we know what’s best for you…(we think)

My kids are angry at me. Angry at me and Husband both. (That they’re angry at both is refreshing. Usually it’s just me.)

We told them yesterday that after the winter break they’re going to switch schools.

Husband and I are calling it a “mid-term correction” but the boys don’t appreciate the humor.

Here’s the thing: the boys are at a school here in Abu Dhabi that to the eyes of jaded New York public-school veterans like us looks like paradise: lots of patios and terraces, lovely playing fields, shaded areas where kids can sit outside and study.  Classes are small (no more than 20), elementary school teachers have classroom assistants five days a week, there are computer labs, and a swimming pool.  Amazing, right? Even more amazing? The school has virtually no poverty–it’s a private school and many people have the tuition paid by their employers. No one gets free lunch because no one needs it; there are no kids bouncing around in foster care programs; no kids come to school without having had breakfast; there are almost no students with IEPs. From my perspective as a former high school teacher, teaching at this place looks like a pretty good gig, like teaching at Patio Central.

The school organized a sixth-grade week-long trip to Turkey (the 7th grade went to Capodocia, the 8th grade to Thailand)–parents had to pay for this adventure, but what an amazing experience, right?

When we started the school, our hopes were high. We knew going in that the school was not perhaps as crazy-rigorous as the Tiger Mom Academy that they went to in New York (and let me be clear: they went to TMA because we couldn’t be sure of getting a variance for Caleb to his brother’s school; Liam was enrolled at this school for 6th grade because the school goes through high school and he would be guaranteed a spot. In other words, public school pragmatism drove our decisions, not a belief that eight thousand hours of homework is a badge of distinction.)

Anyway. Off they went on the first day of school, a bit nervous with the newness of it all and…it was fine.


Now, sometimes fine is…fine. And sometimes fine is not fine.

As it turned out, fine at Patio Central turned into dull. Boring. Homework got finished in an eyeblink; classrooms seemed devoid of  “differentiation,” or at least it didn’t happen in any way that our kids seemed to notice. (“Differentiation:” the bureaucratic way of saying give individual kids what they need to feed their minds.) Day after day, week after week…no spark, no “wow.” And we’re not saying we needed teachers to be putting on a song-and-dance revue here. We were just looking for one kid, one day, to come home interested in something other than what happened at recess. We hired a tutor to do extra math with both boys and you’d have thought we were offering to connect Caleb to a chocolate IV drip, he was that excited. When a seven-year-old boy is jonesing for a math tutor, you know that “fine” is not fine.

And yet. The boys started to make friends. Patio Central is close to our apartment. It’s an established school, been around for almost twenty years; it’s got a good reputation. It’s easy and comfortable; a little U.S. oasis in the middle of the Middle East.  Husband and I went round and round: what makes an “education?” Should we limit our definition of education to only what happens in the classroom? So okay, the classrooms weren’t hotbeds of dynamism.  Isn’t the sheer fact of living in another country an education, in and of itself?

I kept asking myself how we could ask the boys to undergo yet another change, after they’d handled this first big change so well.

And yet. We saw Caleb starting to talk about school being “lame” and saying that he didn’t need to concentrate on his handwriting or his punctuation because the teacher “didn’t care.” (And we saw no evidence to the contrary). We saw both boys getting terrific grades without really breaking a sweat, and while we are proud of the fact that despite all the changes in their lives they were able to get such excellent report cards, there’s something a little out of whack if a 6th grader can pull a 4.0 while spending maybe–maybe–30 minutes a night on his school work.

Well, yes, it’s true. My children are geniuses. They’re also magnificent humanitarians, infinitely kind to one another, and deeply concerned about the fate of the planet.

Or at least they would be, if they could stop trying to kill each other over whose turn it is to play “Age of Empires” on the computer.

On a whim last week, Husband and I went to tour the new K-12 British school that opened this fall. It’s very British, albeit housed in a brand-new sprawling faux-Spanish-tiled complex just outside of town. Kids wear uniforms; Prince Andrew visited last week. It’s got a lot to prove (it’s an offshoot of a big-name UK school) and wham, it seemed they had seats available for January; boom! the boys didn’t hate it when they went to visit!; zipzapzoop, they were admitted; and zing! the decision was made.

Because we are toys of the gods, however, on the same day that the boys got letters of admission to Neckerchief Prep, Liam made the soccer football team at Patio.  All he’s talked about from the moment he found out about Patio is making the school team…and now he was on the squad.  Now we’re supposed to say, “um, sweetie? Don’t get too attached to that football uniform…”

Argh.What do you do? What’s “best” in this situation?  People talk at business meetings about “best practices.” So what’s “best practice” here? Choose brand-new Neckerchief Prep because we think the classroom experience will be challenging and creative? Remain at Patio because, eh, it’s fine, and Liam is over the moon about being one of 5 sixth graders chosen for the middle-school squad?

Well, dear reader, Neckerchief won. We told the boys the other night and now…they’re mad. Not furious, but mad. And sad. And nervous about yet another change. Caleb said “mommy, I have a lot of feelings right now.” Fabulous that he can articulate himself but I gotta tell ya, in terms of acting on those feelings?  He might as well be Bette Davis telling us to fasten our seatbelts because it’s going to be a bumpy night.

We reassure the boys that this decision is for the best, that we know this shift will be hard but, in the long run, they will be happier at Neckerchief.

(what if we’re wrong?)


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23 Responses to we know what’s best for you…(we think)

  1. Arnebya December 6, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    Don’t even start it. The what ifs will drive you crazy forever and ever amen.

    • Deborah Quinn December 7, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

      So true! “What if” is totally the road to madness. Okay then. The decision is firm, it’s going to be great. (but what if it’s not…ACK can’t help it!)

  2. Erica M December 6, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    You will be excited about the change that you’ll soon see in your sons. Go Neckerchief!

  3. Suzie December 6, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    Go Neckerchief!!!

  4. Aunt Soo December 6, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

    Neckerchief all the way. Laurie and Jamie moved their daughter from Llama academy, a really groovy laid back Waldorf sort of place because, well let’s just say, she knew a lot about llamas and but not so much about math or writing and would be embarrassed when her friends at other schools referred to their work or rattled off a computation. So alas, an opening occurred mid-year at the local Neckerchief prep and she nervously agreed to switch and then, bam, got the lead in the school musical. Many tears, all her life she’d wanted this part, etc. and the same parental crisis began. Well, the move was made, new friends were soon thick as a llama’s coat and best of all, excitement about school work blossomed. She’s a few years in now, gets great grades, but most of all is a wonderfully happy and self-assured kid. And we laugh together about the lame llama academy. No regrets. That’s my two cents.

  5. Mama and the City December 6, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    Oh mama, not really too much to say since my baby is still 1yo. LOL, but all I can say is from my experience:

    My mom changed us a lot before I was 12yo. Not all kids handle changes correctly and I was one of them – I developed anxiety. Friendships broken, and with that identity and with that, self esteem, and with that …bad stuff. I hope you can find a way to balance all out and perhaps the answers will unfold right in front of you. 🙂

    see, I linked to lovelinks 🙂

    • Deborah Quinn December 7, 2011 at 11:03 pm #

      Oh dear…I hear you, though. I moved only once in my childhood, from small town to big city, and we moved about 6 weeks into the school year. It was AWFUL. My siblings and I all had a really rough time–me and my sister the worst of it, b/c my brother had a sports identity that he sort of took with him from one place to the other. I am hoping that the “natural” break over the winter holidays eases the worst of the transition, but I’m going to be very alert to all the issues you list… thanks!

  6. Ado December 6, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    Is the new school modeled after Eton?
    It sounds like you are making the right decision, and my hat is off to you. I would let them be mad at you until the first week of the new school is over. Then they will (if you’re right) probably thank you.
    Is it possible to get them into spend a day at the new school and to sign them up for sports/teams in advance? Maybe give them something concrete to look forward to.
    Keep us posted on how this goes!!

    • Deborah Quinn December 7, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

      Ado that’s a great idea and yes, we’re trying to find a day or half-day for them to spend time w/their new teachers. They’ve visited the school once, and sat in on a full day, so they’ve got a tiny sense of what’s what. And, yes, we’re dragging older son out of Patio later this week so he can go to soccer–whoops, football–tryouts at Neckerchief. Trying to ease the transition as best we can, but of course, I’m sure they’re still going to throw it in our faces, at least…five, ten, twenty times, in the next months.

  7. Alexandra December 7, 2011 at 2:03 am #

    You have to be firm in your decision, with yourself.

    You’ll drive youself nuts, otherwise.



  8. Alison@Mama Wants This December 7, 2011 at 2:55 am #

    Kids are resilient and forgiving. Once they find how awesomesauce the new school is, all will be forgiven.

    Also, bribery during Christmas is totally acceptable.

    • Deborah Quinn December 7, 2011 at 10:59 pm #

      oh you are soooo right about the bribes… santa’s list has gotten not that much longer, actually, but price tags have been slightly adjusted upwards. Guilt? Pandering? we’ll see…

  9. Bahareh December 7, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    As I read, I recognize the patio, I recognize the cruising kids, I recognize the community and I am looking for what I came here for….
    The patio may well offer away trips and great basketball teams, arts, and drama….
    But i do wonder why the heavy text books, when they are never used and homework comes and goes on a piece of paper….
    I hardly think any of the work my children do is acceptable, but who am i to say….
    Tell us more after the transition….
    Change is good when it is good change…
    Best of Luck…
    They will soon forget…. but i wonder if they will forgive; ) ha ha… had to throw that in.

    • Deborah Quinn December 7, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

      Thank you for the comment Bahareh! Yes, forgiveness is the rub…I imagine that we’re in for at least a few “you owe me this because you made me switch schools” — demands for new soccer cleats, new legos, etc etc. Here’s hoping (wishing praying) that this IS a good change. Of course, one of the hard things about leaving Patio is leaving a community with people like you as part of it!

  10. XLMIC December 7, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    I agree with Alison… kids are resilient and forgiving. It is going to be a fantastic situation…once they get established…which will be faster than they know 🙂

  11. Greta @gfunkified December 7, 2011 at 8:47 pm #

    They’re going to love it, I’m sure. You made a good call. Nobody wants to spend that long in a boring, “lame” place.

    • Deborah Quinn December 7, 2011 at 10:56 pm #

      fingers are crossed, I have to tell you! Because if it’s less than fabulous, we’re going to be hearing about it LOUDLY!

  12. Tracy December 8, 2011 at 4:09 am #

    There has been a big exodus from patio school lately. My daughter attends one of the Neckerchief schools, and it’s great. She is 8 years old. There are 21 in her class and there is a teacher and assistant. The curriculum includes Arabic, swimming, French, and music. For ECA’s we can choose up to three from twenty offered.
    Tell your son Neckerchief has a football team, and also he may want to try rugby, lacrosse or cricket.
    I’ve heard a lot of the remaining Patio school parents are looking for options. I also know a teacher at Patio who says a lot of the staff are unhappy and there is not a problem solving culture, which is critical in this city because problems always seem to crop up.
    You are a great Mum (that’s how Neckerchief spells it), and your kids will be better off with the new school. Make sure you buy an extra hat cuz they always lose them.

  13. Just Jennifer December 8, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    Well, I guess if you’re wrong, you make another decision for next school year. That’s all you can do, right? Trial and error, that’s life!

  14. Jamie December 8, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    UGH UGH UGH… I hate these kind of grown-up decisions. Truly I do. It’s so hard to follow your gut when there are so many choices and pieces to the puzzle. It sounds like you and your husband have really done your due diligence though and that’s what’s important. Your boys are resilient and will survive this… hell they made it to India unscathed, didn’t they?!

    What if we’re wrong, should always be followed by what if we’re right. Only time will tell. Trust your gut!

  15. My lads go to that school…our eldest was pretty sad for the first week, desperately missing his old school. But it’s worked out great, and even though he still misses the old school, they are really loving it. fwiw, I think you’ll be really pleased. My lads are in grades 4 and 6 and are entirely football obsessed…if you want to have a kick of the football sometime let me know.


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