things I love about public education

coffee…essential for all school parents

It seems that we’re bombarded with bad stories about public education, doesn’t it? Naplan, bullying, dissatisfied teachers, unmotivated students…and the list goes on.

Right now, across Australia, there are thousands of parents readying their kids for school, attending kindergarten orientation and standing at the very beginning of a 13 year journey. I’ve had a few emails lately from mums worried about sending their little ones into the public school system and I’ve bumped into friends who are angst-ridden about what school to choose.

And because I’ve been there I know this: at the very heart of this dilemma is a simple yet heart-wrenching fact – regardless of what school you choose, you’re sending your child further into the world and cutting the metaphorical cord once again. It’s not so much about the school but about the growing up and letting go.

It’s daunting, anxiety-inducing heart stuff. And as far as parenting goes, it’s just the beginning of the daunting, anxiety-inducing heart stuff.

My kids attended the local Montessori where they spent a few years in a delightful bubble of gardening and paints and imaginative play. When it came time to send them off to school, the local public school was the best option for us, despite my palpable angst.

Perhaps you’ve got a similar story. For whatever reason – location, finances, family circumstances – a small, independent or alternative school isn’t an option for you and therefore you’re about to enter the public school system. Everything is unknown and you’re worried. You’re worried that there won’t be enough art classes (their probably won’t be), you’re anxious about your little one finding his way around the somewhat enormous school and you’re concerned that all the rules will take the fun out of learning.

But what if the school you become a part of is actually quite beautiful?

A few things I’ve learnt as a public school mum:

  • kindergarten is a very gentle transition : I have the upmost respect for kindergarten teachers and the way they gently guide our little ones into school life. The first year of school is all about fostering independence, encouraging socialisation and learning to read and write in the funnest way possible.
  • school magnifies the haves and have nots : school is the perfect introduction to the bigger, wider world complete with confrontation and challenge. Your child may be confronted by what other kids have and subsequently they’ll challenging your parenting choices.
  • life lessons abound : your child doesn’t like their teacher? Welcome to real life – you’re not going to get along with every single person you meet. Your child doesn’t understand why you’re angry about yet another lost hat? It’s time to be responsible for your belongings. You had a baby in the same month that a mammoth rainforest project was due and your child didn’t get full marks? The baby is a fabulous excuse. But really, the project is your child’s responsibility (I refuse to do projects).
  • mindfulness is practised and celebrated : school these days is all about outlining personal best goals and working to achieve them, respecting yourself and being responsible for your actions. Our kids are encouraged to be mindful of their words and actions in every aspect of their school and home life.
  • teachers work really hard : volunteer to help in the classroom and you’ll soon discover that teachers do so much to guide and support our kids. Hats off to them for their passion, wisdom, patience and kindness.
  • an open conversation is vital : if you want your child to have a positive experience at school you must be willing to have an open dialogue with your child’s teacher. Introduce yourself in the first week, go to the information nights, check in every few weeks and read the notes (there’s so many notes!).

Keen to read more? You might like my School Series.

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Showing 10 comments
  • Nicole

    I’m a teacher and my eldest begins school next year. I don’t want him to go. I don’t want him to become part of the school system yet. I want him to stay with me. Deciding on a school was hard. I know I sound like every other parent about to begin school life. I know he’ll be fine but it doesn’t make letting him go any easier. (Also, your last dot point is spot on. Having a positive relationship with parents makes getting to know each student easier and that makes teaching and learning all the better)

  • Anna Prasad

    Oh I absolutely love this post, I had similar concerns. Having moved from England last year, where my son attended a Steiner ‘Kindergarten’ I knew we had to go public here in Australia. I didn’t have to worry. We are at a beautiful school that my son is excited to attend and keen to get to every morning.

  • Of Ashes & Bones

    I am not a mother yet, but I love reading this. That’s the thing that I love the most from public school – the sense of real life. You meet people from a different social background and you learn to get along with the people that you don’t seem to see eye to eye with. I’m not saying that private school is bad or anything, but I don’t like the feeling that my kids would live in a bubble if they go to private school – like everything is provided on their plate. Maybe not all private school like that but that how I see it from where I come from.

  • Denyse Whelan

    I am a retired primary school principal who also was a PreSchool consultant to help families in the transition to school. This is a wonderful and realistic post and I congratulate you for your balance of words and advice. Thank you!

  • Kari

    Thank you for this post. I am so tired of people putting down public school. Whether we like it or not, our kids need to go out into the wider world, start detaching from us, and start interacting with people who are now like them. Also, looking back at it from the other end (my kids are now in their early 20s), I can say with complete certainty that your public school experience is what you make of it.

  • Bronwen

    Lovely post! We are right in the middle of trying to find a school for our little one and so very much in that angst filled period of time you describe! Our main concerns however revolve around our little ones anxiety and how she will manage given how she has struggled in mainstream Kindy. The Kindy is lovely, small and run by caring teachers. Yet still we have watched as anxiety has gottten worse and is starting to effect her in negative ways outside of Kindy. Do you have any thoughts?

  • Lisa

    Thank you for sharing your perspective, it is heartening since ours differs greatly.
    I think its really important to recognise that not all public schools are the same, not all teachers are the same, not all Principals lead in the same way.
    Our kindergarten experience was vastly different to yours, in a small suburban public school we found a teacher who operated with frustration and unreasonable discipline towards the natural curiosity of tiny 4-5 year olds.
    Our feisty, curious little 5 year old boy spent countless hours sitting on the floor outside the Principal’s office because he and his new friends could not sit still or stop talking.
    It still bewilders me looking back on this, he is now in Year 2 at a new school where things are slightly improved on this ‘insanity’!
    5 year old boys are filled with wonder and I have worked tirelessly against a system that seems determined to ‘shape’ them for a world that needs more wild and wonder.
    You may enjoy this post on the subject of keeping the wild Jodie, it is incredibly in depth and filled with beauty xx

  • Liz (Eight Acres)

    Great post! Nothimg wrong with public schools!

  • Eliza

    Great points.

    For me, I had no worry or sorrow for my first. She is seriously independent (asked my husband and i if we could please leave five minutes after arriving at school on her first day). My son, though. So sad that the slow “home” days are ending. He is a very different child to my first so I do worry how he’ll go.

    You nailed why I wouldn’t home school too. I think disappointments, differing values, people you don’t like will always exist and the earlier you learn to deal with it the better.

    Interesting, I must live in a very public school friendly area as I haven’t heard anything negative about them. The abuse in private schools however I have heard.

  • Kylie

    As a state high teacher here in Queensland, and a mum who sends her kids to the local state primary school, I couldn’t love this post more. I truly and wholeheartedly believe that the major influence on a child’s education is not so much the school, but how much education is encouraged and valued at home. I’ve taught some amazing kids whose parents are involved and interested, and I’ve taught lots of kids where mum and dad couldn’t care less about grades, behaviour etc. Same school, same teachers, yet vastly different end results. Schools and families working together is truly what matters, not whether it’s a public or private school.

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