As a teacher in Wichita Public Schools; Wichita, Kansas
As a parent of students in Springdale School District; Springdale, Arkansas
By Rhonda Franz
When my husband and I looked into school options for our first child, I went to observe in classrooms, having equipped myself with a notepad, sharp observation skills, and my perspective as an educator who once taught public school.
So, when I observed for a morning in a kindergarten class at our local elementary, I watched with a trained eye. How did the teacher make her lesson applicable to the students? What did she do about the fidgety kids distracted by peers and giggles and a dead bug on the floor ten feet away?
I listened to the teacher and watched how she engaged her students, even the ones who didn’t appear to be paying attention. I watched the faces of the children dressed in jeans and colorful t-shirts and skirts inside a classroom that smelled of backpacks and crayons. I noticed the resources and reference points on the walls for these five- and six-year-olds: banners of alphabet letters, numeral grids, the day’s calendar. Was it too much? I noticed the students watching the teacher—albeit with wayward glances at peers and me, the stranger in the corner.
The teacher exuded enthusiasm. She made time to talk to me and ask me if I had any questions. I left, confident she’d more than passed my test.
Ten miles away on different day, I sat in on a first-grade class at a private school. The class size was smaller and the children were adorable in uniforms with coordinating shirts and pants and hair bows, but the overall impression was pretty much the same. First graders listened to an intent teacher, worked, and fidgeted. There were a few, though not many, visual resources for students. Was it enough? A Latin instructor who arrived to deliver a lesson immediately commanded attention from the children, his enthusiasm (and theirs) hard to ignore. Still evident: a few whispers and glances and curiosity about me, the mom sitting to the side taking it all in.
Children in a public classroom on one side of town aren’t all that different from their peers in a private classroom on the other.
I didn’t need a trained eye to tell me that.
What I needed was impossible foresight on what school my son should attend. I had done my due diligence. Where was that Magic 8 Ball with a quick answer? My husband reminded me that decisions like this don’t necessarily have a definite right or wrong and looking for one would be an exasperating journey.
He was right. I would have a hard time finding a moral absolute in a choice about where to send our child for his education. If I liked what I saw in both schools, either environment would probably be fine. Besides, my super special forces training as an educator would see to it that he thrived.
That year and for that son, we opted for public school. And it was fine. Several years later, he had an elementary school education and a rich experience to match.
We made the same choice for his younger brothers. Their school provides rich ethnic and social diversity atypical of many private schools, and in fact, atypical of many public schools in our region. My boys play with friends whose families speak different languages and come from other countries.
The teachers in that school taught one son who reads well above his grade level and thrives on educational challenges. They still teach my other sons: one who needs concentrated assistance in reading and one whose mild special needs and social discrepancies manifested noticeably in kindergarten—an experience that sent us down a path of pediatric therapies and counseling to support his education, social skills development, and overall behavior.
The administration and counseling staff—roles I was familiar with as a teacher—became integral to me as a mom. They helped our whole family with the kind of support that would not have been available in other educational settings. Through those years, I found out how our children’s experiences don’t just apply to them. Sometimes we make choices and then stick with the situation and the experiences that are best—for the whole family.
Of course, we don’t get to choose who makes up that.
I don’t know what our educational options will look like in the future. I do know that the perspective has broadened from when I first visited classrooms as a former teacher—and as a mom. How will future schools handle my children’s needs? How will they handle me? What kind of support will be available to us? Those are the questions I equip myself with now.
Rhonda Franz is an educator, freelance writer, pilot wife, and mom of three lively boys. After finishing elementary, her oldest child moved to a private, university-model school with a classical curriculum and homeschool as part of its structure. Her son with special needs recently graduated out of several therapies. The son who struggles a bit in reading still needs a little extra help. Rhonda tries to place her anxieties about future schooling in the hands of a God to whom her children really belong. But yes, she still struggles with whether the answers are right or wrong. She writes about parenting, education, and other adventures at CaptainMom.net.
READ MORE: Read Erin & her guests’ posts in the Passing Notes series HERE.