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Navigating the difficulties of your child’s education

Elizabeth Chicoine

My sister is a tough act to follow. Her kids are spaced from high school to elementary school and she is very experienced when it comes to parenting. I’m in the “getting-my-toes-wet,” phase of “Mommy 101.”Pride allows me to think that I am on the right parenting path. Having taught elementary school, I rely on the bag of tricks for kids that I mastered in graduate school. No problemwell, maybe just a littlehmmI think it’s time to call my big sister.The longest bridge that I am now approaching is the one called: “it’s okay to ask for a meeting at school to clarify questions you may have about your child’s education.” My sister has correctly informed me that my dialogue must connect to the school, not her!None of us want to be the overbearing, negative parent who criticizes without conscience. Yet we want to be a constructive voice for our children and school.My sister and I talk on the phone daily, and her phone has been ringing a lot lately. I am trying to get a grasp on preschool and elementary school. She is coping with varsity football schedules, cheerleading, and Cub Scouts, yet I am the one calling to say that I feel overwhelmed. Hmm. maybe I can solve this one alone.Perhaps, as a wise family member once told me, “Your instincts are the rudder that keep you on course, and it is your experiences in life about charting new courses that has given you the strength to chart your own course and find safe harbors.” I apply this wisdom to parenting and seeking out answers to the age-old question of how to work with the school to give your child the best education possible.The answer is yes, it is okay to call the teacher and principal to discuss questions. Mothers need to listen to their instincts. Your child depends on your guidance. If something is unclear, or feels wrong, then get an answer. Just make sure you’re looking in the right place for that answer.The best schools are those with open doors. If you have a valid question in regard to your child’s learning, call the school, not your best girlfriend. Your answers lie where your child is. Not with three other mothers of the class or what their opinions may be.No question is too simple or too outrageous. The worst question is the one that remains not asked. The worst answer is one based on speculation and not your own experience. Find out what applies to your child and close your ears to any hearsay about what others may feel about issues.My visit to school today went well. I still have lingering questions. But our course for dialogue is set. No one can perfectly forecast how the year will unfold for my child, yet I feel that we are jointly mapping the journey. As the year can go from calm to unpredictable stormy seas, we seem to be setting a reliable place of reference.In a lot of ways, parenting is a lot like navigating a boat. I remember cruising on the Great Lakes in Michigan and Canada back in the ’60s, when no one had heard of the places that my parents took our boat. My dad really was one of the first people to chart unknown territories, and a place called Bad River was my favorite destination.That recollection is perfect for me, to the point where I don’t even want to revisit that part of Canada now because, thanks in part to my parents’ travels, Bad River is now charted and many people visit it regularly. My dad boats regularly with the Great Lakes Cruising Club. His knowledge is now shared. What was once pristine is now a familiar and well-used route for boaters.But I long for those days of not knowing our course. I liked life without radar. I want to parent as did my mom and dad, independently, without too much input as to what other people feel or think. And just like we did back on the Black River, families should strive to “row their own boat” in a journey through school.Here’s the lessons I’ve learned lately about parenting and education: Do not hesitate to ask questions as you chart your child’s journey through learning. Be direct with your questions and seek out clarity. Too often I see mothers talking to one another and failing to follow through to direct the question to the one who most likely holds the answer: the teacher. But also do not rush past a beautiful place along the way. If your child is happy and learning, keep this joy fresh and share it. Many people can benefit from good journeys. And teachers enjoy a friendly note of “All is well.” No need to rock the boat if the sailing is smooth. Steer with confidence. You don’t always need to call your sister in times of need. Your rudder is solid and it will guide you well. VTElizabeth H. Chicoine lives in the Valley and writes about issues important to the family for the Vail Trail. She can be reached for comment at ElizChicoine@cs.com.


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