Friday, March 24, 2000

Going undercover

Friday is my spy day at my kids' school. It's not easy to work my way in there; the principal guards the gates heavily, and doesn't allow parents much access to classrooms. Parent participation in parties is frowned on, parent observation is all but forbidden, parents volunteering as helpers in the classroom is unheard of. It's a tight ship, and there's no room for tourists.

I know that other schools are not this way. I hear of parents working in their children's classrooms, helping with reading or other activities, having plenty of time to observe their child in the context of other children. Some schools apparently require such contributions. Some parents undoubtedly resent that, but how I envy them the opportunity. I've been allowed in my daughter's classroom during school hours exactly once, to read a story as part of her teacher's "Mystery Reader" program. Every parent gets to do it. Once. You read, and then you leave.

Our principal would undoubtedly be horrified to hear me suggesting that she doesn't want parents to volunteer. There are plenty of opportunities--working at the big all-school parties (as opposed to the little in-class parties), being class parent and sending goodies in for little in-class parties (but just leave them by the office, please), helping at Book Fair or other fundraising activities, putting out the newsletter, calling other parents on snow days. But none of these involve actually being in your child's classroom, or observing him or her with classmates except in the most coincidental way. Parents aren't asked to be lunchroom aides or playground aides, as they are in other schools. It's virtually impossible to spy on your kids in their natural habitat.

Except, that is, in the library.

Being a library aide is the one loophole left at our school, and I merrily sneak through it. Using this opportunity for nefarious purposes takes a little planning--you have to be aware enough to know when your child goes, and lucky enough to find that slot untaken--but if you play your cards right, you can have 35 minutes of uninterrupted observation of the way your child behaves in school and how his or her classmates interact. You can also get to know the kids by name, chat them up when they check out their books, and get known as your child's Mama. It's unbelievably open access, and I can't believe the principal hasn't found some way to close it.

Don't tell her about this, okay? Or she'll find a way to switch me to Wednesdays, and I'll have to spy on someone else's kids.

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