What I Know For Sure — Teaching Part Whatever

When I started teaching, I was really surprised at the low-level of education many students had.  It wasn’t just that they hadn’t learned curriculum, it was that they also didn’t internalize any learning strategies, and they really also hadn’t learned how to “play school” (show up on time, follow rules, play nicely, etc.).  They certainly lacked life skills like persistence and problem solving as well. It was really curious and odd.

I pondered on it, saw how adults pandered to the kids (who were in middle school, by the way) and decided that we were being manipulated.  There was something so artificial about a kid crying because he’d been given an assignment.  It was weird to me that going to the office was something a kid wanted.  I couldn’t fathom the idea that not doing work was acceptable.  Everyone, of course, raised their hands in despair and pretty much cried, “Well, what are we supposed to do?”

Hold their feet to the fire was my thought.  I felt that we needed to do with kids what Gil did with Nemo — let him get himself out.  You can guide, but you can’t do for someone.  That’s not right.

When I moved down to elementary, I found a lot of the same thing. Fourth and fifth graders who “couldn’t”.  There was just so much that was incomplete, poorly done, and ignored that I was stunned.  Again, why?  HOW?  But, the beauty of being in those grades was that I had prep.  Unfortunately for many lower grade teachers, they were in a “pod” situation where we could see into their rooms.

IT WAS AMAZING!  I watched kindergarten and first grade teachers really push their students.  The things these kids were doing was, by far, much more interesting, thoughtful and advanced than what MY kids were showing.  Then I realized, MY kids HAD those teachers.  Which meant, of course, that they had learned to play dumb at some point.  I didn’t let them.  I pushed for them to be as accomplished as they were before they got to me.  It didn’t work in the beginning.  Parents were mad.  I’d upset their children by pointing this out. I was RUINING their self-esteem by telling them they weren’t at grade level.

But they already knew.  How can you have self-esteem if someone lies to you?  To feel pride in yourself, you have to accomplish something.

What I know for sure is that our kindergarten, first and second grade teachers are worth their weight in gold.  These ARE the most important teachers your child, or any child, will ever have.  They create a child’s educational  foundation. They have to teach EVERYTHING — rules, behaviors, READING, checking one’s work, follow through,  and so much more.  And they do it.  Most do it very, very well.  They have such high expectations, and generally can get most kids to work to that point.  If a kinder teacher tells you a child isn’t ready, trust me they know.

So it’s a crying shame when we upper grade teachers start letting these kids tell us they can’t and weasel out of work.  It’s a crime that we don’t push for their independence, choosing instead to intervene.  It’s sad that we put on outlandish dog and pony shows when our lower grade colleagues can get the kids to go 10-15 minutes or more at a time of students working independently in silence.  It’s horrifying that we think the kids can’t as well, when really, they can.

What I know for sure is that we tend to squander the hard work and efforts of our colleagues in some misguided effort to “help” the children.

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