Today The Kid went to preschool for the very last time. On Saturday he turns 6 years old, so we are - in New Zealand terms - on the very last cut-off point between finishing preschool and starting primary school.
And he was ready for it.
In keeping with the tradition of this particular preschool, he made himself his Last Day Hat and then we all sat down on a mat to farewell him. We sang him a Last Day Song, the teacher showed everyone photos of The Kid from his Learning Journal (a sort of a diary teachers keep of kids' adventures) and then we all sang a karakia (which this preschool always does before mealtimes) before sharing in a big platter of food I prepared for them.
And although when the teacher asked The Kid what school he's going to go to, The Kid called loudly the name of the central city school we've been working with so far (we were supposed to start there in 2 weeks' time, on 1 May), at this stage, I don't know.
I do know, though, that it'll definitely not be 1 May!
The Ministry of Education have granted us an extension on our school start. They've acknowledged that there have been a distressing and a confusing set of circumstances around our school start, and they've basically said, relax, just take your time. Once you're ready, you're ready. No-one going to police you, and no-one's going to push any charges. You'll start when you're ready.
They've recognised that part of this mess has been a lack of communication between several organisations involved, and because of that they are also recognising that The Kid's delayed start at school will have nothing to do with truancy and instead, is a very valid decision by people who take his wellbeing seriously.
Even the school have apologised. They've acknowledged that part of this mess has been due to a lack of communication (which they have now changed procedures around so it wouldn't happen again) and they are also looking into reviewing some of the teaching techniques which were brought up as a result of all this.
So overall, I think we are ticking along nicely.
...if you ignore the fact that we don't know what school The Kid is going to go to, and we have just bought a house precisely in this school zone.
I know several of you are very interested in this story, so I will explain some of it, as much as I am comfortable with.
Most Invercargill primary schools are public, zoned teaching institutions which are listed at nzschools.tki.org.nz (choose "Invercargill City" in the drop-down menu on the left hand side) and therefore, most Invercargill kids simply go to a school their home address is assigned to. Easy.
Each school has a certain way of doing things, their culture, but all follow a public NZ curriculum so in a lot of ways, they are all very similar, but in a lot of other ways, they are all very different. All schools are periodically reviewed by a government agency called Education Review Office and all their reports are publicly listed on their website at www.ero.govt.nz
Invercargill has very little to offer in terms of private schooling. There are some private schools at a high school level, yes, but down at primary level it is basically either a 1) public, zoned primary school (which only takes kids from their assigned address directory), 2) a semi-private Catholic school (you can recognise them by the fact that all their names start with "St ..." - St Theresa's, St Joseph's etc) or 3) two public, un-zoned primary schools which take in kids from wherever (they're called Ascot and Newfield).
There are definitely no schools that follow a Waldorf or a Montessori, or anything else like that, philosophy.
In general, I have no problem with that sort of a set-up. I believe in the need to support all schools regardless of where their students come from and when most schools are zoned, it underlines the need to support schools, rather than having parents "shop around" for the best school and schools being able to "shop around" for the best students.
But! At the moment, we are kind of stuck.
I have spent a lot of time trawling through various data of Invercargill schools prior to us moving here. I've done my due diligence: we chose the central city primary school precisely because we trusted in its ability to accommodate our family's circumstances, and then we bought a house to get into its zone.
But now that we've tried to start at it, and realised that it's not working, I've found it exceptionally embarrassing, confusing and ridiculous that we've bought a house precisely so that we could get in, and now we're thinking of getting out and going elsewhere.
Except, because most schools are zoned, like I mentioned earlier, then there's very little choice we have in terms of what we can do next.
Kids that have some special circumstances around their care, for example behavioural problems, medical conditions, physical disabilities - when they start school, they get assigned a support person called RTLB, Resource Teacher: Learning and Behaviour.
(From what I understand, anyway) RTLB is a sort of a go-between person: they coordinate the variety of things that may be involved and make sure that things don't go amiss when it comes to kids transitioning to school, or for example when kids go out of parental care and into state care etc.
Think of it kind of like a... GP, or a paediatrician: if a child has a variety of medical conditions which are all dealt with in different hospital departments (neurology, gastroenterology, ophthalmology etc) then all these reports get "beamed" into an office of a paediatrician who is kind of like a roof above it all. A paediatrician oversees and coordinates - kind of like an RTLB oversees and coordinates, in a way.
RTLBs are people who have spent several decades working as teachers and then, towards the end of their careers, they can become RTLBs to support the care of kids who for some reason have found themselves in trying circumstances; they become go-betweens between teachers and principals and Ministry of Education officials and occupational therapists etc to make sure information moves, and things don't get forgotten.
In our case, an RTLB was assigned for a period of 6 weeks right at the start of school because we knew that when The Kid starts school, there is going to be a variety of therapists and services involved, and we wanted to make sure that information gets passed between people, and people know what to expect when we arrive.
Except: it didn't happen.
Literally, as I stepped into the classroom with The Kid on our first day of school, an elderly lady introduced herself as an RTLB to me and I said to her, cheerfully, oh, we have an RTLB also! She's gonna come here today.
...and then I was told by that elderly lady that, uhm, "our" RTLB is about to change jobs so she won't be on our case any more.
And I stood there, thinking... uhm.
Yeah, that about sums it up. "Uhm," is what I was thinking.
But I cheered up and just went with what we had. A change, I thought, but we can work with that. Wouldn't be the first time we've had change. I introduced ourselves to the new RTLB, gave her a brief history and then put my attention back to what was the main agenda of the day, and that was, to settle The Kid into school.
Except, as the teacher asked everyone to sit down for mat-time and I was looking around for a place for The Kid to sit safely (because he wears an ankle orthosis that supports his left leg, he's not able to sit on the floor, kneeling, the way most other people do), that's when I realised that for some reason, the people in this class were not aware of that.
There was nowhere for The Kid to sit except right on the floor, so again, I thought, okay, let's just do that. We can do 15 minutes of this, it'll be alright. I'll talk to the teacher after class, move some boxes so The Kid can have a spot against the wall. (A wall offers him back support).
Except, the mat-time kept going, and going, and going. For fifty minutes (!) the teacher was putting the kids from one assignment to another, from one to another, and let's be straight here: it was a classroom of 5-year-olds and they were sitting right on the floor, doing their writing and their assignments on the floor, for fifty (50!) minutes without a break.
After about 10 minutes The Kid said to me that he cannot sit like that any longer, his legs hurt, so I got him up on my lap and we spent the rest of the mat-time like that, with me cross-legged on the mat and him on my lap, using me as a kind of a small chair for comfort.
I was getting more and more incredulous. The teacher was powering on at such a speed that even I was struggling to keep up.
Meanwhile, a door opened and our previously assigned RTLB stepped in. She acknowledged me with a nod and a smile, sat next to the new RTLB and we went on like that for a while longer.
At some point, our old RTLB took me aside to another classroom and one, asked me how I was doing (honestly, very uncomfortable and confused I said to her) and then two, explained to me that there had been some sort of a miscommunication somewhere because the new RTLB didn't know about our case and no-one had informed me of the old RTLB leaving, so... yeah. Apologies throughout.
And there were other, smaller things, too. The Kid's backpack hook, for example, had been put to such a height that there was no way he could actually reach it without having to hunt down an adult who could help him.
At some point during class, when another child (who, to me, clearly looked like there was some sort of a neurological or a behavioural thing going on) made another thing that disturbed the teacher, the teacher said in front of everyone, whilst looking at the two RTLBs, that this one, here, she's gonna need some help with, too.
I felt goosebumps down my back when she said that. I thought to myself, I never want to see my child being singled out like that, publicly, ever. The fact that she did that to another child made me uncomfortable about leaving mine there. I looked towards the two RTLBs sitting there - they were exchanging glances at each other.
When after class I said to the teacher that The Kid had an ankle orthosis and couldn't spend such a long time sitting on a mat - that I was sure someone had talked to her about it, but if not, let's just work out a solution now - then the teacher just plainly said that sitting against a wall was not a solution. She keeps boxes at the wall.
(To which the RTLB later said that that's not an argument: the boxes are there for the teacher's convenience, no other reason, so if there's a child who actually needs to sit at the wall, the boxes can be moved.)
I offered to the teacher, okay, how about a table. How about The Kid sits at the table next to the mat.
No, that's not going to work, the teacher replied. Mat-time is for everyone to sit on a mat, she said, so we should go to The Warehouse store and maybe we can find some sort of a low foldable fabric beach chair that will help The Kid sit on the floor.
I mean, by that point I didn't even know what to say any more. I was so uncomfortable with the whole conversation that I just said, okay, I'll discuss with the occupational therapist and see what we can come up with.
Meanwhile, down in my throat, I was thinking, WTF!?
When our first visit to school had ended, I said to the new RTLB and the old RTLB that I was going to go home, process the stuff during the weekend and then, next week, we were going to talk.
But like I wrote in another blog post six days ago, instead, I went home and found myself sobbing. Just plain sobbing.
I had felt so uncomfortable with almost everything I had come across - the way the teacher was not aware of anything, the way RTLB work had not been done, the way teacher was powering through material in a way I thought was absolutely not age-appropriate, the way she had singled out another child she had problems with, the way she had scolded some kids when they had pushed wrong buttons on an iPad, but probably the most intuitively the way she didn't seem to keep eye contact with any of the kids there.
And don't get me wrong: I do not expect to like all teachers as people. I, myself, had some teachers at high school who were very good teachers, but I did not like them as people; and then there were the opposite, teachers who were nice people but made a very poor job of teaching.
So I did not expect to like The Kid's teacher overall and with everything. I knew that there were going to be things I disagreed with, but it's not my job to make the world perfect and to my liking in every manner, so I knew that there was going to be a balance to be struck and I absolutely do not want to bug teachers with everything and all the time, because to do their job well, they also very much need trust from their employers and from the children's parents.
I called the RTLB and just sobbed on the phone. Please can you help me understand what it was that I saw, and how it makes sense.
And the RTLB said that it doesn't. She, too, had been very concerned with what she had seen, and so was the other, old RTLB. All three of us had left the room feeling very uncomfortable.
I spoke to the principal of the school. We have a good working relationship - we've met several times already, planning The Kid's school transition.
I now know from talking to other people that some of the things me and the principal talked about, he actually ended up fact-checking with the RTLB to make sure that I hadn't misheard, misunderstood or just plain exaggerated to him. He, too, was very surprised and concerned to hear that the 5-year-olds had spent a length of 50 minutes of the floor non-stop (because that's not what this age group should be doing). He was uncomfortable with the comment the teacher had made about another student (and would follow it up).
And now that I've met with the principal again, he has actually apologised. They've all acknowledged the very unfortunate miscommunications between RTLB changes which lead to, what I described before, people not knowing what they were supposed to be knowing; but also, the fact that a young teacher who is known to the principal to struggle with anxiety, she ended up having two RTLBs (our old RTLB, and our new one), plus me, attending her class unexpectedly, so basically three adults in her room without her being emotionally prepared for it.
So I am sorry for putting it this way, but a f*ck up all around.
It all helps to explain now why Ministry of Education who are otherwise very firm on 6-year-olds having to have started school, are giving us a time extension and an emotional break to just figure this situation out.
Whilst we have not entirely given up on this central city primary school, we have become very uncomfortable with the experience we endured. The Man, who visited the school with The Kid on Tuesday, also had quite a few things to say about the approach he witnessed and in what ways it had made him uncomfortable.
We have discussed sending The Kid there anyway and kind of "enduring" the first year (called year 0) until The Kid gets into the care of older teachers, but it kind of sucks - the first year is one of the most crucial ones, and especially in our case. We have discussed homeschooling for a year and then starting The Kid in year 1 (so technically the second year of schooling, but in a New Zealand system it gets called year 1). We have discussed going to other schools, which we will start visiting in May.
But either way, for the next two weeks, we are just going to back away from the topic. There has been such a mess of communication between so many people involved that we are just going to sit it out, and wait until the school and the Ministry of Education and the RTLBs office have had time to discuss this case in their meetings and form an understanding on what exactly happened; and then meet with each other to discuss the things they're not comfortable with in each other's approaches.
And once they've done that, my job will become easier. I won't have to do, every time I pick up a phone and call yet another person I've been referred to, a long introduction of this-is-what-happened-and-this-is-what-they-said-and-this-is-why-I-am-calling-you.
Also, I will have had time to just relax and start backing away, emotionally, from this traumatic experience, and so will The Kid.
He's not talking about it yet, but we can tell from his behaviour that all is not well at the moment. He's doing some processing of his own and with time we'll get through it, but for the moment, we are just going to back off.
And so will I from this computer where I have spent an hour and a half typing.
PS. Because Ministry of Education have acknowledged that our need to possibly change schools arises from a peculiar set of circumstances, then they will see what they can do on their end to possibly get us into another zoned school even though we live in central city.
Either way, we are not going to change houses. No. We've come here to stay and for stability, and we are going to make that.