The Unpredictability of Public Education

Years ago, this particular school year flipped our lives upside down. Frequent phone calls for assistance to come and pick up my child. It was a year of not sleeping.  Every morning I would organically wake up by 4am.  Off to the gym by 5am, for my alone time. I would walk on the treadmill and cry. That was my coping strategy. I would think about what email to send next, how to approach the next situation, what to communicate to the counsellor, what appointments to still make, who to tell what, wondering if I was missing anything, what should I be planning for? It was constant. My stomach would be on edge every day after school.  My work hours needed to change to accommodate so I could be home to deal, so I started work at 7am, my husband taking the morning shift.  I didn’t see this ever coming to an end. At the end of the school year, I left my employment. The emotional weight and constantly being “ON” at work and at home every waking moment of the day was just too heavy. Something had to give.

The year after, it was a completely different situation. The teacher was skilled.  She used universal design. My child was supported by LSS. Every strategic move she made was all absorbed. Just like that, the phone calls stopped. I started sleeping through the night. No more emotional ripples effects to deal with after school.  I guess I didn’t need to leave work after all…

When proper supports are in place, I can breathe. The grass is greener, the sun is brighter, the air is fresher. We can all just…live.  It’s glorious. I also know, that with every change in teacher and with every school year that goes by, it’s all temporary.  Hoping for those amazing teachers and support staff to be the ones to stay around your child is a daily thought. There are amazing people out there. I have jokingly even let these people know that if they ever need a kidney donation or a blood transfusion to keep my contact info. (I offered my kidney up in a Christmas card one year).  There are also people out there who work in education who…(cough)… “need support”.

Public education is unpredictable. One year your child is supported and the next year they are not. Parents at the end of every school are on the edge of their seats. Questions around what support will look like for next year are being discussed as parents find out which EA’s are moving to different schools or are being cut all together.  One year a child could have an EA with 20 years of experience with a degree, the next year with 2-weeks of a district training program, or no EA at all.  EA’s can change yearly, monthly and for some horrified parents they have had to deal with daily or weekly changes in staff. Riding the roller coaster of public education will make anyone sick.

Unpredictable education supports are stressful. It happens all over the province. It takes a huge toll on parents AND children. I wonder how many parents remove their child from public education, in search for alternatives, for their own mental health, the need to get off the roller coaster, for some level of control and predictability in their own lives. The supports for my child this year have been wonderful. Next year?? Fingers crossed!

Expectations of Parents Behaviour

Why are so many parents losing their shit?

I have heard many people admit that they have sent emotional emails, or that they are labelled as “rude” or a “tense advocate”. I have heard of parents being banned from schools or they have had to pull their child out of their school or even the district because they are viewed as too emotional. When parents admit that they have “lost it”, and sent angry or emotional emails, it’s admitted as if its some shameful act. I will admit that I too have sent my share of emotional emails. So why are so many parents losing their shit?

This is a symptom of a much larger problem. This is what happens when there is no accountability for decisions made from district administration or Boards of Education. It’s when administration have all the power and don’t need to do anything they don’t want to.  It’s when parents are bullied, have fear of retaliation, or are served emotional abuse on a plate with a smile. When there is a fish flapping around and behaving strangely, we all point at the fish and wonder what is wrong with them. No one looks at the pond. Let’s take a look at the pond, shall we?

Parents are legally required to send their child to school.  Parents need to work and fit in daycare schedules to cover their working hours.  Transportation from home to school comes into the decision-making filter and everything needs to fit perfectly. Now let’s say school is turning into a disaster, and as a parent you need to advocate. This is not a minor issue you are dealing with and you feel that your child’s physical or mental health is being severely affected. The stakes are high. This is after all your child.  However, you are being ignored by administration. You are being lied to by administration.  The problem is not being fixed, and they don’t have to do anything about it. They are gaslighting you. You feel you are an ant under a magnified glass and they are just watching you squirm in the sunlight. And. There. Is. Nothing. You. Can. Do. About. It. And now you send an email and lose your shit.

Parents, don’t feel bad. Your reactions are normal and given the situation, one could argue even healthy.  The amount of self-regulation that I have had to go through to send emails to the district, is intense. There are times, I literally need to leave my home to get myself away from a computer. They are getting a fraction of my true feelings and intensity.  It’s normal that one squeaks through, every now and then.  It’s not you. It’s the pond.

Now, you have sent your emotional email. I have heard stories that as part of their strategy, parents have experienced the districts using their emails against them as emotional blackmail.  I have never had this experience, thank goodness. I would snap. I’d think you would see me on the 6 o’clock news looking like I popped out of a zombie movie ranting about the education system. There is a definite abuse of power and toxicity about the lack of protection vulnerable children and families have in the education system.