Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cara De Palo

I tend to make a lot of trouble for myself by trying so hard not to make waves or hurt anyone's feelings. So, I am often not as direct as I should be or I stew for a long time about how to "approach" an issue, rather than simply approaching it.

Last night I was telling JDub that not only am I concerned about the way first grade is being taught at my children's charter school, but that several mothers have stopped me over the last week to express concerns.

It usually goes something like this:

Heather, you were in charge of the parent curriculum committee last year right? What curriculum are they supposed to be using in first grade? My child is bringing home really weird stuff that doesn't seem to have anything to do with the curriculum. Also, is the chosen math curriculum supposed to be the bulk of the math curriculum or just a supplement?

I told him that I really want to know what they are teaching and why. Especially I want to know why they are not using the program that I specifically feel is important as a good math foundation for the early grades. I have tried to champion its use in all the grades because I think its so phenomenal and they have moved it into 2nd grade as well as K and 1st.

I'm getting carried away.

So, after hearing me complain and try to decide whether to talk to the school's director or Scud's teacher or how to approach the issue I told JDub:

I just want to talk to Scud's teacher and tell her, specifically, that I am concerned that the math curriculum set forth in the charter is not being used for the bulk of math instruction as intended. I want to ask her why she isn't using it and whether or not she needs additional training and support to be able to do that.

Well, why don't you just do that? He said. Cara de palo. Just tell her what you think.

So, that's just what I did.

Here's the text of the email I sent:

Dear Teacher,

I'm writing you about a concern I have. I have been surprised at the homework and math sheets that Scud has been bringing home. At first I didn't actually know they were homework because they seemed so far beneath the level of work I thought the students should be doing in first grade. But I figured you were just starting slow and doing some fun things with them. I have noticed, though, that you are doing very little Right Start Math and that he's not bringing any of that type work home with him.

I worked as the parent curriculum committee chair last year and it is my understanding that Right Start Math is supposed to be used as the bulk of the math curriculum, with other materials supplementing it where it did not meet either Core Knowledge or Utah state objectives. It seems that things are being done the other way around, with other materials being the bulk of instruction and Right Start being used only as a supplement. This is a huge concern for me, as I am sending my children to Noah Webster in large part because I feel Right Start is such a fantastic foundation for math instruction in the early grades.

I will be meeting with the curriculum director within the next few weeks to talk to her about how I can continue to help with curriculum implementation, teacher support and parent training. Before I did that I wanted to open up a conversation with you and get a better feel for how things are going in your classroom and in first grade in general as far as curriculum implementation goes. I would love to do what I can to help in any way I can, if nothing else I'm happy to be a squeaky wheel and help you get any support you need from the school. Also, last year I worked with one of the first grade teachers (who actually ended up going to another school before school started) to map Right Start's lessons and objectives to the Core Knowledge math objectives for first grade. If it would be useful, I would be glad to send that to you.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. What I'm most interested in knowing is what your plan is, what you're working on and how you're planning on using Right Start and teaching math for the rest of the year. I don't want to make any assumptions and would love to hear what your plans are for curriculum, specifically math.

I'd love to talk to you, either through email or I'd be happy to come in and have a face to face meeting sometime. Let me know what will work best for you.

I'm eager to get a reply and get the ball rolling. If what I'm hearing is true (And I'm not assuming it is.), none of the first grade teachers are sticking to the curriculum as well as they should. For a school where many parents have come to this school specifically for the curriculum, that is completely unacceptable. And I want to do what I can to help.

Oh yes, I forgot. "Caro de palo" is one of my new favorite Spanish idioms. The direct translation is something lik "face to the stick" but it has the same general meaning as "get the the point" and "face it" kind of linked together. Doesn't translate exactly. You know how idioms are. But I love the saying.


Rosie said...

Good for you, too bad more of us parents are not more proactive in our children's schools. You can be the example for us.

Joeprah said...

I would not want to be that teacher. Your letter is extremely well thought out and well stated, but at the same time it may scare the poor teacher into a coma. I am not sure what I would do in that situation, but I agree it is best to nip that sucker in the bud. My hat is off to you because I do not know if I could be as diplomatic and well stated as you. Kudos!

Utahdoula said...

You'll have to keep us updated on how it goes!

Rynell said...

We have a very similar situation in my 1st grader's class. The math seems so inconsistent. Mostly he brings home cutesy stuff, but last week he brought home two homework sheets that seemed to have just jumped 2 grade levels. He had no idea what to do with that. This is not the right start I was hyped up on. Please let me know what you find out curriculum-wise. Is this a grade-wide problem?