Saturday, November 22, 2008

Parental involvement: is there such a thing as too much?

One of the reasons we moved to this island was the school district. It was rumored to be excellent and it really is. There are many reasons for this but I think mainly it has to do with parental involvement.

I don't mean just the standard PTSA stuff which I have to say can be a bit limited in scope, personalities and function. But, instead I mean individual parental involvement like volunteering to help in the classroom, supporting a teacher with whatever they need, going with the class on a field trip or bringing a batch or two of muffins for a class party. There is a lot of that here and, frankly, the bar is set pretty high and it can be intimidating at first.

I try to help out in Molly's math class every week and last week the teacher was scurrying around looking for stuff for me to do. I assured him that I was here really to watch the kids. Oh, I would be happy to make copies, correct quizzes, whatever he needed. but I was really there to see the social dynamics up close and personal. He seemed relieved and just left me to settle in to watch the lesson and the dynamics unfold.

Taking note of the social dynamics is a big part of being involved. Knowing who your kid is talking about during particularly rocky or happy points throughout the year always makes me feel a little closer to my kid's experience and therefore she includes me more. Right now in 5th grade, I expect that isn't particularly novel but as we move through adolescence I will be glad I knew more than just the bare minimum about the kids that she sees everyday.

On the cusp of middle school, I hear from some parents that friendships become more important during those years. That success and happiness in middle school depends on the friends or "groups" the kid has and identifies with. Looking back at my own experience, I expect that could be true. I know one parent who is extremely focused on popularity; wanting her kids to be popular, wanting them to hang out with the popular kids and strangely over-focused on who those popular kids are. Honestly, I am left scratching my head. Is this a good example of arrested development? Or perhaps over-compensating for feelings of inadequacy in herself? Imagine being able to point out the most popular girl in your kid's grade!

I would sure hope after all these years, we could all agree that popularity in school doesn't necessarily have much to do with how life turns out. In fact, I would think that being a star in middle or high school can deter the personal growth needed to be successful after high school. I don't know, I suppose there are plenty of theories but I can honestly say that I couldn't care less if my kid is considered a "popular" kid or not because I realize how fleeting, shallow and not very representative those terms can be. Sure, I want them to be happy and have good friends especially during those critical years but to be popular at all costs? Hardly.

Let's keep our feet on the ground, our natural parental pride in bounds and keep our eyes on the prize; a happy healthy productive life for our kids.

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