Previously, I posted about my decision to leave the classroom and become a Literacy Specialist this fall, but I thought I’d share a little more around what prompted me to take this new career path. As I mentioned before, this was not an easy decision, for sure, it is bittersweet as I have loved so much about my time in the kindergarten classroom (specifically the kids, really, kindergarteners are a unique breed of child, quite unlike any other age). So what prompted this change for me?
First and foremost, my passion for literacy. Of all the jobs I had in the classroom – and let’s face it, classroom teachers do so much more than ‘teach’ – my favorite part of each day was sitting down with my class and sharing books. There were days we would read five or six books, often using them to learn about plot, setting, or characters, but other times, just reading them for pure joy. I also love teaching kids how to read and write. There’s something about seeing the lightbulb go off when a child realizes, ‘hey, I love books!’ or ‘hey, I can read!’ It’s priceless. My hope is, through my work as a Literacy Coach, working with teachers on literacy instruction both in the classroom and during PD days, I’ll be able to spread my love for literacy and literacy instruction to others.
My lack of passion for math. I’m going to get real here, I’m not the biggest fan of math. I know how to add a tip to a bill and balance a checkbook and I understand we need and use math daily, it’s just not a passion of mine. I was the kid who freshman year of college had to take a remedial math class because I didn’t have the right credits for my degree (embarrassing) and then struggled through the class (mortifying). I often joked, ‘it’s a good thing I teach kindergarten because I couldn’t handle the math in any other grade’ – fact is, I wasn’t completely joking. Luckily, every job I’ve had has used a canned math program, but some of the ‘games’ had me reading and rereading the instructions in order to teach them… to five-year-olds. My new job completely takes teaching math off the table for me and that is a good thing for everyone involved.
And finally, in a word – stress. The stress of being a classroom teacher is like nothing else, unless you’ve done it yourself, you can’t truly fathom what it means to be responsible for twenty plus (if you’re lucky) kids for the entire day. Not only do you have to make sure everyone is safe and sound by the time the day is over, you actually have to teach them to read, write, and do math too! Don’t forget many of the kids are dealing with issues at home even me, a grown man, wouldn’t be able to handle well, so they bring the stresses of home to school with them and in turn, as their teacher, you take them on. Have I mentioned how many times I’ve shoved food into a child’s backpack on a Friday afternoon hoping they’ll have enough to eat over the weekend with no school breakfast or lunch?
As if all that stress wasn’t hard enough, now comes the added bonus of testing. Oh yeah, we are now giving standardized tests to kindergartners. When I started teaching kindergarten, ‘testing’ consisted of one on one activities we used to assess and drive instruction. Children love spending one on one time with their teacher, so even though it was tricky pulling kids while the rest of the class worked, it felt organic, and most of all, developmentally appropriate. We’re now in a time of ‘No Race Common to the Top Child Left Behind’. Schools are failing and as when anything seems to be going in the wrong direction, people are looking for someone or something to blame. Let’s give all the kids a test and see just how ‘effective’ these instructors are! Teachers are the ones doing the teaching, right? Seems simple enough to point the finger in their direction.
Here’s the thing, while teachers are responsible for teaching, they’re aren’t solely responsible for a child’s learning. If my doctor tells me to eat healthy, exercise three times a week, and stop smoking and I ignore her and then develop heart disease or diabetes, is it her fault? Our students have lives beyond the six or seven hours a day they’re with us – often difficult lives that prohibit them from accessing all we’re teaching them. Now, you’re going to give my students a fifty-seven question test in reading and another fifty-seven question test in math three times a year and then determine how effective my teaching is based solely on that? There’s so many things wrong with that scenario, I don’t even know where to start, but let me start with the test itself.
Ask any kindergarten teacher you know (or yourself if you’re one), would you ever, under any circumstance, ask one of your students to sit and take a fifty-seven (typically taking between forty-five and sixty minutes) question test? How about two of these tests? Three times a year? Of course not. I wouldn’t ask my students to have that type of stamina at the end of kindergarten let alone the beginning. It’s preposterous and borders on cruel. But ‘other districts all around the country are doing it’ you might hear. To quote my wise mother, ‘If Johnny jumped off a bridge would you?’ Do the kids cry? Some do. Do I cry? Only on the inside.
Now, you’re going to take those test results and base a teacher’s evaluation on how a class performs? Really? How accurate are those results? Would a doctor want to be evaluated based on the blood tests of her patients? Is it fair?
Here’s the irony. This past year, my students rocked the test. They showed tremendous growth and I was considered ‘highly effective’ based on the percentage of students who met national norms and growth targets. I don’t care. I’m going to write that again. I DON’T CARE. A test score means so little to me. Does that child love to read? Does that child feel safe? Does that child think outside the box when playing a math game? Does that child feel loved and accepted? Does that child love learning? A test score doesn’t tell me any of that and personally, basing my effectiveness as a teacher on a test score is insulting.
To be clear, leaving the classroom has not been an easy decision for me. I’ve shed more than a few tears over it and the last weeks and days with my students were particularly bittersweet. I know many are concerned with the direction our public education system is headed and to them, all I can say is I hope the pendulum starts to swing back towards the developmentally appropriate practices we all know are best for kids. To all my teacher friends, keep doing your best to make each child’s education the best you can, teachers are brilliant, amazing, compassionate, deeply caring people – and some of my best friends. I love kids and I love teaching and my hope is in my new position and district, I’ll be able to focus on what I love.