Tuesday, May 27, 2014

School Days

As the school year draws to a close, I always feel a weird combination of nostalgia and utter frustration. Mostly nostalgia: a whole year with these teachers, gone by in the blink of an eye! Frustration, of course: 4 kids times field day and fly up day and splash day and concert day and mothers day tea and crazy hair day and Graduation by Demonstration and STOP IT PEOPLE I HAVE A PACKOUT TO ORGANIZE! YOU SHOULD BE WATCHING MY KIDS FOR ME!

Sorry. Ahem. Where was I?

Ah, yes. The school.

For those of you transitioning to Amman and wondering about the schools, I have to say: I've been pleased with most everything about our chosen school, ACS. (Full disclosure: I served on the school board for two years.) (Even more full disclosure: On school board meeting nights, while I was off making important decisions on behalf of the students and community, my kids were at home, eating popcorn for dinner.) (Shut up! It's a whole grain.)

I seriously have no idea where this post is going. I spent last week lecturing middle schoolers about 5-paragraph expository essays and the importance of having a beginning, middle and end mapped out. Yet look at me go, seemingly without a point.

Really, I have a point, which is: the school, she is great. I was a little worried when we moved here from Beijing, because our school there was probably one of the best in the world - no exaggeration - so how could a little podunk school in the middle east compare to that particular powerhouse? But you know what? It really has. The school has around 700 students, Pre-K to 12th, which is actually a great size - big enough to offer lots of extracurriculars, but small enough to feel homey. I've been happy with the vast majority of teachers with whom my kids have worked. A few of the teachers I'd even put toe-to-toe with the very best teachers across the globe (looking at you in particular, Mrs. M and Mrs. T).

What I like the most about the school is that the faculty knows my kids. The Elementary School principal knows my stubborn little Ainsley quite well (yet she and I are still on speaking terms!).  The superintendent himself knows all four kids - pretty remarkable that in a school of 700, you can stop the superintendent in the hallway and chat him up about your kids. I regularly see my kids' teachers out around town, or at the Embassy - I've even become close friends with some of the teachers.

It's a little awkward sometimes, the fact that everyone knows you - because when your kid does something boneheaded and you see the teacher in church the next day, well, what to say? When you see the teacher out on a date, do you give her the thumbs up, or pretend you didn't notice her? And what about the teacher whose kid is friends with one of your kids, but teaches another? How to handle grading issues or communication problems?

But for all the potential strangeness, there's an awful lot of good in this tangled web of relationships. One of Shay's assistant baseball coaches this year also happens to be the HS principal, whose wife was Shay's teacher our first year here and now teaches Aidan. I don't think Shay loves carpooling to baseball with the guy - I mean, that's a bit intimidating for an 8th grader - but it is good for him, I think, to see this high-ranking administrator in a completely different light, to see the man as a father and a coach rather than just as the guy who can scold you for misbehaving in the hallways.

There was a party for the baseball team a few weeks back, and the HS principal offered to host it. So I took Shay, and while the boys bonded over video games and pizza, the adults sat outside, chatting until late in the evening. Coach Kevin (whom I knew not at all until this year, when Shay was lucky enough to be selected for his team) was there,  along with the principal and his wife, and a few other teachers. We traded expat horror stories and talked about upcoming assignments. I sat there with Aidan's current teacher and reminisced about Shay's time in her classroom, and I thought, how lucky am I? Most parents only see their kids' teachers at conference time. But here I am at her house, just chatting and remembering anew what an awesome person she is, feeling oh-so-fortunate that two of my kids had her in their lives for a year. To my right sat a PE teacher who has taught two of my kids and chaperoned a third during a track meet in another country. She's the scorekeeper for the baseball team, too. We talked about Crossfit and cooking and exercising with kids, and discovered we have a ton of common interests beyond the well-being of my children. Small, small world.

At a school like this, overseas, your life intersects with the lives of the teachers and other adults whom you are trusting with your child's education. They all know my husband is in Baghdad. They all know I'm preparing to move. They all know the unique challenges that are shaping my kids, and they take this knowledge into account as they work with my children and with me.

I was nervous, moving here, that the school wouldn't live up to my expectations. In some ways, of course, it hasn't, because really - what school could?

But in the big ways, the ways that matter, this school has worked for my family. This year alone: what would I have done without Mrs. Mancuso, Miss Ripley, Mrs. Frazier, Mrs. Persson and all of the others who have kept my family on track? In years past: Mrs. T, Mrs. A, Miss Nadia, Mrs. O'Leary, Mrs. Stone, Mr. McIlvain and countless others. They made the school work for me, for my family.

I'm going to miss this place in a few weeks, truly I am.

But for now? For now, I don't miss it at all. I'm there practically every day, for some kid event or another. Teachers, please, I beg you: don't put any more end-of-year events on my calendar. I can't take it anymore!


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