Sunday, March 04, 2007

Climbing the Walls for Students

hook
Apologies in advance, I'm still recovering from our latest round of Parent Teacher Conferences and all of the germs that have taken an extended tour in my classroom this month. As a result, my brain has had to sort through a Sudafed-haze before coming to any semi-clear landscape where the teacher's voice inside my head can speak without generating a painful echo. Nice acoustics in here when I'm sick though...or perhaps I should be worried?

As usual, the part of me that craves efficiency, simplicity, an Occam's Razor bottom-line when it comes to kindergarten issues, is feeling a bit let-down after conferences. Many parents attended ready to talk and interact, interested in not only how their children were doing academically but socially as well. They made proactive statements, asked proactive questions, and expressed interest in not only the Here-and-Now but on down the line as well. Several other families, recovering from their own bouts of illness attended and made sure to bring their grocery-list of questions to remember to ask (I assume they too were navigating a cold/flu medicine fog) which we readily covered, checking off each topic as we moved from handwriting, coloring, math skills, recess behavior, school crushes (yes, this early), and whether or not PE shoes were getting too tight. Finally, the Award/Accolade/Keeping-Up-With-the-Joneses-by-Pushing-Our-Children-to-Ridiculous-Extremes families attended. They voiced their concerns with accusatory questions, such as: "Why isn't my daughter reading at a second grade level by now like her brother was at her age?" "What do you mean, there is no Gifted and Talented Program for my child in kindergarten?" "Why isn't my son sitting and sounding out words for several hours each day at school, he will learn to read, won't he?" "Isn't it time to move the students away from those learning centers? I mean, they're just PLAYING." You get the idea, and I'll bet you have a very clear mental image of who I'm talking about.

Just to let you know, the accusatory part of the questioning isn't what bothered me. I've taught long enough to know that while I can't please everyone all of the time, I can still do a good job and provide students valuable, fun, and meaningful learning experiences that help build their foundation for not only school, but for life. The part of the Scorekeeper Parents' questions that bothered me was the fact that they clearly reflected the families' true nature of competition instead of care. Acquiring shiny trophies over acquiring a decent self-truth. Hoop-jumping instead of Life-Living. It also reminded me of just how little parents CHOOSE to know about their children, and therefore, about me and the job I do. Oddly, it still surprises me annually when I'm faced with the realization that some of the parents of my students don't feel the need or obligation to think outside of their own boxes when necessary, which happens on a daily basis with children. It must be the optimist in me. I trust that people will think, explore, postulate, and re-evaluate. Perhaps it's a natural carry-over from the fact that I'm PAID to help children do these things. It's a bridge to me until I run smack into the wall that some parents have somehow managed to bring along with them on this kindergarten trek. And each year, I have to have the rope and grappling hook ready to fling over the wall, the fitness and fortitude to haul my butt up to the top, and then the diplomacy skills to entice the parents to scale their side of the wall to join me for a looksie.

What do I try to show the parents who join me at the higher altitude?

That reading isn't sounding out words in boring texts. "Sad Sam was sad" isn't NEARLY as interesting or literacy-rich as "NO DAVID!" (Be honest S.F.A.'ers, do you really LIKE those KinderRoots "books" or does David Shannon speak more to your own inner-reader?). Guess why?

That learning is three-dimensional, multi-sensory, and consuming. It offers new information, it helps develop preference, it gives us a common language and schema so that we may better communicate and interact, and it offers its own rewards and pleasures. Ask any adult trying a new cuisine for the first time about their own apprehension, their awkwardness, their fear, their effort, their discovery, their satisfaction, and their possible JOY at having learned or found something NEW. That's what children experience daily, all the time, and not just with food, but with LIFE. It's not **just** playing. It's learning. It's developing. It's reinforcing. It's expanding. It's negotiating, sharing, and making other discoveries possible and less frightening. Don't take away those Lego's just yet. Yes, the silly puppet voice really does help. Shake your Sillies Out regularly. For some kids, mustard and peanut butter sandwiches are AWESOME tasting.

That test scores aren't the bottom line and they aren't who your children are, no matter what a teacher tells you. No matter what a school district report card tells you. No matter what a nation's government administration tells you. Personal preferences aside, parents, employers, neighbors, are always going to be wanting to rank each other in some form, in some way, for whatever reasons.... be they good ones or not. It's the nature of our beast. But if YOU don't like being merely a number, don't do everything in your power to turn your child into one (or let others do it for you). Remember, figures don't lie, but liars sure can figure. Imagine your life today if it was steered by that one red-ink percentage score on the French test you failed in high school. Not cool.

And finally, parents need to be brave. Choose bravery over living in fear. Your children do it every day in my classroom. Don't fear the tests. Don't fear the Joneses. Don't wake up shaking because your daughter only has a Dora backpack instead of a Louis Vuitton. Get some finger paint out. Bake some cookies. Catch some bugs. Listen to the rain. Sing a song. Have a book swap with your friends and neighbors. Actually TRY eating green eggs and ham. Stop. Listen. Think. Hear. Smell. Taste. Touch. See. Live. It's how you discover what your own Big Picture is. It's how you help your child discover his or her own. Enjoy your discoveries. Don't fear them. If you like trophies, these are the shiniest of them all.

Thankfully, enough parents each year scale that wall, balance at the top for a bit, and then join me on the other side. The optimist in me can't help looking forward to the year that the bridge runs unobstructed from point A to point B, with mutual sharing and learning motoring both ways. Until then, the rope and grappling hook are properly packed and stored.

Happy Almost-Spring. Time to read some Carl Sagan again before the next round of Sudafed. Maybe it will help!