Welcome I am 15 months out of teaching, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have strong opinions about how our education system is working, especially when it comes to our very youngest learners. So for today, I’m going to pull out one of my favorite “soapbox” topics, one that I was criticized for often in my last few years of teaching…Why can’t we just let them be kids?
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Food For Thought I try to use this blog for lots of encouragement and positive thinking, but every now and then I just want to voice my opinion. Today is one of those days.
This topic was discussed frequently with teachers and homeschoolers, as they bought my final remains of teaching this summer. It’s the idea that little kids, let’s say 8 and under, are put under too much pressure at school and they are missing out on natural learning experiences because of high-stakes testing and mandated curriculums. There are plenty of other issues facing schools, but let’s just stick to this topic today.
When I first began my teaching experiences in the late 90’s, early childhood and kindergarten lessons were taught thematically, with lots of social interaction, hands-on activities, and play-based learning. And learn they did! The vast majority of these kids learned to read, write, and compute at a proficient rate and prepared for upper grade expectations. They were taught the love of books and learning and how to solve problems in real life situations. Even more important, they loved school! It was an exciting and fun place, with time to be social, time to play and explore, time to move and be active, and time to listen and learn “study habits.” Teachers also had time to address behavior issues and social concerns.
Somewhere along the way, someone with no background in early childhood education or child development decided if we pushed kids harder and faster and had a more rigid (a.k.a. rigorous) curriculum, they would miraculously mature faster and thus be ready to do things at an earlier age, like read and solve complex problems on paper or computer screen. These “someones” found the right people to conduct the research to fit their agenda and the next thing you know, kindergarten teachers are told to get rid of all toys and games in the classroom. (I did not follow this expectation.) We were told all incoming kindergarteners would already know letters, basic phonics, and counting skills. We were told to start teaching reading by the beginning of September. You can LOL there if you want, especially if you’ve ever been in a kindergarten classroom during the first month of school! We were told these little people with age-appropriate short attention spans should spend the majority of their day sitting in front of a computer screen because these programs were “research-based” and would improve the DATA. “Data” became the four letter word in my book. Not because data is bad, in and of itself, but because of the way it is now being used to overrule professional discretion and age-appropriate learning. We were told to assess kids at least once a week. For these kindergarteners, this is one-on-one testing, leaving no time left to actually teach during the week. Recess and play times got shorter and shorter, while testing and computer times got longer. Kids who were labeled as “behind” missed out on fun activities such as centers, science, social studies, and other things because they needed “intervention” time. I’m not talking about special education services here. I’m talking about kids that didn’t have the privilege of going to preschool or had a late birthday and was a “young” kindergartener.
The worst feeling was when I was told I needed to communicate with parents that their brand-new kindergarteners were “behind grade level” after only being in school for two weeks. Seriously? At this point I just wanted the kids to get from point a to point b in the building and not lose anyone! Or sit for 30 seconds so I could explain directions or transitions. I had one parent ask me how her child could be behind when the curriculum hadn’t even been taught yet. Oh, momma, I agree!
As a trained professional educator with degrees in early childhood and special education, I could tell the difference between kids that were legitimately struggling and kids that just needed a few months to mature. I certainly would address learning concerns with kids struggling, but how can they be struggling when they haven’t been given the opportunity to learn it in the first place? And speaking of maturity, I brought up this real-world issue in curriculum meetings, pointing out that just because you give them more to learn at a faster pace doesn’t mean a 5- or 6-year old is going to mature any faster. I was told maturity was irrelevant to learning! Oh, geez!
Unless you know me personally, you have no idea what kind of teacher I was. For all you know, I was terrible. But I wasn’t. I taught A LOT of little children to read and write. At one time teaching was a strong passion of mine. I always wanted to do what was best for my little learners. I understood them and their learning patterns. Trust me, I wouldn’t have went into this profession otherwise!
It’s no secret that my last few years of teaching were pretty miserable, for lots of reasons. One of my biggest frustrations was fighting a system that would not listen. And it can’t just be me, based on a lot of conversations I’ve had recently. Public opinion seems to sway more to my side of things. But leaders and administrators don’t want to hear it. Being “just a classroom teacher,” I was supposed to receive and take direction without questioning its worth or relativity to my specific needs. Or worse, asked my opinion, only to be told I was wrong! I voiced my opinions and it simply led to even more difficulties in my job. I stood up for my beliefs as much as I could…keeping a short play time in our schedule, limiting their screen time for more hands-on learning, and adding as many station and center-based activities as I could. I still taught reading, writing, and math every day. But to be completely honest, my students made quicker progress when I taught cross-curricular thematic lessons and only pulled out the computers when it was relevant to the lesson being taught. It’s a shame when school isn’t fun anymore, for the kids or teachers.
Since I am not heading back to work today like most of my former colleagues, I feel I can voice my opinions more freely now. I have decided emphatically to not return to teaching, for many reasons. So my little rant today is therapeutic. A reminder for why I left. A message to parents that teachers don’t always believe in what we’re instructed to do. A message to other teachers that it’s not just you. Or maybe someone out there can enlighten me, telling me it’s not like this where you are.
Sure, there are going to be some that completely disagree with my opinions. I’ve encountered plenty of them, too, believe me. But there’s not much that can be said to make me change my mind about this subject. And for the second August in a row, I am thankful that I’m not going back to school.
“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” Kay Redfield Jamison
“Play is the work of children.” Jean Piaget
“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
“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.” O. Fred Donaldson
“Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.” Abraham Maslow
Today’s Recipe Looking for a kid-friendly snack that’s mostly healthy? If they like chocolate, they will likely love this snack.
When my daughter starts middle school next week, she will be eating lunch at 10:20 a.m.! Luckily, she gets out of school at 2:50, so I’ll be able to feed her a filling snack to get her through until dinner. I’ve been looking for such snack foods. Something she’ll enjoy eating, will keep her full, and has some nutritional value. I found this recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Hummus at Shane & Simple. Now I’m not vegan, paleo, keto, or any other trendy diet follower. So, I tweaked the recipe for what I keep on hand and wouldn’t cost me a fortune. If you want a strictly plant-based recipe, please check out his website for the version that fits your needs. My Chocolate Peanut Butter Hummus is still packed with fiber and protein with just enough sweet to satisfy most any kid (and mom!) I mean, is there anything chickpeas can’t do?
This makes almost 2 cups worth, so it can be portioned out for on-the-go snacking or you can store in the fridge in a lidded container. My daughter and I like it with fresh apple slices, but it works equally well with pears, banana, strawberries, pretzels, graham cracker sticks, or even as a toast spread in the mornings. Here’s my version.
Note: If there is a peanut allergy involved, simply omit the peanut butter or swap for a different nut butter. The flavor won’t be effected much, but you may need to adjust how much water you use to achieve the right texture.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Hummus
- 1 15.5 oz. can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup peanut butter
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3 TBS water
- 2 TBS chocolate chips
Place all ingredients, except for chocolate chips, in food processor and blend for a minute. Scrape down sides of bowl and continue to pulse until all ingredients have been incorporated and a smooth, hummus-like texture is achieved. Scoop into individual containers or a bowl. Serve with fresh fruit, if desired.
When I make hummus, of any flavor, I use my Kitchen Aide 11 Cup Food Processor with Extra Slice System, available on Amazon.
Today’s Scripture James 1:17 17