Nowadays, it seems like the public school education system is a mess. Teachers’ burnout and turnover is high. Students stress out and misbehave. Parents? We get the easiest job: to dump our children at school and expect a miracle to happen. If not, we can still complain and criticize.
So that’s what has been happening in our beloved Westwood High School. A group of seasoned teachers left at the end of last school year. The previous principal followed. Students were confused and parents worried.
Only this time we parents at Westwood didn’t just sit there and complain. Instead, we started to take action. We surveyed all teachers and asked them what really bothered them and how we can help. We reached out to the district to voice our concerns. We organized a teacher and staff appreciation luncheon during the Double Ninth Festival and they loved it!
For me personally, I haven’t really been involved in the school at all prior to this school year. But as John F Kennedy famously said: “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’. One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.” The crisis did bring the parent community closer than ever before. And I want to do something to contribute too. Some time in August, I got an email from a friend who told me that the school needs some volunteers to help with traffic stops during the morning drop-off. It starts from 8:15am and ends at 9:05 when all students are supposed to be in their classrooms.
I never did traffic stop duty before, but the idea sounds exciting. It seems easy enough. And I get to tell people what to do. That must be fun.
So together with several moms we formed a Westwood SuperHero team. Yes, it is a volunteer effort, so we don’t get paid. But at least we got a very fancy title. Initially we didn’t even have a safety vest, but school soon purchased some for us. We also made avideo but despite our best efforts, it never went viral. I guess that’s that.
It has been almost two months and I am at the school almost every morning. I would check in at the front desk, get my volunteer badge, safety vest and the signs and go to the parking lot. Gradually we identified the most dangerous spots and positioned ourselves in the most strategic places. Ideally, we would need four volunteers to make sure everything goes smoothly. But some days we have three volunteers, some days two and other days just me. This is just life and life is not perfect.
It has been a very rewarding experience for me. Not only I and my team are able to keep our children safe, help parents move a little faster, we get to greet hundreds of parents and students and say hello and good morning to them every day. We are very happy to see a little smile on their faces. Somehow, I also became famous, and many teachers can recognize me as the “traffic guy”. My daughter’s friends would tell her, hey I saw your dad in the parking lot! I am sure my son’s friends are putting a meme together just for me, dressed in a captain underpants custom or whatever.
As I am doing my morning duty and interacting with hundreds of parents and students on a daily basis, I have learned a lot and surprisingly, I find a striking similarity between morning drop-off and parenting. Here are three key lessons.
First, study the map.
Morning drop-off is intense. Parents are busy and try to get to work. Kids who are deprived from sleep the night before, drag their feet out of the door and forget about their lunches or books. There are cars everywhere. Therefore, the school designed a morning drop off route and parents have to follow it to drop off their kids. This map has been sent out many times in the Principal’s newsletter.
But surprisingly many parents don’t seem to read the newsletter or study the map. They would make the U-turn in the drop off lane supposed to be one-way only. They would pull into the staff parking lot to drop their children even though the Principal said “Absolutely no drop off in the staff parking lot!” They didn’t study the map and just drove to the school and expected everything to go smoothly.
That’s so much like parenting. Most times we do certain things, not because we learn and know that’s the best thing to do for our kids, but because that’s what our intuition tells us to do or that’s what our parents did to us. But wise parenting requires learning and being intentional. We have to study the map and know where we are going, where there is a mountain to climb or river to cross, how to prepare ourselves and our kids for the journey ahead. We can’t just pack up and go, unless you are Abram and God made you a super enticing offer.
Second, obey the rules.
There were times some parents made a mistake, pulled into the wrong lane or made the wrong turn. As superheroes, it is our job to tell them to make a turn and follow the sign and get to the right place. Most parents and students obeyed the rules and followed our directions. But some didn’t or wouldn’t. A student wanted to drive against the traffic because she was going to be late. A mom yelled at us that we were annoying. A dad parked at the student entrance and put a halt to the entire drop-off line. When one of our team members gently but firmly asked him to move, he took a picture of her and said he would report to the school. I guess he didn’t know that we are not afraid of losing this job.
In parenting, we have to teach our children to respect rules. We have to set healthy boundaries for ourselves, between us and others. There is a basic rule of “reap what you sow” and the law of responsibility. Providing the basic needs and unconditional love is our responsibility as a parent. But doing the homework, getting to the school on time etc. is the responsibility of our children. We should respect the rules of life. Without that, we are not really teaching our children and training them to be healthy and successful.
Last, you shall not lie.
This seems obvious and simple. But it is not. There was a dad driving a shining Tesla Model X and pulled into the staff parking lot. I asked him what he was trying to do. He said he tried to get to the office. I explained to him this is staff parking and he would need to get out and follow the route to get to the visitor parking. He said he would make a turn. Then I saw the beautiful wings of Tesla opened up and his son walked out. After that, he pretended to make a turn. I signaled to him to lower his window when he drove by me, but he sped away and left me in the dust, saving me five minutes of preaching on the value of honesty.
As parents, especially us Westwood parents, who are paying a very high property tax to keep our children in one of the best schools in Austin, we have high expectations for our children. If they work hard, they will have a bright future in front of them. But our expectations for our children can’t just be which college they go to. It has to include the basic and most important moral standard: to be a good person and don’t lie. I feel very sorry for that family. I don’t care if his son is going to be a valedictorian and accepted by Harvard when he graduates. That dad has taught his son how to be a liar and his behavior will cast a shadow on his son.
Ok, that’s three lessons I have learned about parenting by volunteering as a traffic stop superhero at Westwood High School. Don’t get me wrong though. I am not trying to be a self-righteous saint, and every sin I pointed out here I have committed multiple times. If my wife had to send our kids to the school, she would have made similar mistakes. Fortunately for us, my son usually takes the school bus. My daughter drives herself and sometimes her brother to the school if he behaves, and she is the most rule-abiding person I can find on the planet earth. For most of us, life is just too busy and we are always in a hurry. In moments of hustle and bustle, we make bad judgment. My main point is this: there is a better way for a less stressful life, if we are willing to slow down, to do prep work and don’t take the shortcut.
In closing, I am just very blessed to even have this opportunity to do something for the school, for my children and your children. Next time when you see us in the parking lot, lower your window and say hi. I love you all and your children and I really mean that.