Thursday, August 29, 2013

Boys Will Be Boys....We're Just Not Letting Them

"Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” -Fred Rogers

“We need to make the schools ready for the kids, not make the kids ready for the schools.” -Carol Copple

Today I came across a piece called Pressure-Cooker Kindergarten, so naturally, being a kindergarten teacher, I clicked on the link. With the difficulties I am currently having with my students and listening and discipline, this article resonated with me. With all the requirements of us to complete during our school day, we had to cut out a recess. Our kids still get a recess at lunch time, but historically they've had another one...and this is not a good thing. 

It's heartening---yet disheartening at the same time--to see that research shows that this emphasis on testing and assessment and strict lessons is not developmentally appropriate for kinders. As the article eloquently puts: "there is a growing disconnect between what the research says is best for children -- a classroom free of pressure -- and what’s actually going on in schools." This is heartening because it means that my gut feelings and discomfort with my current curriculum/requirements are not baseless. Having just spent a year in grad school learning what research shows, and best practices, it becomes disheartening to see so little opportunity to utilize this knowledge.

I personally feel pressured to complete activities, and it is difficult to spend the time my kids so desperately need not only to explore and play, but to learn basic social and school skills. Some of my students--they're 5 years old for goodness sake--are unresponsive to teacher direction. I think we are asking too much from them too soon. What's the rush? We need to let our children be kids, and create supportive environments to grow at developmentally appropriate rates, not force student into sitting at desks for hours, where they are not really learning authentically or laying down strong foundations. (That said, they need the opportunity for meaningful play, not video games, ipads and TVs).

As a first year teacher, it's hard to draw the line between what's wrong with the system, and what I'm still figuring out/learning/currently failing at--I'm still figuring out my teaching style, my ideal management system, and the world of kindergarten, much less how to juggle all the other requirements of being a teacher that falls outside of the school day (and there are a lot). I keep telling myself it's got to get better, but I'm finding it hard to truly develop my own style when so much is dictated by my curriculum. It doesn't always feel authentic because I'm secretly questioning its effectiveness in the way we're using it, and that may come across slightly to my students. 

Parts of our curriculum is being implemented school-wide, and I get that it's important to keep certain things consistent. However, when using a curriculum that was created by someone far away from my school, and used across the country, it's hard to truly put my faith into 100%, because there is no one-size-fits all solution, and we have to change just enough of it to fit our schedule that it loses some of its effectiveness. I think common core standards are good to make sure expectations are the same across the US. However, just because a school is program improvement or "failing" or what have you, doesn't mean the teachers don't know what they're doing. It's more likely that the teachers are not given the freedom to provide the students the education they need, but rather prescribed a system to follow to increase "accountability". Which then creates this downward spiral, where it is very hard to get out of program improvement, and the schools that do well continue to because they have the resources and freedom.

I put "accountability" in quotations because that discussion regarding holding teachers accountable for student proficiency is, quite frankly, ridiculous. No amount of testing is going to hold teachers more accountable than teachers hold themselves. The kind of person who becomes a teacher believes in the power of education and their ability to make a difference, that they hold themselves to a higher standard than any testing ever could, and it kills me when I feel my hands are tied so I can't make the greater difference I believe I could.

I hope that right now my feelings are more a manifestation of my frustrations of my day-to-day teaching, and that as the year progresses, things will get better, and I will see better behavior, and more learning and improving.

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