My oldest daughter loves school. In fact, over the long holiday break, whenever her school was mentioned, she would say in a little sad voice, “I miss my morahs.”
I repeated this story gleefully to my friends. Some of them, the ones with older kids, looked at me with a blasé face and said, “don’t worry; as she gets older she’ll dread going back to school.” My heart fell. There had to be some way to make sure that Shayna kept relishing the joys and stimulation of school.
I took a small, very unscientific survey and came to the conclusion that some older kids like school, and some don’t. The kids who enjoy going to school have two basic reasons: they have friends and they like their teachers.
Lest you think that the easiest way to ensure this outcome is by picking the best school and then utilizing every level of proteczia to get your child accepted, remember this wise quote from Rabbi Fishel Schachter. At a chinuch l’banot gathering, he said people spend too much time researching schools and sweating over interviews. Every school has every type of kid. A lot depends on who is friends with your child. Obviously, you only have a modicum of control over this situation, so like in most cases involving raising children, some meaningful prayer is definitely in order.
There are, however, some basic building blocks every child needs to succeed and a diligent parent should do their best to ensure their child is receiving them.
Firstly, the school is providing a service. It is their duty to provide our children with a solid education, development of healthy values and a safe place to go. Schools have a responsibility to ensure that parents feel comfortable with the environment the school is creating. If there is an issue that you would like to discuss and you feel that the school is giving you a runaround or is difficult to reach, it might be time to consider switching schools.
On your end, you are responsible for not just paying the tuition for the upkeep of the school, but maintaining the sense of kavod towards the school. If the child hears the school, the administration or the teachers being bashed in front of them, how can you expect him or her to pay the school any mind? Rabbi Shmuel Wallerstein once told me a story about a father who ran to his rabbi and begged for help – his son was about to marry a non-Jewish girl. “Why would he listen to me?” asked the rabbi. “You’ve mocked everything I’ve said for the past ten years.”
Parents have to feel that they are partners with the school, building towards a common goal. It bears saying that it is super crucial to develop a positive relationship with your children’s teacher. He or she is one of the most influential figures in your child’s life and you need to be on the same page. Work with the teachers by taking class attendance and homework seriously. If there is an upcoming baby, family wedding, or chas v’shalom a crisis situation, let the teacher know so that she can treat your child accordingly. Signing up for the PTA or as a class mother is always a bonus. It shows the school you are willing to help out, and if a concern comes up, they will respond to you with your dedication in mind.
In my school, two dinner reservations are built into the tuition. I am always surprised by how many parents don’t bother to attend. Personally, I love the school dinner. Not only is the food and ambience par excellence, but it’s a chance to support the school for all its dedication and efforts on behalf of your child. It’s wonderful to hear all inspiring testimonies of the teachers and the list of achievements of the graduates. It really makes you proud of be part of the school. It’s a shame to skip it, especially if you already paid for it.
Then there is the personal front. Make it easy for your teachers to like your child and always make sure that he or she is going to school well rested, clean and fed. As this is a sore point for me, I’ll take a few minutes to clarify. Rested for the average child is 11-12 of sleep hours a night. Without that, children are short-tempered and cranky. A clean child is someone who bathes almost every night, wears clean, un-wrinkled clothes, and knows how to wash up in the bathroom properly. Finally, a hungry child is a distracted learner. Most parents know they should be on top of those things, but life gets in the way, and they figure the teachers will understand. Trust me, she doesn’t. Help your child succeed and take care of his physical needs.
Another issue is the consumer culture that many parents don’t want to partake in. Like in many communities, Brooklyn schools have a reputation of being a little materialistic. It is every parent’s prerogative to decide what they want to indulge their child in. However, there is a distinction between wants and needs. As per Dina Freidman, from the sublime parenting program Chanoch Lnaar (clparenting.com), something is a need if everyone in the community has it regardless if you think it’s necessary. For example, in Flatbush, it’s the norm for children to have more then one Shabbos outfit. Therefore, at least two Shabbos outfits becomes a need and if your little girl doesn’t have it, you aren’t teaching her economic principals, you are causing her to feel ostracized.
It’s important to touch base with your child every day to see how things are going. Spend at least ten minutes before bedtime alone with each child, talking to them about their day. This is the best time to pick up little concerns before they explode into major issues.
If you notice your child doesn’t seem to have age appropriate interactions with other kids in their class such as play dates or phone calls, consider working with your child to improve their social skills. A child without friends is in a lot of pain and it’s up to the parent to help him.
You know the adage that if something happens one time, it’s them, not you, but if something happens a few times, it’s you, not them? It is possible that a parent doesn’t always realize that their child is lacking friends or has poor social skills. However, they may get some gentle-or-not-so-gentle comments from other adults. If the topic comes up once, feel free to ignore the comment. However, more then that, it’s worthwhile to look into the matter.
On a final note, if there is any sudden change in disposition or attitude towards school, take immediate action. I would suggest first asking the child in a quiet place if something is wrong. It could be a bullying incident, overwhelming curriculum, or something simpler. If the child is unable or unwilling to give a reason for why he suddenly needs to be dragged out of bed in the morning or complain of a stomachache every day, call the teacher right away and do your best to solve the issue.
Hashem gave you this child as a precious gift. It is your duty to be your child’s advocate. Of course, none of us are perfect and mistakes are part and parcel of everyone’s life. Yet, I truly believe that when a child knows that her parents did the best they can, she feels it, and in the end, everything does works out.
About the Author: Pnina Baim holds a B.S. in Health and Nutrition from Brooklyn College and an MS.edu from Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Program. She works as a nutritionist, a certified lactation consultant, a home organizer, and in her free time writes as much as possible. She is the author of the Young Adult novels, Choices, A Life Worth Living (featured on Dansdeals and Jew In The City) and a how-to book for the Orthodox homemaker, Sing While You Work. The books are available at amazon.com. Pnina is available for speaking engagements and personal consulting. Contact her at email@example.com.
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