Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dear teacher...

Day 9 of a 10 day break from school.....

Coffee in hand, blankets piled around; snow falling, and me getting my fix of my favorite blogs.  Today’s was a bit different.....I almost leaped up cheering for the writer.  One of today’s education posts was a letter from a parent to her child’s beloved teacher, one she fully supports and appreciates......although the teacher may have been surprised by the content.

The letter started off thanking the teacher for all of their hard work, congratulating her on getting the children so far in what is almost the half year mark, but then quickly moved on to explain why her child would NOT be completing the assigned vacation packet chuck full of, what I’m sure was incredibly stimulating (insert immense sarcasm!), rote, test prep work.  The parent went on to explain what real world learning the family had done on the break (making gingerbread houses from scratch using all sorts of fractions and math, vacationing on an island and naming land features they encountered, using imaginative play, reading for nothing more than pleasure) and how much more beneficial the connections and wonders the child made was to him than turning page after page of rote, mundane, unengaging busy work.  In my giddy little mind I jumped up an applauded wildly (all while staying firmly planted in my blankets.....didn’t want to sacrifice the coffee!) – first, that the parent respectfully stood up to the nonsense that education has become in the quest to attain a high test score and second that she was taking such an active role in her child’s learning – providing opportunities and encouraging him to make connections in the real world.  She then very kindly shared this link in the email:   The letter was very kind and did not slam the teacher or education at all, just gave insight into what is truly valued in that home and I applaud her for her genuine honesty.

Last night I, unexpectedly, caught up with a friend that I haven’t seen in 25 years (gasp!), but it was like we were 17 all over again!  We howled at our own teenage ordeals and laughed at our parenting fiascos and how we deal with our own kids.  She had thought of pursuing teaching and wasn’t surprised that I had become one (or that in my classroom I have a bathtub....or a coffee table.....or an overstuffed chair.....). Our conversation quickly turned to our kids’ school experiences and her son’s terrible third grade one.  Every time I hear a story like this, it just breaks my heart – school shouldn’t be this way; yes learning can be hard (and truthfully should be challenging to some degree for all children), but it’s our job to reroute, to constantly help find a detour, to guide a struggling child, and acknowledge success which wasn’t done for her son.  Similar to mine, her son is also a very bright boy who had been very defeated early in his schooling.  Since her mom and sister are both teachers and she is an incredibly involved mom our conversation turned to what’s so broken in education.  

We both agreed that in our over focused, futile focus on high stakes testing, we are sacrificing true, meaningful, inspiring learning for packets and papers and basals.   My kids have all experienced that mundane, test prep, fill in the blank worksheet, answer rote questions nonsense – t o o    m a n y    t i m e s – where clearly the kids’ only motivation is to get it done, to put anything down to fill the empty black hole, to satisfy the teacher.  They weren’t inspired, they didn’t care, they didn’t learn from it.  In fairness, there were a few teachers who did inspire – my daughter’s passion for Nelson Mandela and the work he did for human kind & to discover more than was required, for my son’s quest to taking the opposing view from his entire class on a major event in history and dig as deeply as he could to prove his case.

My job is NOT to keep kids busy at home, ESPECIALLY over a break, and it’s certainly not to send packet after packet and sheet after sheet to complete rote, mundane, non-stimulating busy work home.  I don’t have time to provide feedback on work that I don’t value, that is uninspired or not intrinsically motivating for kids.   I don’t want kids sitting for any time at all filling in papers or providing “the right answer” just to have something scratched in a blank space.  I completely get that some parents either can’t or choose not to engage their kids in learning – but it’s not my place to interfere at home or place judgment on what is or isn’t done and then hold a child accountable for what they can’t control.  My job isn’t to provide blanks to be filled in with the right answer.

My job is to spark intrinsic motivation.

My job is to inspire learning. 

My job is to ignite passion.

My job is to encourage kids to take on challenges. 

My job is to get kids so fired up about learning and questioning and wondering that each day they discover something new.

My job is to get kids asking questions that don’t have clear answers and to be okay with facing such ambiguity. 

My job is to get kids to build things, to figure out how something works. 

My job is to improve on something they believed was “okay” and make it even better.

It’s never too early to inspire and it’s certainly NEVER too late to start, but we MUST think more differently about it than we ever have before.  Worksheets, busy work, fill in the right answers/bubbles, test “prep” work do NOT inspire learning and deeper understanding – ask open questions, ask for an opinion, ask to make something better, ask to improve an old idea, ask simply to discover.

Dear “Mom of the Year”,
Thank you for speaking so beautifully on behalf of your child and in doing so, speaking for all children who don’t have a voice. 
children everywhere

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