When my elder child was three, we were encouraged to apply for the APPLE (free, city-sponsored, half-day preschool) program. She was accepted and had a teacher so wonderful, I suspected, even then, no other teacher could ever stack up. Since it would be several months before we heard back, we went ahead with what we’d already had planned before finding out about APPLE. We signed our daughter up for a distance-learning program through an accredited elementary (and high) school. She got into APPLE after all. We ended up “dual schooling,” and have done so for the past three years.
Again, this is the daughter born seven hours past the cutoff date. Seven HOURS. And she’s sharp as a tack. She was more ready for kindergarten than a lot of kindergarteners were the first day of school, but there she was, going to the APPLE classroom. And it was great! She loved it. The teacher, the aide, and the bus driver (the bus driver!) were all amazing. Her classroom was filled with wonderful manipulatives, great centers... it was all sorts of wonderful. They even had gym and music class once a week.
So, there we are at the parent-teacher conference and the teacher says, “She knows all her letters and the sounds they make already. I wouldn’t be surprised if she is reading by the end of the year!” My spouse and I were silent for a moment, looked at each other, and my stomach did this weird flop-thing. “She already is reading.” There we were, in PreK, up against what I see as a major fault of our education system -- the teacher often only sees a student’s abilities in relationship to the standards and benchmarks they’re being instructed to assess.
This amazing teacher *couldn’t* find out where each kid actually was in terms of their abilities. She was busy making sure all the kids knew the letters, the shapes, colors, numbers, etc. It is continually made clear to the instructors that their job is to bring all the kids to the level the bar is set at, not to find out what they can do or why something is challenging. And flaw number two of our system -- the goal is to get everyone to a standard, not to meet them where they are and help them soar to the next level.
I come from a long line of educators. Both of my parents, all my mom’s siblings, several older cousins and, oh right, me! We played school more often than we played house in the neighborhood I grew up in. We soaked in it. The emphasis, though, was always on learning, on education. School was just one media for that experience. I have the utmost respect for teachers -- I know several who spend more of their paychecks than they should on supplies that should have been provided by parents, by the district, on experiments that enhance what is in the textbooks. Teaching is not a 9-3 job, much as it may look that way. Most teachers end up bringing work home to be graded, spend hours a week outside of school on lesson planning, often make calls to parents after school hours. None of what I say is coming from a place of disrespect. The root of the problem is the system, not the people.
Stay tuned for the next installment: When Children Show Us the Flaws