Friday, 20 May 2011

Grateful to be humble...

My children go to a small primary school.

It is a local government school set upon spacious grounds, surrounded by gum trees, with a creek running down the side of the oval.

There is a fully stocked canteen open daily, run by Mums.

There are plentiful facilities within each classroom, and a gym, and a dedicated activities block, as well as a brilliantly resourced library.

The staff are solid and are all enthusiastic, regardless of tenure. They care.

The principle is professional and quite the expert at extracting funding wherever she can.

There is very involved parent body that volunteers and helps out with everything from reading to sausage sizzles to soccer training.

There is a uniform with a fairly strict policy. The kids look smart.

I overhead a conversation between a parent and a teacher today.

The parent was expressing her concern that there are a number of new children who appear to be "in jeans and not in proper uniform".

I'll be honest, I had noticed the same thing. Sweatshirts instead of the school jacket, jeans instead of navy blue drill pants, scruffy sneakers instead of school shoes, random t-shirts instead of the standard issued embroidered polo shirt.  I will be totally frank now, and tell you that it has irritated me - almost as if I felt let down by some other parents not "upholding" the fine standards of the school?

I continued to eavesdrop on the conversation, and whilst the concerned parent was not harsh or critical of the children or of the school, it seemed that this lack of "standard" was really bothering her - enough, certainly, to raise it with a teacher.

I sensed the teacher take a deep breath and look the parent in the eye.

"It's hard, isn't it? Don't we all wish that all children had the care that sends them lovingly dressed in a full clean and ironed uniform? But really, I am just so relieved that these children are actually here. They are turning up, against all odds, every day. Let us be thankful for that. Let us be grateful that they are here."

None of this conversation involved me. But I went away feeling humbled.

And more than a little ashamed of my previous perceptions.

And grateful that, indeed, these kids are managing to get to school and attend every day, to be with teachers who see beyond the smartness of a uniform.

And I am grateful that I overheard this conversation before I let my petty prejudice make me lose sight of what is really important about our kid's educations.


  1. Wow that's humbling as you say. What a great attitude from that teacher and one that I for one can certainly learn from.

  2. Thanks for this post. I think I can apply this to just not the school yard :P

  3. All of what he writes are of great interest to me ... he went on, have fun and entertain them every day. GOODNIGHT from all the company ΣτάΛες στο ΓαΛάΖιο blog!!

  4. I teach in a low socio economic area and we understand that some parents can't afford the uniform so us teacher suggest getting the same coloured jumpers or tracksuit pants from best n less or lowes were it is more affordable for them. I agree with the teacher in your story - I'm just glad they still attend school and get an education where sometimes that is not the case.

  5. Yes, that is humbling. I must admit I've thought the same at my son's school. But seeing it in that light makes it look totally different.

  6. What a thoughtful post that applies to so many areas of life. I have to admit though, working in childcare for 7 years it drove me mad that I was the only staff member who wore jeans with our uniform polos while the rest wore tracksuit pants. We all have different standards and reasons for it I guess. I'm just a sucker for a uniform! xx

  7. What a wonderful teacher. It sounds like a great school, glad the kids are getting an opportunity to go there.

    I have been irritated in the past with teachers picking on minor stuff about my daughter and niece's school get up - the policy is not strict, there is no rule that they can't have pink runners instead of white, or a head scarf in the uniform colours (to prevent head to head contact and nitty hitch hikers). They are always neat, clean and in uniform and plenty of kids at the school are not. Uniform policy has to be managed with a good degree of common sense, else the very reasons it is instated are lost (like cohesion, inclusion and practicality).

  8. It's a perceptive point the teacher makes. For some kids it is amazing they even make it to school. Even better if they have lunch to eat.

    I too am a stickler for rules and uniforms. It gives a sense of belonging too.

    Maybe seeing how nice your kids look in the correct uniform is a reminder that you're lucky enough to be on top of things, emotionally and financially. Even when it feels like you're barely holding on.

  9. So true Lucy. Through education these kids stand a better chance at life. It's about supporting children and ensuring they feel comfortable. xx

  10. You are so right, of course. I almost feel bad about saying what I'm going to say next, but...

    To me, it's not enough. I don't think it's enough to just be grateful that they're showing up against all the odds. They deserve to reach for the high standards that the school is achieving too. I do agree that it is sometimes nitpicking with uniforms and such, but the little details are how we reach the stars as far as I'm concerned. Those kids can be encouraged to put a pair of school trousers on just as easily as a pair of jeans and their parents need to know that it's not okay to think that jeans are good enough. You know?

    Um... hard to express what I mean in a little comment box. I guess I'm trying to say that the same standards should apply to all. Without prejudice.


  11. It is true that a uniform doesn't provide education, and that was a great attitude from that teacher. But, I was one of those kids for a period in my childhood. I never had the uniform, or the money for excursions. I felt different and ashamed. I am wondering if the school has considered providing free second hand uniforms to these families? I am always looking for opportunities to pass on uniforms free of charge, which my children have grown out of. It could even be done from a parent. I offer them simply by saying that my child has grown out of them.

  12. Sorry, I do need to add that as an adult, I am aware that my mother and step father always had cigarettes, and my step father always had beer. Deep down I am thinking that perhaps buying a second hand uniform would be just as cheap as buying jeans and jumpers for their kids?

  13. It's a tough one, Lucy...

    A few years ago, I was standing "at the back of the lines" during one morning assembly whilst the principal had a little talk to the kids about wearing "correct uniform"...
    The Yr6 teacher made a show of concealing one of the girls in her class, who was wearing tracksuit pants under her dress (Winter uniform at our school was slacks for Everyone) and a white parka over the whole lot (again, not part of the uniform)
    I brought it up with another teacher and she relayed the same message as your teacher - we are just gald that this child is at school AT ALL, she comes from a broken home etc.
    This child was also the school "bully" at the time. With my eldest girl and her friends being some of her victims. The other children interpreted this as the Yr6 teacher letting this one girl get away with something that was against "school rules", and were rather perplexed that not only was this girl nasty to them at school, but also was allowed to break the rules...
    Like I said, it's a hard one...I used to run the Uniform shop back then, and many times I would give pre-loved items away free of charge if I knew the family was struggling...

  14. I really appreciate all of the thoughtful comments on this one.

    I am really torn - who am I to judge what kind of battles these children face on a daily basis?

    We do give away secondhand school uniforms and we do have a heavily subsidised canteen, and also run the "school card" which gives free lunches and waives all school fees.

    The uniform shop is run by the school vounteers as not for profit (and not as a revenue stream for fundraising as it is in other local schools.)

    We have a Best and Less locally too, as well as a KMart.

    I am an advocate of a strict uniform policy in general.

    But I suppose none of can tell what circumstances prevent the kids from being in uniform, nor the parental attitudes.

    I know that I persoanlly would chose to "go without" in order to ensure my children had the correct uniform. But sadly, some other parents may opt to put their own needs/addictions/habits/choices first - and this, of course, is not the kids fault. Nor is it in the power of the school to change, sadly.

    Hence my post. It is such a tricky and humbling situation...


  15. We have a strict uniform policy at our school which is one of the reasons I chose for kids to attend that school. I take their old uniforms into the school for the second hand uniform shop. I whisper quietly to the office lady that I don't want payment ... that this stuff could be given away to those who may need the assistance. Not sure if that it ever happens that way, but that is the hope. I know other mums who do likewise.
    But you're right. It is tricky and humbling ...

  16. Post-move we are now in a no uniform country and I was a little worried but now I am seeing it in action am enjoying it. So far we are experiencing the positives (self-expression, comfortable) without potential pitfalls (designer clothing, peer pressure) that might come along further down the track.
    I am one of those parents who has never had strong feelings about uniforms. I just really wanted my kids to be comfortable. At our local public school it seemed that the uniform was relatively cheap and v comfy. My daughter briefly attended a private school (which we loved) but the fussy, in some ways impractical, uniform irritated me.
    It sounds like the teachers have a great attitude that is fuelled by compassion for the child and passion about what really matters in education.
    Thanks for an interesting read.

  17. I attended a high school with a strict uniform policy, no jeans or tracksuits, no sneakers unless you had PE.
    There was a boy a year above me who didnt wear the uniform because his family were unable to afford it. He didnt even have a school bag, he carried his books in a plastic shopping bag.
    He was picked on, taunted and bullied by so many other students for being "poor". Like it was his fault.
    Not to mention given "uniform detention" because he wasn't dressed correctly.
    I think the school should have done more in the way of providing him with a free or at least discounted uniform. A shirt at least, so he could fit in more and maybe not get picked on.

    Im all for having a uniform to unite a school, and Im aware there are benefits when it comes to safety (being able to recognise a stranger/predator in the school etc). But I do think that having set colours should be enough, rather than expensive items with a logo.

    I should add, that boy in my school went on to be the dux of his year.
    Bullies dont always win.

  18. A number of years ago I taught in a small school. Most children wore the uniform. One family in a particular did not always.

    I whole heartedly agree with what this teacher said Lucy. Sometimes it is enough, more than enough. This family hunted at night for their food, because there was not enough money to buy it. This family had a violent father, who even as I type this years later, makes me sick to the stomach to think about. We were happy when the children turned up to school, no matter what they wore. Offering them free uniform was not an option, not unless we wanted to risk the father feeling undermined and taking it out on his wife and children.

    This family needed support, compassion, and people accepting them as they were, people who were role models of the way life could be, but was not for them, not people reminding them of school uniforms.

    And yes, child protection were involved, so were the police, so were women's & children's shelters.

    So, do I ever pull up children on uniform? No I do not. Because there are stories behind every child, and sometimes being in the safety of a school in no or little uniform is better than being at home.

  19. Wow, I had to come back and read the comments on this one, Luce and they are as thought-provoking as I thought they'd be. This is a whole lotta worms being opened, huh? x

  20. An amazing perspective, lovely post!

  21. You never know what you don't know, until you know some more about it....

  22. such a great reminder Lucy. When I started at my new school it irritated me that not all the children dressed appropriately for pe - they didn't all bring their runners. But of course, they don't all own runners do they. So they come in what they've got. They join in. They do their best. They learn. And they have fun. That's what it's all about :-)

  23. you know what is really funny, is that not only do I think like that too, but it's not until someone else puts it out there that you have that 'oh yeah' moment where you go and crawl back in your box and are reminded to be a bigger person. thank you for that.

  24. Other people teach us so much about ourselves. I don't really notice what other kids are wearing. I am usually just happy that we made it to school in time and my boy has all the appropriate things in his bag for the day. x

  25. What a wonderful teacher. Sometimes it takes others for us to see the bigger picture. Great post.

  26. Yes. To all of it. i agree about setting a high standard and wearing uniforms but having taught some VERY deprived kids I also know the fact they're at school at all somedays is pretty bloody incredible. I've taught some siblings who've dressed their brothers and sisters in uniforms but haven't got one to wear themselves and have shown me really defiant attitudes. Gentle questioning usually revealed mum and or dad wouldn't buy them new or second hand ones and they were too young to work or buy them for themselves. I've seen it all. Kudos to that teacher and it's important schools work to address the underlying reason kids aren't wearing uniforms because while it can be simple rebellion which needs nipping in the bud, sadly it often isn't that simple.

  27. Thank you for that post, Lucy. It has certainly put things in perspective. Our school is a fairly low socio-economic bracket and yet has extremely good results and programs. It also has pretty high rates of non-attendance. So as much as some of us may (and we have) sniff our noses at the multi-coloured parkas, shoes and jumpers, perhaps we just need to be grateful that they are at least dressed and at school.

  28. Thanks for such a great post, Lucy! Humbling indeed... I work with mums and kids experiencing crisis, so I never think about how other parents may feel about the school pride regarding uniform. Your thoughts were lovely to read and showed your compassion.

    Whenever I think about school attendance, my hubby's experience of an alcoholic mother refusing to let him go in case child services were alerted that he had no lunch always springs to mind. Many kids are greatful to go and be "normal" for a while, no matter waht they're wearing :)

  29. My DS's primary school also has a strict uniform policy and it makes me wonder how some families can afford them.

    Yes it's annoying when kids arrive out of uniform but I remind myself that not every family can afford $40 pants and $20 polo shirts and $70 dresses (terrible prices for primary school!) I would rather these parents spend their money on food for the kids to make sure they are adequately nourished.

    To me, there should be an easier more affordable way to have kids in uniforms, thats where I direct my angry thoughts.

    PS Lucy your daughters school sounds just lovely!

  30. I wouldn't bring up that kind of stuff to the teacher unless it had to do with MY OWN kid. Who cares what other kids are doing or wearing? If it's not hurting anyone then it don't matta.

    But yes, I like how the teacher was appreciative of the children even being there. Life is about appreciation, without it, there is no zest for life.

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