Sunday, February 09, 2014

Kindergarten Teachers: Do You Need to Switch Grades?

I believe in self-reflection and self-evaluation.  Eighteen years of teaching kindergarten for me marks eighteen years of learning, practicing, making mistakes, tweaking, revamping, sharing, guiding, and learning some more.  Shifts and changes have been thrown into the mix as I've worked in different states and as I've fought for balance when what is mandated isn't complimentary to what is developmentally appropriate for my students.  I've blogged for over seven years, followed other edu-bloggers, and reaped the benefits from having a perspective that stretches far past the walls of the building in which I teach.  There are a lot of teacher bloggers out there who discuss education policy, politics, classroom humor and inspiration, lesson plans, ideas, and many who hawk their teacher-created materials.  My favorite Sunday-reads are more obscure teacher bloggers, the ones who post questions, ideas, strategies, woes, and successes.  The ones who share their personal opinions about their jobs.  The ones who are blunt and occasionally raw, the ones who keep the fluff and cute fonts off of the monitor, the slam poets of our profession.

As for my students, many in my first group of Super Stars have married, started families, and have been gainfully employed for years now (I took two years off from teaching, so don't worry about them being too young).  Several of them have become friends with their former kindergarten teacher.  Two have asked me kindergarten-specific questions as they anticipate the start of their childrens public school adventure.  One shared a story of how she recently overheard teachers talking at a restaurant, venting their frustrations about their students.

Both friends were discussing progress monitoring assessments that their kindergartners recently completed, and both were stressed because a fantastical jump in measurable growth hadn't been recorded in the scores.  Both teachers appeared new to service, and as my former student continued to eavesdrop, she noted that neither of the teachers ever once cited test bias, lack of technology tool use schema, student indifference, an uncomfortable and/or confusing testing environment, or the inappropriateness of the activity itself as reasons for why the scores and subsequent proposed "instructional tips"  might be inaccurate, skewed, or frankly irrelevant when it came to reflecting upon their responsibility as teachers: providing a safe, student-paced, age-and-skill appropriate, and highly experiential learning environment for a very diverse group of young children.

Instead, the teachers put all of the blame on their students, and I cringed as I listened to the examples:

___________ drives me nuts!  Every time we test, he acts like he doesn't care.

I haven't been able to start our first grade sight word list!  We're halfway through the year and my kids STILL haven't mastered the pre-primer list!

The crazy weather doesn't help, all my students want to do is play! I can't keep them on track.  

My kids need to ace these assessments by the end of the year.  I don't need to be screwed over on my teacher evaluation because of them.


One might think that eighteen years of actual in-classroom teaching experience and the temperament that comes from being a forty-four year old mother of three would guarantee a calm response from me.

But no.

My Star asked me what I thought.  Possibly using a raised voice, I told her I thought the two teachers she overheard needed to 1) take classes on early childhood development, 2) study the standards/Common Core/curricular requirements, 3) find an experienced mentor who will play devil's advocate, 4) develop a keen eye, observing and reflecting upon how their students behave in the learning environment provided to them, 5) learn about poverty, cultural and social issues, 6) turn a critical eye inward, 7) evaluate what they think their own responsibilities should truly be, and 8) if necessary, switch grades.

Admission:  I definitely used a raised voice, and I had to pause at the end to catch my breath.

In my opinion:

Kindergarten teachers who can't stand the fact that their students aren't completing first grade work... need to switch grades.

Kindergarten teachers who find themselves greatly annoyed by immature behavior, need to switch grades.

Kindergarten teachers who don't understand that play IS how young children best learn and develop necessary skills, need to switch grades. 

Kindergarten teachers who believe their students are out to "screw" their teacher's evaluation, need to switch grades.

Kindergarten teachers who believe today's hype that says in order to help Little Janie or Jeffery become a neurosurgeon after college, we must put scalpels in their tiny fists prior to age four, need... to... switch... grades.  

That's right, I went all Jeff Foxworthy over those two kindergarten teachers and the others that I know concur with them.  But I get it.  I was once a first-year teacher, a third-year teacher, a fifth-year teacher, a seventh-year teacher.  I remember listening politely during staff meetings as more experienced colleagues talked circles around me and over my head.  I too, remember when teaching kindergartners became so natural for me that the inevitable continuation of the rinse/repeat cycle of education-related acronyms and fads became more entertaining (some frightening) than inspiring.  I can recall the exact moment during a job interview when I knew that it was important for me to tell my potential employers that they did not want me in a sixth grade classroom, a fourth grade classroom, or a second grade classroom.  I was advocating for not only kindergarten students, but the children I would not have been a good match for, even though my honesty was not a surefire way to guarantee me a paycheck.

With experience and commitment, teachers often find their niche, be it a subject, grade level, or community.  For those newbie and not-so-newbie kindergarten teachers who find yourselves frustrated and angry, let me lay this nugget of truth on you:

It's not the four, five, or six year olds' fault. 

Let that sink in for a moment.

It's not the four, five, or six year olds' fault.

Your lack of experience (or overstayed welcome in the wrong grade) isn't at fault either.  But I caution you to guard against allowing your frustrations to inspire you to think up consequences that you might purposely or inadvertently inflict upon young children.  They are not mutineers, and if you choose to not make your own professional plan for self-improvement, then it behooves you to step aside, find another grade (or profession), and let those of us who know, respect, understand, and work best with young children share our energy and skill with those who deserve it most.

Take a deep breath. Be honest.  Are you constantly angry at your students?  Do you truly believe that the group of people with the least amount of control and say inside a school system are the ones responsible for how you feel?  If so, this is your wake-up call.  Step back, reflect objectively, learn, and, if necessary, acknowledge that kindergarten might not be the place for you.  As long as it's developmentally appropriate and respectful of its youngest learners first, it's a wonderful place for children and the teachers who care for them to continue to learn and grow as they experience and share collaborative learning environments.


You can read more about the debate regarding testing kindergartners here: "Is Kindergarten Too Young to Test?" by Holly Korbey



  1. Michaele what a thought provoking post and I loved the video lecture, it was wonderful to hear so much of what I believe to be true Dr. Katz as a teacher of K4 in a public school environment it can be so difficult to put into practice what I know should be happening. Thanks for linking this video up, it was what I needed to rehear!

  2. You're very welcome Sue. The insights, humor, and knowledge that Dr. Katz shares count as mentoring, in my mind. She's terrific.

  3. Yes! You are exactly right! These issues are things that consistently make me batty. These kids are little.

    They can't sit still. They can't necessarily rationalize the way older kids can. They can't work for hours on paper/pencil tasks. They can't usually read fluently. They can't ignore the sun/rain/grass/mud/sticks/rocks. They can't learn new routines without being taught over and over and over and over again. They can't usually be neat.

    They shouldn't have to be any of these things. Life and learning are both skills which need to be learned and taught gradually. Cramming more and more into a person who isn't ready (and shouldn't have to be!) makes absolutely no sense...and when it is dictated that the cramming must happen, the teacher needs to be aware of the fact that it can usually be done in an age appropriate way. Those times when it can't? Don't blame the students. It's not their fault. Anyone who doesn't get that shouldn't be teaching them.

    Thanks for being one of those who speaks for the little guys! :)

    (Stepping off of my soapbox now.)

  4. For the first time ever I am working with a practicum student in her last semester of college. She is quite good. Where she will struggle is in classroom management. The rigor of our CC curriculum means we have a lot to cover and not all kids are ready to learn what was once expected of a first grader. That means fidgety kids who want to play more than the schedule allows. It is tough for kids to maintain attention when their other needs are calling on them. Through my experience, I have learned that expecting 5 and 6 year olds to learn grade 1 material is not the answer to the question, "how do we raise the grade 3 scores." Just because kids can learn the material doesn't mean they should be forced into the uncomfortable learning day. Just because we could teach a 3 yo Chinese doesn't mean it is in their best interest. I really miss the longer stretches of child directed play that the NAEYC used to demand for certification. We helped kids learn in ways we never expected because they followed their interest and even passions. You are right on target, Michaele. The kids are not at fault.

  5. Anonymous8:12 AM

    Would love to see as list of those teacher blogs!

  6. Anonymous8:01 PM

    I myself agree with what is being said. The problem is some schools are now looking at data numbers and not students. Age appropriateness is no longer a factor. Teachers are blamed for those scores that do not move quick enough. Scores are part of evaluations. Some schools no longer buy the teacher edition that could provide a base of knowledge. Just think about some of us who are evaluated by the principal for say science and social studies using what can be found on the internet. The education field can be hard for those who know how to teach and are being told what to teach by people who have not walked a step in their shoes.


As always, thank you for your comments, tips, suggestions and questions!