I really wish I knew when the value of an individual was based on a number took precedence over kindness, human spirit, compassion and personality. I am starting to really take pause when it comes to the way our educational system places labels on our children based on whether they reached or exceeded a benchmark. Who came up with the benchmark in the first place? And what happens when the value of the benchmark changes say in 7 years?
I am a third generation educator. I have seen it all. I was brought up with the jargon associated with the educational system. It is in my blood. I truly believe in the power education has. I believe teachers need to be valued more, paid more and respected more. I believe now more than ever many are losing faith. I have seen programs come and go and come back again. I have seen amazing successes and also witnessed children suffer from changes in the educational system that might not be the best in the long run. I am not in the classroom now, and I have to say I do not miss it as it is now. I miss the way it was when I began my career. Such wonder and amazement. Hands on learning, enriching discussion. Were there benchmarks? Definitely. I believe in benchmarks, but not as the one and only measurement of a child’s progress. Teaching was a gift. I loved walking in my class every single day. To watch kids learn, see light bulbs turn on when something they struggled with clicked, to hear learning take place was amazing.
Last year my son had a difficult year in Kindergarten. Kindergarten! Unreal and very disheartening. It literally broke my heart as I watched him lose self-confidence and literally become afraid of school. I watched and took action and basically taught him the entire curriculum. It was a wake up call to me as a mother and as an educator. I knew he knew how to read, count. What was the issue then? He was afraid. The stress of testing and lack of, dare I say, kindness from his teacher were destroying what should have been a magical year. Kindergarten failed him. Or was it the system? He was afraid to show what he knew. He was petrified of tests. I cannot even begin to say how disappointed I was. Kindergarten taught him a few things. It taught him to hate school. It taught him how to answer a task in three seconds. If he didn’t answer in three seconds, he was skipped or wrong, even if he knew it. It taught him how to be stressed out. It taught him what testing meant. A five year old. Stressed out. That year I worked with him daily on what school truly meant. It meant laughing on the bus, being confident, believing in himself, enjoying how to read and write letters and adding and subtracting. It meant to explore and investigate. He loved to play school at home, but actually walking into the school was a different story. At the end of the year did he reach those benchmarks? Yes, he did. Not because of what he did that year in school. He did because I sat with him every single day and showed him learning was fun. And there was no timer involved. He blossomed and became happy to learn. But it wasn’t easy in the least.
It seems like with all these changes with Common Core, it makes learning harder. I understand the philosophy of the “movement”, but at the same time 12-7=5 and I know that because I learned and memorized it. It didn’t take me 4 steps to come up with the answer 5. Unlike now, when I have to use 6 different methods to show the same result. Why make it harder when the answer is so simple.
And what about my son now? He has a thoughtful teacher who looks at the big picture. He believes in himself. Does he love school? Not really, but he comes home smiling and tells me all about what he learned that day. I cannot erase Kindergarten for him, but I can raise him up. I can support him and be there for him. He loves to read and uses his math skills to build legos and draw buildings. He is just fine. Benchmark or not, that holds no value to me any longer.
I have no idea how my children will look back at their years in elementary school when they are older. I look back at mine fondly. I loved elementary school. So much so, that I began my career there as a teacher. I have no idea what the magical values were to the benchmarks then, and it shows how little value they really do have. They are already irrelevant. So kids, try to find the magic in learning and forget everything else. And to the educators who are stressed out trying to meet those deadlines for each plan of study that seem impossible, and trying to keep your faith and spirit up, do not give up. Your students need you. Try to remember the way teaching used to be and you will find that the only thing that will always remain the same is how much your students believe in you because you believe in them.