Katrina, Executive Assistant, Artist, Mother of 2, MN
Katrina is an executive assistant by day, artist and writer by night. She is the daughter of a teacher and the single mother of two ferocious girls - whose adventures she documents on her blog: https://ferociousgirls.wordpress.com/. Katrina is a Catalyst for RE-ENVISIONED and was interviewed by her Mentor Catalyst and friend, Erin.
The first question is for you to take a moment and think about a kid, or two - I know you have two beautiful daughters – and think for a moment about who they are and then tell me about them. IF you pick other children, no judgment… ;)
I’ll use mine since I know them the best :) I have a six-year old named Matilda who’s an intense person. She has a lot of energy and a lot of emotions and a lot of ideas and a lot of imagination. She has a younger sister, Amelia, who is four. She is a little more precise and orderly, very self-possessed. She has, not a lot less energy, but a little less energy and tries to keep up with her big sister.
Let’s say now, they’re grown-up and out of school, living their life, what is it you want for them? What would make it a good life?
I think for me a good life is being able to … that’s such a good question… a good life starts with a level of security. As someone who went through a phase during which I didn’t have a lot of security I know how important it is and how I couldn’t focus on anything else. Security comes in different ways – it can be financial, or through a stable group of friends or family – it’s different depending on who you are and what you need to feel secure. So I would want them to feel secure in their relationships and in their life.
The next part is being able to recognize what gives them joy and make room for that in their lives, even if that’s not what they're making money doing. I think I want them to recognize that their joy is an important part of who they are, and they shouldn’t give that up.
I love that. Can you say more about what you mean – I think I get you – but about security, can you say more?
For me as a single parent - that creates a level of financial insecurity. I also come from a poor farm family in Northern, MN. I always had emotional security from my family, which was amazing and important, and they supported me to pursue the arts and all that. But I didn’t have the financial backup that a lot of my peers had. So, that made it a struggle. Even though I was doing the thing that I loved I wasn’t always able to find joy in it because I wasn’t financially secure.
So for me, coming into my thirties and slowly growing comfortable with myself – I’ve realized I have to have both. I have to have security in order to pursue the things I love and I have to make time for those things I love when I can because they bring me joy.
Some of this will be different for them than it was for me. Some people are fine with less money and financial security if they have really stable relationships. I don’t want to impose my idea of security on my children.
But I want them to appreciate that financial security can give them an element of freedom in their lives, while also recognizing that buying things isn’t where that joy is going to come from. Another way to look at it is that stability starts with balance. So really, a balanced life is what I want for them.
You may have already touched on this in that answer, but is there anything you really worry about?
I think there are some of the superficial things all parents worry about – broken hearts and bullies and rejection. Raising daughters I worry about them being in a society where it can be dangerous to be a woman.
That’s actually a good question. Right now I worry about them having friends, but as I picture the future it gets hazier. I worry most about them not being able to go out and do what they want to do in their lives. I try to instill in them that if they work hard they can do whatever they want to do. Unless they want to be a rock star, because then it might not matter how hard they work.
Then you need some luck.
Or a movie star, for that matter.
But we’ve got connections! You never know :)
When you think about that good life – the financial security and relationships and finding what brings you joy and figuring out ways to weave that into your life – what is the role you would ideally like school to play in getting there? Not necessarily what’s possible but what you would like it to do.
I would like school to be a safe place for them to try lots of things. Obviously to learn, that’s the bottom line of school, but also to feel safe and able to explore lots of interests. I look back on school – elementary, high school, and college – and I didn’t even appreciate it at the time but I was able to see if I wanted to be in a rock band and try it on, or try different sports. Sometimes there’s a pressure to be very active and do lots of extra-curriculars, so I don’t want to give into that too much. But I like the idea that they could study lots of things.
A quality education in which they can connect with teachers who are smart and who inspire them to explore different topics and see if it would give them joy later in life. School should be a place where a love of learning is instilled and encouraged. Learning doesn’t end when formal education does, and if they already have a mindset that loves to learn, it will make it much easier to succeed.
Do you think that schools will do that for your kids?
I think it will…maybe… depending on what school they’re in…and who their teachers end up being. I worry about that in the current public school system we’re in. There are some schools that possibly do that, private schools seem to have an advantage, but those sometimes conflict with other beliefs I have…I prefer secular schools and it’s actually hard to find secular private schools that aren’t cost prohibitive. So hopefully…
Could you say more about what you worry about and how it’s playing out in your mind?
One thing I worry about is the idea that they’ll get lost in the shuffle a little bit. Right now kindergarten is between 20 and 30 students to one teacher.
It’s really hard for me to accept. Sometimes there’ll be a teacher’s aide for transitions to lunch. Right now there’s one 45 minute break a day and that’s for lunch and recess. I look at some of these things and it feels like we’re really trying to mass-produce students instead of focusing on the individuals.
This might be a slightly obvious question since you just said you’re trying to make sure schools do this for your daughters, but the next question is whether you think they’ll do this for all kids and if not, why not.
I think the answer is that it will for some kids. But for kids who are a little slower or shy have a hard time finding their feet in the current public school system - it could be better. There’s room for improvement. We don’t lack the resources so much as the right magical formula to make it work. Although resources can be an issue! Thinking of teacher friends that I have…
I know, I’m seeing the posts on FB right now “please support my classroom!”. So sad.
Right? And it’s like, I thought I paid taxes this year.
Do you mind elaborating more on that? You said for some kids it’s hard for them to find their feet and it could be better…
For more specifics, I think there’s this idea of test scores being the final say on who is a good student and whether you have learned something – and this can be a real deterrent for children. I know some kids were told early on they didn’t test well and they internalized that and just psyched themselves out of tests assuming they would do poorly. Some of that can be hard for kids to get past. There’s a lack of hands-on natural and organic kind of learning. It’s difficult when there’s such a high student:teacher ratio. They just don’t have the ability to focus on one kid’s interest. It’s really up to parents and kids to be self-motivated enough to do that. And for some that might be fine but for others it will be a challenge to find their way when they’re so focused on testing and lost in that crowd of so many children per teacher.
When you think about these different levels, I’m curious if you think people agree with you. For instance, on the “if not, why not” level – do you think people might have a different idea?
Yes, I think there are a lot of people who do agree with me – I can tell just from the petitions that have gone around in the mommy circles I’m in. But I also think from the organizations I see around the city that there are people who think, “longer days, more testing, if we just had more technology”. So they see that there are other problems or are identifying things differently than I am - so I recognize that there are different perspectives on what could make it better.
Unfortunately, because obviously I’m right :)
/ kidding not kidding. I love it.
Switching tracks slightly and thinking about your own experience – in school and out of school – I’m wondering if you could think of any learning experiences that have been particularly empowering for you.
Sure. I went to a very strange private school where it was a self-study kind of program – so kind of like home-school in a group. You studied at your own pace and there was no lecture, you taught yourself. Which may be why I am slightly skeptical of public school. But I had some great teachers. One, when I was about 7, was an art teacher. She would often be really critical of my pieces. Not in a mean way, but she was really pushing me and it was hard to take. And then I had an epiphany moment when I realized that she was pushing me because I was doing well. My other friends she was very kind to and didn’t give critical feedback to, and I realized it was because she knew they weren’t going to pursue art in any way. She was pushing me because she thought I had potential. It made me realize it’s not always easy to improve at the things you’re interested in but you can listen to people’s feedback and grow.
And then I think after that, as far as college and things go, I realized at some point that I learn best by doing. I can memorize in lecture and do pretty well on tests, but the things I remember afterwards are things I participated in in some way. For instance, in theatre, if it involved actually getting up and acting or doing things I always remembered better. Or, even in this job, coming in I didn’t know a lot of the programs and routines. I just got thrown into it for a week. And it’s amazing how quickly I learned and how firmly I learned it because I was actively learning and figuring it out as I went.
So this idea of being able to fail a little bit is important – being able to jump in and try it and fail and keep going – is how I learn best. Some of those experiences as an adult have been the most memorable as far as learning goes.