…not of fame… but of pointless parent-teacher conference. Yup, that’s 15 minutes that I’ll never get back.
It’s not my teacher’s fault, I guess. She certainly does love the kids, and she is caring and involved. I imagine that she was once a clever teacher, before her curriculum was dictated and she turned to teaching using Pearson print-outs and the overwhelming focus on ELA. (PreK is just starting with math, or so I gather from one of the latest Pearson unit worksheets).
Anyway, I had been waiting to offer my verdict on what was going on in the classroom until this conference. I saw a lot of Pearson coming home, but I hoped that maybe something else was going on besides that–something good and wholesome! I was hoping these alternatives to Pearson would become apparent at the parent-teacher conference, but alas that did not materialize.
Folks, 15 minutes doesn’t give a lot of room for questions. So I really just listened.
First I was given his art– three papers, one of which was a pumpkin, with crayon scribbled all over them. Ok, no real complaints yet. Then I was given his report card, which was actually created by the school!!! The kids got a grade of 1-3 (1 being the highest) in categories like, “Shares most of the time,” “Expresses self freely,” “Listens to stories,” etc. My son excelled with a 1 across the board. I think I was supposed to smile and beam with pride at this point… but I knew all of this already. He’s a great kid with a nurturing upbringing. I had no fears about these qualities developing naturally within him! OK, still no major complaints.
I was also shown several picture print-outs that the kids color in with crayons “to develop hand strength.” I hate to see kids doing copy-art like that. It does nothing for the individual. Would it be too much trouble to develop hand strength while having the child make his own picture? Anyway, back to the print-outs. Most were scribbled in with one color, but we got to one that had multiple colors of crayons all over it! My knee-jerk reaction was “finally some passion in these exercises!” But quickly I was deflated with his teacher’s comment that he “got a little sidetracked on this one.” HUH?
Then we got into his assessment. NOT a STAR assessment. We opted out of that. But his teacher did sit down with him and present to him various exercises to rate his development. First of all, I was thankful that she did the assessment herself and that it was one-on-one. But I was also annoyed that it was about a dozen sheets, all made my Pearson. The exercises consisted of the student having to determine which group of characters were the letters, for example; or which letter makes the ‘tuh’ sound?; or which is the letter ‘B’? Again, he “passed.” And again, this was nothing I didn’t know already. And to be honest, nor did I really care. If he didn’t know ‘tuh’ I was pretty sure it would come to him eventually. One question was completely asinine. “Which version of the word was written the best?” Then the word ‘DINNER’ (or something) was written in four different ways, with one supposedly being the correct and neatest way to write it. I said it was a ridiculous question, highly subjective. I kind of liked the wavy version myself– almost calligraphy!
Anyway, why didn’t I care if he did well on these assessments, you wonder? Because they are just a small part of his natural development at this stage and I don’t see why we place such a huge focus on academic learning in these young children. It would have been different if there was more proof of process-based learning. There was little talk about art. There was no talk about music, except for the fact that he likes the Ghostbuster’s song. I wasn’t given much indication what he enjoyed most about school, or what interests him. There were only brief comments that referenced him as an individual. Most of the formal stuff had to do with how well he fits protocol. I would have gotten more from a 15 minute anecdote about what he did at recess one day! In fact, every day I ask him what his favorite part of school was, and every day he answers “recess!”
I was also told that his pencil grip was poor. The teacher wasn’t concerned and recognized it would develop in time. And I couldn’t give a flying f***. All of this focus on learning to read and write so young, everybody following scripted curriculum. Didn’t anyone notice that when he is given the freedom to make his own drawings that they are always treasure maps? I would have liked to talk about his fascination with pirates and ships and buried treasure. I bet he’d learn ‘tuh’ if you associated it with “Treasure!!!”
My son loves to write though. He revels in possessing little books and journals and he fills them with all sort of drawings, letters, his name, numbers. He recently received an old unused store ledger from a friend of mine who is so attuned to who he is and what drives him. Needless to say, he just loves it and is always “doing his work” inside of it. He brought it to school one day, but he is only allowed to write in it during free-play. Here’s a thought, he might be more inclined to learn the letter of the day if he could do it in his special book. Maybe, just maybe, this crazy notion of excelled learning might actually be more effective if you let kids connect to it in their own way. And maybe some of them just aren’t ready, and that’s ok too. But take away a kid’s passions, his excitement, his space for creativity, and you disappoint him. Do it on a regular basis and you ruin him!
And in regards to the Pearson print-outs that my son brings home on a regular basis. I was told that my son was ready for reading. He’s an “emergent reader.” It was suggested that I use the print-outs as an aid to learning the words as we read along, pointing to each word as we go. (I was given an honorable sneak preview to the future print-outs that will be coming home–simple sentences). We parents have already been instructed with notes home to review the Pearson worksheets with our children–learning through repetition we are told. Anyway, NO THANK YOU! I will read real books with my child. And if he shows an interest in reading, then I will certainly encourage it and work with him. But if he shows the same interest he shows to the Pearson sheets, which is NOTHING, then I will wait patiently for the desire to read to emerge in him on its own. He’s not yet 5. He’s got time! And I’m not worried!
15 minutes was over in no time. The teacher apologized for the rush, explaining that’s how these things are. I didn’t mind really, saying I understood and that she could always tell me anything through a note home or a phone call. I thanked her for “assessing” my son herself and stated again my opposition to Race To The Top, The Common Core, and to the ridiculous emphasis on state assessments. No one in the room, not the teacher nor the two aids who were putting things away, even pretended to acknowledge what I had just said. Like the elephant in the room, it was completely ignored.