Common Core, 21st Century Skills & Kindergarten

In the last few years there was a shift in education from state standards to, essentially, federal standards.  These are referred to as Common Core State Standards. As soon as they were adopted by states, there was immediate feedback and criticisms about the standards from both parents and teachers.

Thing is, whether you love them or hate them, there are a couple of KEY flaws to the standards themselves.

The first, and more salient one, is kindergarten.  What most people actually don’t know is that kindergarten is NOT a legally required step in education.  Education begins with FIRST grade.

You might be asking, “So what?”  Well, kindergarten is the new first grade.  However, without all of the skills once taught in kindergarten, we’re setting up our educational system for failure.  In fact, I think if we looked at educational statistics in the last 30 years, we could, at the very least, set up a correlation for why we haven’t seen the expected gains.

During the last 30 years kindergarten has moved from being part of a day to a whole day.  Skills like learning to actually write (SERIOUSLY, hold a pencil), coloring to fine-tune motor control, following directions, and learning to solve problems were shoved aside to teach ACADEMICS!  After all, we need our kids ready!

However, we can’t have academics without first building the foundational skills.  This USED to happen in kindergarten.  Now, however, it’s addition and subtraction fact families, sight words, and writing paragraphs.  All this from a grade that’s not required.

Now, don’t take this to mean let’s make kindergarten legally required so we can start, day one, making 5 year olds sit still for 5 hours filling in worksheet after worksheet.  Instead, let’s return kindergarten to the foundational skills students will need in order to be successful over the life of their academic careers.

In short, how do you teach creativity, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, and communication if you don’t start in kindergarten and actually LAY that foundation?

If there is to be an educational revolution, and we seriously want to follow a business model, remember that businesses focus on VERY FEW GOALS.  Part of this process is choosing fewer goals, refining the model, and then delivering an excellent product.  Those businesses that tank often took short-cuts and went off half-cocked.

With that in mind, let’s restore kindergarten to kindergarten and focus on laying the foundation of 21st century skills by teaching students HOW to use tools and then allowing them to demonstrate that ability.  Yes, let’s give those kids scissors. Let’s act like the standards as a suitcase or an outfit.  Look at it and automatically remove 10% of what’s in the suitcase or one piece of jewelry.  Too much is too much.  Finally, let’s push all the of the standards up at least one year.  This means that what we expect from kindergarteners NOW we would expect from 1st graders instead.

You might think your kindergartener will be bored.  That he or she already knows all of this.  However, I think you’d be surprised at how much slowing the pace and allowing confidence will make a difference.  After all, is your kid REALLY bored or are you just in a hurry to prove how smart he/she is?



Letter from Parent

It’s not often that you get a letter from a parent thanking you.  It’s always good when it happens though.  Given my year, this is a wonderful affirmation for me to have.

Dear Mrs. Wynnell,

Thank you so very, very much for helping to make 8th grade so wonderful for “G”.

We really appreciated all your support, encouragement, and concern.  “G” enjoyed having you as a teacher, and she spoke often of you and your humor.

We will miss you, have a great summer, and thanks once again.

Even reading it another time brings a smile to my face.  It really is good to know that what you did meant something.


End the mom war (and a tangent)

End the mom war.

I mean this sincerely.  I wish I’d written this.  In fact, I’d been doing a lot of thinking lately about this latest issue between whether Mitt Romney’s wife (who I know has a name, but I’m too lazy to switch tabs to find it) was really a “working” mom.  Sigh…

Look, I’m going to tell you what I tell my middle school kids when they start in on each other.  Life is hard enough, and you’ll have slings and arrows coming from many sides at different times in your life, but do you really need to make it harder by attacking each other?

Now before you decide my cup is half-full, and I’m just being (insert your own adjective here), let’s get things straight.  First, I don’t wear moccasins so you can’t walk a mile in them, but my Keen’s are like combat boots, and I doubt you’d want to.  Saying sticks, though.  Walk your mile first.

I know about mommy wars first hand because I got so many questions about working when Keb was first born.  I did return to teaching, and I was fortunate enough to have a half-time position.  Trouble is, there really are no half-time day-care programs that look anything like a half-time teaching job.  So we paid full-time for Keb’s care.  Yes, it’s true, we lost money on my working.  Yet, the beauty of it was the bond between my husband and son that came from it.  The location of the day-care was across the street from where Taed worked.  He honestly spent EVERY lunch hour with Keb.  He took Keb to school, and I picked him up.  If I’d been home, I wouldn’t have known what to do with me or Keb.  I had no tribe, and I hadn’t made friends at Mommy-and-Me.  Even then I was the enemy.  At day care, Keb made friends, was socialized, and had a life.  I couldn’t have done that for him. I know.  Bad Mommy.

It only got worse when Keb got into school.  I went on a play-date before school started to get acquainted.  It was hot like hell, which is so unusual in Northern California you’d have to live here to relate.  When very few people showed up, I questioned the heat and whether they were working.  I got a chilly, “We don’t work.  Do you?”  It did feel accusatory, and maybe I was looking for a fight, ’cause I took offense.  It set up bad feelings in me about the school for years.  It’s just been in the last two years (and I needed Taed to help buffer it for me) that I’ve done something AT the school aside from the required.  I’m an idiot, but you can see where the true loss lies.

Fact is, when we judge each other, the kids lose.  Parents have to connect enough to want to let the kids hang out.  Eventually Keb got a tribe, and I get on with the Moms.  Most work or did.  Some work part-time due to the economy.  But what sucks is not realizing how much value these “stay-at-home” moms give to the school (because it’s Mom War, I’m only addressing them.  I know the dads add value as well.) through their volunteering hours.  They run intervention programs, recruit volunteers, head all the major cool stuff at the school, make sure science fair is set up, etc.  Basically everything outside the classroom that makes school cool for the kids, expands their horizons, and helps make it a California Distinguished School comes from these “stay-at-home” moms.

In fact, once when I was talking about how I love to bake bread, a mom confessed she didn’t know how and didn’t “have the time”.  She was sheepish about that because she confessed she shouldn’t say that to a “working” mom.  However, I pointed out, she is working.  She’s not PAID.  She’s at the school a lot.  Plus, I don’t bake bread on days I work.  In fact, although I like making it, my family doesn’t like eating it, so I don’t make it very often.  It really is for me.  She visibly relaxed.  She was waiting for the attack.

Let’s not do that, huh?  Let’s just point out there are some advantages to being at home and some advantages to being at work.  Let’s consider that the grass looks greener and most of this war is fueled by envy.  Trust me, as a teacher, I have both.  I’m a terrible stay-at-home housewife, homemaker, mother.  It’s been spring break and we’ve eaten about 4 days out of 5?  Maybe 5/5.  I work because I’m not a great self-motivator! 🙂 However, I know people who excel at being home and making that their love.  Many of them are my friends and family.  Why would I hate them?

Now, you’d think I’d be asking you to lay down your arms, but I’m not.  Instead, I want them firmly pointed at policy makers.  If being a “stay-at-home” mom is work, then why can’t those women get social security?  Oh, that’s right.  They didn’t contribute.  How do we fix that?  Currently, they can collect their husband’s but…  I’m all for choice, but what happens when these women are divorced or widowed?  Oh yeah, GET A JOB.  (sour face) So much for their job being so damned important, don’t you think?  In fact, I think that will be the true sign of what society think of their “work”.

I think it’s time to honor those women who sacrificed the way they were expected to.

Elegant Document

The Constitution of the United States of America is a damned elegant document.  There is immense beauty in its intent, and even in its ambiguity.  More than anything, it’s just delicious in how it sets out the checks and balances of the 3-ring circus we call government.

With that, have you read the executive powers lately? If not, go here.  I’ll wait. Isn’t that amazing?  Only four sections to describe the position of the president.  With that in mind, do you think it’s possible now to weed out some of the candidates for the office?  All things considered, if a candidate is promising you something that’s not on this list, well… You’re a fool to believe him.

Remember, we’re only voting for a president.

Political Candidiates

One of the more complicated bits when it comes to teaching American history to students is that you have to address politics.  Now mud-flinging and trash-talking is as old as time, much to my delight and chagrin.  On one hand we can say that this is the way it is.  On the other hand, it’s dead miserable to try to change things when people think they are set in stone.

Lately I’ve been working on the importance of knowing both sides of the issue, and becoming familiar with ALL the candidates and their viewpoints.  What I hear is, “I hate (insert name here)!”  It’s emphatic and full of emotion.  Yet, when asked why, the answer is almost ALWAYS tied to the political party.  It’s not about real knowledge of a candidate’s position on topics, or even whether a candidate can deliver on his promise.  It’s about the party itself, which means really, it’s about ego or identity.

The tragic part of this is that we should be so involved in all candidates that, win or lose, we feel, as citizens, we have, if not the best person for the job, at least a damned good competent person for the job.  Instead, we allow the other party to put forth a candidate we would be horrified to have as a president, to whom we will show great disrespect.  How awful is that?  The idea being if we lose, then we REALLY lose.  What does that do for our country and its well-being?

I’m working on teaching students to be involved citizens in life.  I want them to have a vested interest in WHOEVER becomes president, knowing that their 2nd place candidate is at least, in their minds, more than competent for the position.  However, if we’re going to continue putting out people merely with the idea of “beating” the other person, then we deserve to go down with the ship.  After all, it’s no longer about leadership, it’s about winning.

And trust me, no one wins with that attitude.

And On the Other Hand

Rush Limbaugh TOTALLY needs to be reigned in.

The difference?  One is a former child-actor who really seems to be a good guy (I know, I can’t know, but still…). He even really seems to be living the life of a good Christian. He’s living his conviction, which is why I feel he deserves to be left alone.

The other:  A bloated, self-important shit-stirrer who will lie, cheat, steal, bully and manipulate to make sure his is the loudest and last voice heard.  He does what he does deliberately, claiming satire and absurdity, to an audience who listens to him like he’s a messiah.  He has an obligation to be honest because of his position. Instead he abuses it to the detriment of the country.  That’s pretty unforgivable.

Rush deserves to be raked over whatever coals one can find.