Saturday, January 30, 2010

Notes From a Private School Interview

Yesterday Bubba and I took Eve to a family interview at my #1 choice of schools for her. You may recall a previous post where I waxed poetic about this place, so when they called us for an interview it is an understatement to say I was over the moon.

We all sat down to talk in the headmaster's office and there was an instant feeling of ease and friendship. The headmaster, I'll call him Mr. P, called Eve by name and referred to things he knew about her from reading her application and she smiled shyly and gave a very 10-year-old-girl giggle. He had a list of questions that we were all encouraged to answer, some directed at Bubba and me and others more for Eve. He was interested in the subjects she loves the most as well as those she doesn't like. As a former math and science teacher he didn't take offense when she confessed that she thought math was "boring." He is on a mission to make math and science exciting and relevant to these middle school girls so he saw this as a challenge.

Mr. P wanted to know what qualities her favorite teachers possess and how they speak to her as a student. He wondered if she had any questions for him about the school and was pleased to field inquiries about lunch and PE. Yet another clue that this school is not all about "academic excellence" but sees these girls as whole human beings who are perfectly developmentally appropriate when they are thinking about social situations with as much weight as school work.

When he asked Eve to find a quiet spot in the hall and answer some questions in writing, Bubba and I were able to talk with him some more. We discussed parent involvement - he said, "This is a time when these girls are beginning to individualize and pull away from their parents. They will be pushing you away and that's okay, but that's not our cue to step off the stage and turn our backs. They still need our guidance and listening ears, so please, join us as a chaperone for a field trip, an internship teacher for a particular skill. Make your presence known. Remind your daughter that she is important to you and you are around for her." WAHOO!

We talked about Eve's current experience in her classroom this year and Bubba put it perfectly: there is a "learning transaction" taking place. The teacher gives a short lesson and lots of worksheets, the kids listen and turn them back in. No joy or passion there. No interest in retention. Mr. P was struck by that and added his wish that each and every teacher in a classroom, any classroom public or private, be simply "delighted" by their students' mere presence and excited to teach them and learn with them. Yup. That's what we're looking for. A dialogue, not a learning transaction.

When I wondered about how parents stay on top of their child's academic work, Mr. P explained the conference structure and their version of "report cards." They don't use grades or numbers. Instead, the reports are written as an open letter to the student. "Mary, it is such a pleasure to see you begin to understand the complex things we're working on this year. I've noticed that you are somewhat apprehensive when we start a new unit but as soon as we dive in..." These reports are comprehensive and detail the struggles and triumphs of each individual, social and academic. Because they are directed at the student, they carry a weight and power that a series of letters or number scores on a sheet could never hope to.

When Eve returned to the room, Mr. P gave her a huge grin and said he couldn't wait to read her writing. He offered to answer any other questions we had and made sure Eve knew she could email him if she remembered something important after we left. As we walked out he acknowledged Lola (who had been sitting quietly in the corner reading except for a few well-placed comedic comments sprinkled throughout the interview) as "the most entertaining and well-behaved guest." As "family interviews" go, this one was definitely all-inclusive and we left feeling more than heard. We left feeling as though we could be part of this larger family. An equal voice in this community of people who are committed to changing the way middle school girls learn. I'm ready for this learning dialogue and if Eve's response is any clue - she skipped and hopped up the sidewalk yelling, "I love this school! I wanna go here so bad!" - so is she.

We'll know in March. It can't come soon enough.


Carrie Wilson Link said...

Sounds like you've found your new home.

Learning transactions is perfect, and makes me shudder!


Deb Shucka said...

I want to teach at this school - or be a student there! Sending prayers for a positive outcome to such a positive beginning.

Matthew said...

It can't really have effect, I believe this way.
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