The Wrath of Mama Bear

“wrath” (noun) – strong, stern or fierce anger

I tutor at-risk students in the local school two full days per week. The principal had to work hard to juggle my schedule since, by federal mandate, no pull-outs can occur during “core instruction time.” To me, this is ridiculous since many of the students I work with are critically behind their classmates. Core Instruction Time is merely time when they feel overwhelmed and more lost than ever. It is time when these at-risk students often give up completely. It certainly is not effective learning time.

To meet federal rules, in the mornings, I work with smaller groups in the classroom itself, focused on independent reading skills while the teacher works with other students on general language arts skills.

some of my “bear cubs” at the end of our Immigration Activity time

A few weeks ago that teacher and I put together a special morning of activities to end a language arts unit on Immigration. (You can read more about the activities and see photos HERE.) You can imagine my frustration when the acting principal interrupted us to make it clear all students had to be in the gym for a rah-rah presentation by the candy fundraising company. I argued. I ranted. I cried. I cussed. In other words, I totally lost it!

I cried all the way home. I cried while I whipped out a ripping letter to the editor and submitted it to four local newspapers. I cried while I drove my kids to town for errand-day. I cried myself to sleep that night. I was overwhelmed with anger.

At first I was upset with myself. How selfish could I be? Yes, I had put extra effort into the special activities. Yes, I had come in as a volunteer on a day off to do the activities. But it seemed petty to be so angry about something that was easily re-scheduled, right?

Now it is two weeks later. I just finished rewriting and condensing the letter at the request of an editor. It will be published in one of the papers later this week. (You can read the final submission at the bottom of this post…) And I am STILL angry.

As I thought about this over the past few weeks, I realize this incident is a picture of the overwhelming problems at this local school (and at many other schools across the country.) There is no time for anything more than prepping for state tests and “core curriculum.” There is no time to include art, music, free reading, or one-on-one tutoring, even though there are shelves and shelves full of research that show how these things increase proficiency in core subjects for at-risk students. But, apparently, there IS time for fundraising companies to have access to our students during that same core-instruction time.

In talking with teachers and the principal at this school, I discovered another thing that makes me furious. They constantly urge the students to “just say no” to harmful things such as drugs, alcohol, abuse, and dangerous situations. They expect the students to learn to judge activities on the merits of how this will help them or harm them. They urge students to stand up to (or avoid) parents who are making decisions that will harm the children. (The majority of our students live both below the poverty line and in very dysfunctional family situations.)

And yet, the response I got from school staff when I questioned this abuse of core-instruction time, was that they “had no choice.” They couldn’t turn down the mandated presentation time by the fundraising company. They couldn’t even demand an afternoon assembly. In other words, they couldn’t “just say no.”

And that makes me angry. That makes me furious. That brings out my WRATH!

I’m no longer beating myself up for my “inappropriate” response to a “frustrating situation.” I’m no longer going to apologize (again) for my angry words. I am like a mama bear, protecting her cubs. When they are at-risk, she roars!

And, in the process of writing all of this down, I realize there IS something good to be found in this situation. I now have a specific discussion topic of a real-life harmful situation for my tutoring students to wrestle with. Perhaps, as I share my anger and what is behind that anger, these students will gain the courage to speak up about things that anger them, things that are harmful to themselves. Maybe that is one way to protect my “cubs” and help them be ready to face the challenges of life out here on the edges.

Dear Parents:

School administrators say they have your student’s best interests at heart even while bemoaning the lack of parental support. You hear them (or maybe they say it out of your hearing) complain about students who live below the poverty line and whose parents can’t pay for special activities.

Today’s focus on testing and on a “core curriculum”, has limited time available for other subjects during the school day. At our local school, funding shortages recently eliminated weekly “enrichment” time. There has been no time for art or music for years. Prepping for state tests is of higher importance than educating a well-rounded student!

Your child may complain about this year’s school lunches—only healthy food, no seconds, limited calories (even for student athletes). By federal mandates, students can’t have outside food until late afternoon, when the entire school has finished lunch “hour.” No parties can be held on half-days before holidays. Or rather, no treats can be eaten at those before-lunch parties.

Administrators claim to be concerned about these issues. But it is now “that” time of year, time for candy sales. It is time for YOUR child to become the coerced worker for fundraising companies. Students miss core instruction time for presentations urging them to become the high-sales winner. There are tantalizing prizes based on sales levels, most of which will break within weeks. Students are pushed to sell something they would not even be allowed to eat at school!

Of course, there is no time for art or music. Of course, no candy is allowed at the school. Of course, you, as parents with little extra money, are asked to help your students sell lots of candy to all your relatives. (And, of course, neither the fundraising company nor the school will explain that the majority of money made by these efforts will go to the company rather than to the school.)

If you see a problem with this situation, it is time to rebel: refuse to buy any candy, prevent your child from becoming unpaid labor for the candy-company. School fundraisers do more harm than good for students.

Sincerely, Jill Emmelhainz, Reading tutor

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Fonda Erdman
    Oct 12, 2012 @ 07:56:33

    BRAVO for you Mama Bear, Keep roaring, You are so correct about the school promoting those types of sales. I don’t ever buy from them and tell the students I don’t need what they sell. I am glad they did not have that at our school back in the 40 – 50’s. Wow, that was a long time ago. Take care dear friend and blessings to you and Randy, plus children, in all you do there. I love seeing photos of the children – brings back great memories and seems they have not changed – all are precious. Love to all, Fonda

    Reply

  2. Sharon
    Oct 12, 2012 @ 09:50:46

    Pretty Powerful, Dear Friend!

    Reply

  3. Valerie
    Oct 12, 2012 @ 17:28:23

    It’s like a bear swatting at a beehive, Jill! But good luck.

    Reply

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