think it is important for many parents to remember that the teacher is not responsible for just your child. They face around 23 children each day and their parents. How many of you would like to do cafeteria duty each day with around 100 first me it is not easy. In my years of teaching I have opened thousands of ketchup packets, been sprayed by thousands of juice bags, smelled of yogart, and have open too many thermoses of spaghetti o's. I have two children of my own, my daughter often can't open her string cheese know what she will survive with out it. What I do know is that when I leave my children at school each day, they are loved, they are cared for, and they are getting the best education available. The parents of the students in my classroom know they will be loved, they will learn, and they will laugh. Isn't that what truely matters?

By Anonymous on September 24, 2011


Having worked in schools, as a teacher, aide, tutor, and volunteer, I understand why the teacher wouldn't help the child open her applesauce. Imagine having to open containers, insert straws into 20 or 30 applesauce containers or juice pouches/boxes. These children learn to be self-sufficient when "forced" to do things themselves. This also includes tying their shoes, fastening those pesky buttons at the top of their pants and fastening their coats. The teacher isn't mommy, and kids need to learn to do these things on their own to become independent little people. It may seem cruel to overprotective moms but it's survival for all, especially for the children.

By Candy on September 24, 2011


I agree with Erica about being a little miffed if my child's teacher wouldn't help her twist the top off her fruit pack thingie. I am hearing more and more of this "she's a big girl now" mentality and think in some ways this is true. Little Betty is a big 5 yo girl and can do things a 5 yo is expected to do. Beyond that, they need a little help, teacher. I am an adult woman who still needs help opening a jar of pickles every once in a

By Elizabeth Rago on September 24, 2011


Thanks for your comments, ladies. Funny thing is, Beth, I wasn't thinking of Tabby's hair eating when I wrote this. But really, aren't we all just one trauma away from succumbing to it? smile Ava did want to wear the same dress tomorrow that she did today to coordinate with her friend. I draw the line at stinky clothes. I think. That line seems to keep moving.

By Anonymous on September 19, 2011


lol!!! What r you trying to say about the eating hair comment! huh! Don't make me come crack your knee caps smile lol!! luv ya momma!

By bethy on September 17, 2011


WELCOME to the world of your little ones in School! It seems they handle things alot better than us mommy's do... Next you will be hearing "mommy my friend had a shirt on yesterday just like this and i HAVE to wear mine today!!!" Good luck! you have only just begun!!

By Andrea Lepinske on September 17, 2011


I think I would have to re-learn the no-kicking-people-in-the-head lesson if someone refused to help my child open their fruit squeeze, much less her TEACHER, but I love that she is taking this mosty in stride. How are our kids so much more resilient than we are?

By erica on September 16, 2011

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