A Divorced Dad Goes to School

When Keith Harrington goes to his daughter’s school, he gets a lesson on how BOTH parents in a divorce can be involved in a child’s education. And everybody wins.

By Keith Harrington

It was the role of a lifetime… one not to be taken lightly.

I was to portray one of the most iconic names in literary history. I honestly had been researching the character for years. It seemed that all of that studying and reading was about to pay off. Despite the character’s larger-than-life status, I was ready to conquer and, hopefully, entertain a large and possibly unforgiving audience. I would like to say that my dressing room was the size of a janitor’s closet, but that would be inaccurate. It actually was a janitor’s closet.

Keith Clifford
Gwen and me, Clifford The Big Red Dog

 

I had been chosen to portray Clifford The Big Red Dog to help kick off literacy week at my daughter’s elementary school. Yup. That’s me in the picture with my daughter, Gwen, last year. You are probably wondering what my motivation for the role was. Well, that is simple. It’s to hand her this picture of us at her high school or college graduation and finally let her know it was me in the costume. She has no idea it’s me.

We are a team.

My role as Clifford was a new beginning for me in my role in my daughter’s education. It was a new commitment. A commitment that, sadly, I did not really have in the months following my divorce. Since my Clifford walk, though, I have been trying to stay on top of things as best as I can. Much like I have worked on improving my relationship with my ex-wife when it comes to the kids, I have also improved my relationship with the amazing team that is helping my second grader try to reach her goals both in education and in life.

We are a team. All parts working together for the greater good. If you have kids in school, this is a team you want to be on. It’s a team you want to be on regardless if you are married, divorced or a single parent. The teachers and staff at your school are trying to help your child with the building blocks of education, social skills, conflict resolution, character and overall passions in life. While it is critical for us as parents to install a moral compass in our children, teach them right from wrong, love and compassion, empathy and wonder, it is also imperative of us to help the people entrusted with their education. We, parents and teachers, are all working together to introduce our children to their potential and be a roadmap to their hopes, dreams and aspirations.

Now while this seems like a large task (and it is), it does not have to be a daunting one. Truth is, if you are willing to put in some effort many teachers and staff are usually more than willing to help you. Keep in mind that while you are responsible for your child, the teacher in your classroom is responsible for several children on a daily basis. Not to mention staff meetings, standardized testing requirements, lesson plans, furthering their own education and training, parent-teacher conference schedules, etc. Then, there is usually that little thing called their own lives, families and commitments outside of school. We all have very busy and hectic lives. The more we can help each other out, the better.

If you have kids in school, this is a team you want to be on.

I met my daughter’s second grade teacher, Doris Cote, at the beginning of the school year in September at an open house. Many schools offer this, and it is an invaluable way to introduce yourself especially if, like me, you are a divorced parent. It was then that I gave Mrs. Cote my email, phone number and address just so we could be in contact about Gwen if there were any concerns.

For most of the parent-teacher meetings, I attend with my ex-wife. Our dual commitment is constructive and a good way to show that we are working together for the betterment of our daughter. However, if that isn’t a comfortable or workable situation for you, many schools will offer divorced parents their own meetings and send home two report cards.

By just giving Mrs. Cote my email address, I am included in the weekly goings-on in the classroom — even though I do not see my daughter on a day-to-day basis. In her email, Mrs. Cote also gives us a look on what the kids will be working on in the next few days and how we can help at home. For instance, there was an upcoming lesson about coins and counting money recently. My dad, Gwen’s grandfather, had a blast helping her learn about the value of the money and counting up. (Gwen may have taken a couple of quarters from him when he wasn’t looking, but that’s another article for another day). I also get feedback and tips from her speech therapist who emails me words to work on with her.  This is a major help for me on the weekends because I can be involved in my daughter’s education while also being mindful of not trying to overwork her. It also keeps me in the loop for school activities and field trips.

My daughter is very fortunate that she has several teachers in her family life as well. Many of my aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends are teachers. My mother is a retired teacher, who worked for years here in Salem, Massachusetts, at Witchcraft Heights Elementary School. (Yes, that is the actual name of the school. It’s close to Witch Way and Cauldron Court. Really. My parents’ dentist here is Dr. Fang. Really. It’s weird here.)

…you don’t want your only interaction with the school to be one parent-teacher conference a year. This is not how a team works.

If you are a weekend parent, however, you don’t need a family full of teachers to help you. There are several things you can do on your own. I found things like handwriting and math workbooks for both of my kids at the dollar store. You can play board games. They are awesome! It’s fun away from the TV. It teaches strategy. It is bonding time. It is also where I found out my daughter is a HUGE smack-talker. Like giant trash-talker. I would say she gets the trash-talking from her mom, but that would be a flat-out lie.

The big thing though is communication. It has to happen. I am not telling you that you have to send an email or make a phone call to your child’s teacher every single day. That’s silly and a bit much. But you don’t want your only interaction with the school to be one parent-teacher conference a year. This is not how a team works. Who knows? Maybe volunteer to be in the PTA and meet some new friends. Maybe you take a day off from work and chaperone a field trip. Maybe, and most importantly, you show your children that you are involved in their education and make them see how important school is in their lives.

Thanks to the open lines of communications I’ve built with the school, my daughter seems happier than she has ever been at school. She is an active learner. I also have learned more about her friends at school — including her friend Mowvehd. This kid will always have a place in my heart. The weekend before Valentine’s Day, I was filling out my daughter’s cards with her. It was a ton of fun. Because I was on the class group email, I got the first names of Gwen’s classmates from Mrs. Cote to make sure everyone got a card. We were going through the names, and I got to one that was confusing to me. So I asked my daughter if the name was pronounced “Moo-Vehd” or “Mow-vehd”. My daughter looked at me with a look that only a seven-year-old can give when she realizes her dad may be a bit off and said, “Um, Daddy, that is just a student who moved away.”

So no, there is no kid named Mowvehd in my daughter’s class. This is no Clifford either. But there’s now a divorced dad who can name every single kid in her class and who can one day tell his daughter, “Remember the day Clifford visited? That was me.”

Keith Harrington is a former writer/producer at CNN, HLN and WMUR. He is the father of two and currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts, and around Fenway Park.  You can reach him at productionstvk@gmail.com
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