Archive for May, 2009

Everyday Should Be Teacher Appreciation Day

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Last Friday, the Petaluma Junior High Band was part of a group that played the national anthem at the Giants game at AT&T Park. My daughter and the other band students boarded the buses to leave for San Francisco at 4:00. Because of a long game, a few students who were prone to wander, and a broken-down bus, they didn’t get back to Petaluma until almost 12:30 a.m.

In the “what did parents do before there were cell phones” category, Jennifer called to let me know when they were a few miles out of town so I could be waiting for her at school. While I was driving there, I was thinking that it would be nice to be in bed but that I really didn’t mind going to pick her up. I gave myself a big pat on the back for having such a good attitude about sacrificing some sleep. Wasn’t I just the best mom for not being cranky about having to stay awake so I could drive to the junior high at 12:30 in the morning to pick her up from a band trip?

As I pulled into the parking lot to wait with the other bleary-eyed parents for the buses to arrive, I saw the assistant principle in front of the school also waiting for the students. In spite of the late hour, she was totally on duty and ready to jump into action when the buses arrived. There was no hint in her attitude that she was doing anything out of the ordinary. She was there to make sure everybody and everything got off each bus, that the instruments got stowed in the band room, and to be certain that the students were matched up with a parent before she locked up the campus, probably at about 1:00 a.m.

I was immediately struck with the sacrifice the assistant principal was making. She, along with the principal, the band teacher and several other staff members had all given up their Friday night to make this trip possible. I’m the parent, so giving up sleep and making sacrifices is to be expected. But a school administrator”¦is working 18 hour days and meeting a bus after midnight part of the job description?

Then the next morning, I read in the newspaper about the teacher layoffs, a shortened school year, and the increased class size that are likely to occur as a result of the state’s $15.4 billion budget gap.

I claim no understanding of the complexities of the California budget and the programs that are fighting for life in face of the budget cuts. However as a parent, I believe that the importance of teachers and school staff in the lives of our children cannot be underestimated; I give my kids over to their authority for six hours every day. And as demonstrated on Friday night, sometimes even for a lot longer.

Schools and their staff have a huge responsibility. While my children are at school, the teachers and administration are my surrogate. I trust the school to provide a safe environment, treat them fairly, exercise discipline if necessary, teach the fundamentals of the core subjects, and foster their natural curiosity.

This is a huge job with lifelong implications, yet based on what we read in the newspaper, schools will have to do more with less. Teachers and administrators already put in large amounts of time way beyond what they are compensated for. And oftentimes, teachers have to use their own funds to provide necessities for the classroom.

Now there is the potential increase in class size for kindergarten through third grade ““ the years that provide the foundation for reading and math skills. And based on the recent census figures, 45% of the children in Sonoma County under age five are Latino. How will teachers who are already stretched to handle their current class load be able to give the attention necessary to make sure these students succeed? And with a shortened school year, there will be even less one-on-one classroom instruction.

I am grateful that almost without exception, the teachers that my kids have had take their jobs seriously and appreciate the impact they have on their lives. It would be wonderful if governor saw their value too.

Working 9 to 5: May Not Be What a Mom Wants

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

There was a column in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal titled “What a Mom Wants.” Since it appeared in the paper the Friday before Mother’s Day, I thought that the author was going talk about the impact of the recession on Mother’s Day gifts. I expected to read that there are a lot of mothers out there like me who only want a card”¦and someone to empty the dishwasher without having to be asked. Since I’m the one who pays the bills in our house, last thing I want to see is on next month’s MasterCard bill is a charge for a diamond necklace.

However, the author Megan Basham tackled a much bigger issue than whether the bar for Mother’s Day gifts has been lowered this year. Her point is that what a mom wants is a husband who “is more interested in bringing home the bacon than cooking it.” Women want to retain their roles and responsibilities as moms and they want men to be the primary wage earners.

However, the recession has caused a role reversal. Because the “male-dominated industries like finance, construction and manufacturing have been the hardest hit by the economic meltdown, men have experienced nearly 80% of the layoffs of the current recession.” So with dads out of work, many stay-at-home moms are re-entering the workforce or working longer hours to compensate for their spouse’s lack of income.

Ms. Basham goes onto describe how the media, the White House and many think tanks believe that the “increasing numbers of mothers putting in more hours in paid work represents progress for women.” They see this as a very positive byproduct of the recession that could actually level the playing field between men and women in the workforce.

The problem is, as Ms. Basham points out, that while these organizations are cheering the changes in the economy that are sending more moms into the workforce, research shows that women are actually unhappy about these changes, and some are even resentful that their husbands have usurped their roles. And just because the fathers are now wearing the apron and scheduling play dates, it doesn’t mean that Moms want to take over their husband’s role as the primary breadwinner; “most see themselves as a mother first and earner second.”

She makes a statement that I’m sure will fill her inbox with angry emails from feminists: “Virtually every reputable poll taken on mothers and work reveals that a strong majority of moms prefer to work part time for fewer hours.” She quotes a Pew Research Center survey that found “only 21% of women with children under the age of 18 say that full-time employment is the ideal situation for them. The rest prefer either part-time work or not working at all. In contrast, fully 72% of fathers say a full-time job is the best option for them.”

Amazing. It sounds like we really want very traditional roles. There’s certainly some room for sharing responsibilities but at root women believe that dad should go to work and it’s mom who takes care of the kids.

It was certainly interesting for me to read about what she described in the article because in some ways it reflects my situation and values. We have our own business so Steve can’t be laid-off, but the recession has meant a reduction in our income which prompted me to take on a part-time job at another company while Steve holds down the fort in our home-based business. It was strange for me to be the one walking through the door and saying, “Honey, I’m home.” Steve has hardly become a “Mr. Mom” ““ by far he earns the majority of the income and I still handle the majority of the domestic chores ““ but he has taken on added responsibilities for driving and keeping up with our daughters’ schedules.

I expect that even as the economy turns around I will continue to work part-time; it’s refreshing and challenging to be exposed to a different work environment. And I’m not so protective of my mom duties that I don’t appreciate some help when it comes to throwing in a load of laundry. But do I long to work full-time? Nope, not if it means giving up my mom mantle. So I plan to keep celebrating Mother’s Day and leave Father’s Day for Steve.

Westside Band Festival: Music to My Ears

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Last Wednesday night, I attended the second annual Westside Band Festival at Petaluma High. Probably like a lot of parents who attended, I walked into the gym a little tired and distracted. But by the time I left an hour later, I was energized and refreshed.

As you might guess, the Westside Band Festival brought together the bands from all the elementary schools on the west side, plus the junior high and high school bands.

Attending band events is something new for our family. My only experience with a musical instrument was a year of accordion lessons that my father insisted that I take when I was 10 because he wanted a family polka band; that whole experience is more like the punch line to a joke than any real exposure to music. And Steve’s Norwegian sense of rhythm meant that his time as a blues guitarist was pretty short-lived, so the activities in our house have centered more on the artistic rather than the musical. 

In spite of her limited musical heritage, I’m grateful that our youngest daughter, Jennifer, had an opportunity to begin playing clarinet in elementary school; she is the first one of our three kids to play an instrument. And now that she is at Petaluma Junior High, she’s part of Mr. Bailey’s advanced band class.

In the Westside Band Festival, the elementary school bands played first. The progress that the band teachers make with their young students is absolutely amazing to me. There are probably many students who have never even held a real instrument before, and in a matter of months, the kids can recognize notes and rhythm so they can play a Mozart melody, aka “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” in tune and in sync. And they aren’t just teaching one instrument, they’re teaching fingering on trumpet, flute, trombone, and on and on. Those teachers deserve another round of applause for their patience and energy.

Next in the program, the junior high bands played and the improvement that they have made as musicians in the year or two since they left elementary school is dramatic. Not only did the “Stars and Stripes” sound great, they group looked great. The training Mr. Bailey gives them in focus and presence is really impressive.

And the high school bands showed off yet another jump in the students’ growth as musicians. Their musicianship probably would have been every bit as good, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much if they had been playing symphony music; marching band music is bouncy and just plain fun to listen to. How could you not listen to their a zippy arrangement of “Funky Town” and not leave invigorated? It’s still playing in my head. But unlike so many songs that turn into ear worms, this song takes me back to the gym that night and the upbeat energy that filled the room.

To cap off the evening, all the bands joined together to play the theme from “Star Wars.” That’s fourth graders through high school seniors playing together as a music community. I left with the feeling that I had been around people ““ both the teachers and students – who really love what they are doing. I felt better for having been there.