Reading David Kohn's "Let the Kids Learn Through Play" this morning, my child advocate's voice asserted itself loudly in my head, greatly surprising me since I'm facing the last week of kindergarten, a time when many teachers are near collapse from exhaustion and the wide range of emotions washing over them. Instead of grumbling incoherently, the voice roared "I've said it before and I'll say it again:"
What I really wish new-to-service teachers, ivory-tower administrators and bubble-boy/girl politicians understood is this: playdoes not equal "unproductive and non-beneficial fluff time." Rolling over, crawling, standing upright, balancing, walking, running, climbing, and babbling are ALL challenging to the child beginning to develop his or her skills. So too are sharing, negotiating, coming to understand cause and effect, developing patience, and learning to use new tools safely and efficiently, such as pencils, scissors, squeeze glue, buttons on a keyboard, or the fragile skin of technology and books. Don't forget to add broadening language and building stamina to the mix as well, especially because a child's typical work day is full of new tasks, deadlines, social mores, and transitions requiring copious amounts of sustained attention and interaction. Yes, the "school day" IS a work day schedule that young children are introduced to when they start kindergarten, and it's not an easy or immediate adjustment to make. I've always found it ironic that many administrators will tell you that kindergartners "don't need naps" by the end of the school year, though we all know plenty of adults who require rest and down time throughout the day. Because advocates for developmentally appropriate practice are regarded as old softies, our pedagogy is assumed to be lacking in "rigor," "challenge," and even "standards," likely because we insist on giving our students plastic knives at the play doh center instead of surgical grade scalpels. Well-intentioned (and usually inexperienced) colleagues and administrators bound by asinine funding equations run roughshod over our suggestions, protests, and advice when we dare to express what is obvious to us: young children aren't committing a crime, lacking gumption, failing to perform, or offensive because they're not behaving like short third and fourth graders during their preschool and kindergarten years. Even worse: teachers who don't appreciate or evenlike all of the incredible things that four, five and six year olds are, take positions where they inflict their distaste, judgement, and severe lack of knowledge regarding child development upon our youngest learners. These adults are easy to recognize: they're the ones complaining in the lounge or staff meetings about how "these little kids just don't get it" or "they just can't DO anything," while those much better suited to the grade and students are expressing how the academic expectations or assessments aren't appropriate matches for the children we teach. Guess which group of teachers is regularly criticized for their point of view? The development that naturally occurs through play, exploration, partnership, and emotional bonding is not an affliction or unnecessary detour from all things curricular: it's an essential prerequisite for further growth. Children must, with very few exceptions, roll over before they crawl, crawl before they walk, and become acquainted with and develop many more skills that are necessary in order to build a firm foundation upon which their ABC's, 123's, empathy, and life's passions will stand and grow. These stages of skill acquisition occur on a continuum: you don't hopscotch over a few squares to get to the end faster, or interpret the wobbly or full face-plant landing as proof that a child needs ankle braces, ski poles, smaller squares, larger squares, or a stunt double in order to be successful within the grading period allotted. Time, practice, and encouragement, not developmentally inappropriate demands and deadlines, are the initial supports most children need as they continue their journey as brave, capable human beings through play and partnership.
Discussing March weather before Spring Break began, my Super Stars could be heard judging conditions each morning as they entered from the chilly line outside, fingers crossed that it would be warm enough later for recess:
"We are soooooooo going to have a lamb day today."
"I'm grumpy. I think it's lion-ing out there today, so we won't get to play outside."
Lamb Day. Lion-ing. Of course I enjoy eavesdropping and catching all of the verbiage.
Between teaching, mothering, housekeeping, illness, wonky weather, committee work, and a looming yearbook publication deadline, it's been difficult to regularly peruse my favorite education blogs, or check every interesting link on Twitter or Pinterest that comes along my feed. Over the past month, I've only participated in one edchat, my usual Saturday morning global PLC gift to myself.
Don't get me wrong, the classroom has been HOPPING, my Super Stars have been growing, exploring and learning, and the weather, while not my preferred temperature, has not been as inconvenient for us as it has been for many others. I have just twelve pages of the yearbook left to finish, and my personal goal has me completing the entire annual a week before the company's deadline. My home has remained relatively clean, and (~whisper voice~) other than one bout of food poisoning, big bad bugs haven't breached our threshold.
I've been able to tune into bits and pieces of education related conversations and topics though during this busy season, and I've caught myself wondering:
1) Pro/con arguments aside, how can the Common Core ever ~be~ common if the states that adopted it are now in various stages of its implementation or have begun working on repealing it? And how many publishing companies, knowing the supply and demand rules that always follow fads, mandates, and "needed reforms," are already poised to re-label and resell all of their "Common Core aligned" materials without the CC stickers on them when the pendulum (that never ceased to exist) predictably swings the other way? Publishers have been able to hit districts multiple times right in the wallet under the guise of providing current and much-needed materials thanks to the reforms of the last ten years. Budgetary collapses impact STUDENTS in every way, and I haven't met a curriculum publisher yet who feels sorry for its contribution to the misallocation of needed monies that once made possible appropriate teacher-student ratios and education and life-enhancing programs such as music, band, theater, home economics, art, or AcaDeca. Those who want to hold folks accountable for their child's school and learning experiences fall for the huckster jive as well, and go straight for the teacher ~instead~ of the reformers, their funding agents, and the publishing companies whose wares they hawk.
2) As a veteran instructor, when I hear a teacher (or three) from a single school sing the praises of newly discovered behavior tracking apps and classroom "management"/disciplinary tools, I think "Hmmm... must be a tough group of kids this year" or "Wow, that one must have hit the jackpot in diverse and clashing personalities, bless his/her heart. Thank goodness a helpful tool has been identified, put in place, and is having a positive effect." When I hear that an ~entire school~ is considering following a behavior management protocol that includes collecting data on each and every student in every classroom, the LAST THING I think is "Oh good, a tool that'll help manage these troublemakers." Instead, I become VERY suspicious that a program, schedule, curriculum, pacing guide, or even the general expectations of children are waaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyy off base, especially if so many children demonstrate "misbehaviors" regularly. Recesses are taken away from students who haven't "earned them." Mastery of skills/content is expected earlier, and battery drill and kill "interventions" replace rich, repeated and varied exposure over time as acceptable pedagogical approaches. Teachers complain that students won't stay in their seats, and even worse, that THEY TALK TO ONE ANOTHER during activities or even (gasp!) DURING L-U-N-C-H!
Let me ask you this: When did children stop being children? When did they cease to NEED recess? When did they cease to NEED deep immersion and practice at their own pace to build layers of learning upon a sturdy foundation? When did children cease to obtain benefits from speaking, interacting, negotiating, questioning, or expressing themselves with adults and with one another? When did children's natural tendencies, developmental stages, and even quirks, make them deserving en masse of public shaming?
Answer: They didn't.
When did it become okay for parents, teachers, and administrators to believe the hooey sold to them, based on the premise that ~overnight~, children could be rebuilt, and have their very natures rewritten?
No child deserves to be looked at in disappointment and disgust, with parents, teachers, administrators, and society trying to figure out how best to efficiently and effectively erase, re-write and rebuild the incredible thinkers, doers, and learners that children already are into the automatons of the future. Children are inclined to do naturally what best suits their growth and development, it's we adults who become impatient with their timeline. It's we adults who want to speed things up, find a pill to make resistance to our will less strong, and find quick-fix tools that force children into immediate compliance any way we can, even if it means crushing their spirits and making them hate school.
So I have to wonder: Why can't we teach children, instead of inflicting ourselves upon them?
Now that the 100th Day of Kindergarten milestone has been reached, our 100 chart has been changed into a Countdown Until Summer (or First Grade) chart. With some seventy-ish days to go, one of my Stars inadvertently opened up the floor to a clarification meeting this morning, making me realize that I should have splurged on a drink from Starbucks before getting to school.
Star 1: "Mrs. Sommerville, are we counting down to summer, first grade, or both?"
Me: Well, that depends. It definitely counts down to summer, but it also counts down to the LAST day of kindergarten. What will you be when you aren't kindergarteners anymore?
Star 2: "Graduates?"
Star 3: "No, we won't be ~gra-jee-ate-ed~, we'll be ready for first grade."
Star 1: "So we're counting down to lots of things, and they all happen on the same day?"
Me: Well, let's try to...
Star 4: "No, no, nonono, I've got it. We're going to take a day off (Star 1: "You mean SUBTRACT, we're going to SUBTRACT...")... okay, yes, yeah yeah yeah, we're going to SUBTRACT a day off of the chart, and when we get to the last ten days, we're supposed to get ready to move to another classroom. Is that right?"
Star 5: "Uh, do the first grade teachers know this?"
Star 4: "Am I right?"
Star 6: "One thing at a time. Okay. ~inhale~ We're going to subtract. I can do that. And we're going to get ready for vacation. I like vacations! I went to Disney last year!"
Star 4: "AM... I... RIGHT??????"
Star 7: "Maybe we should have just gone to first grade yesterday, you know. The first 100 days are for kindergarten, and then on the one hundred and... the one hundred and (Star 1: "The one hundred and FIRST...")... yeah! On the one hundred and, uh... (Star 1: "FIRST!")... YEAH! On THAT day, we go to first grade!
Star 1: "How come you can say first grade but not one hundred and first?"
Star 7: "What?"
Star 4: "I don't think I'm right."
... and that's when I knew I had miscalculated the amount of coffee that today was going to require.