So, here is the letter I meant to read…
To Whom It May Concern,
I have been a public educator for almost 20 years. Although I have many things I’d like to say about the recent burdens that have been placed upon boards of education, superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, and children, I’m here today to be a voice for my 9 year old son and many other children like him. Forgive me if I get emotional, but I am VERY emotional about what he has encountered during his 3rd grade year at public school. Yet, I am probably more emotional about what he has NOT encountered, and that is hands-on, authentic learning. My son is a brilliant, piano-playing, baseball-loving, kind human being. He is a sponge who thrives on learning about the world around him, AND he reads at a 6th grade level. Early on in the school year, my husband and I started seeing some behaviors that were out of our son’s character. Tears fell on his math homework more than once. Worse yet, the Pearson Reading Streets tests, that come home EVERY SINGLE WEEK for corrections, have been a constant source of frustration for him and our whole family. Often, we will all sit down and look at the questions my son got “wrong” and none of us can figure out which answer is “right”. Every parent knows that it is extremely uncomfortable to be in that position where you cannot help your child as he or she searches your face for guidance and assurance. The questions and passages on these tests are worded so poorly, and they are so developmentally inappropriate, that even students like my son, who is instrisically motivated to always do his best, are constantly feeling inadequate to the point of breaking down. With the new “system”, it seems nothing is ever good enough. Of course, just as heart-breaking are the kids who read below grade level or have IEP’s and are lost from the start of most activities because they can’t read the text or move quickly enough to make even small gains. I even hear from parents who say their child is unaffected, yet because of my experiences with children over many years, I know this is not the case. Those student have simply chosen to accept that life at school means doing worksheets and taking tests. I worry about them, too, because they are the ones who will probably never love school even though they have the potential to become great learners. They are the kids who enter high school with a glazed look on their faces and do what they have to just to get by.
After several meetings and phone calls with my son’s teacher and principal and after much research on my part, I came to a startling conclusion a few weeks ago. My son and his 3rd grade classmates will take over 500 pages of tests this year. The number is shocking, I know. Unfortunately, I have no power to change this, and because I am an educator myself, I feel guilty for even challenging what another educator chooses to do in her classroom. After all, I know the challenges of being a teacher. Yet I also know that when I became a mom, I became a much better teacher.
I come from a family of educators. My father was a teacher for thirty five years, and my mother was a high school and college educator for twenty years before moving on to the business world. I was in school before I could walk or talk. I was the cute little mascot/cheerleader for the football team when I was four. I valued my education from the time I entered school, and I was taught that I was to respect all teachers and learn from them. My AP English teacher inspired me so much that I became one myself. To this day, Mr. Baines is the best teacher I have ever known. My high school basketball coach loved me unconditionally and showered me with awards that made me truly believe in myself for the first time. She made me a better basketball player, but more importantly, she made me a better person.
I am the product of public education. I have always been proud of the opportunities that have been afforded me. I have always been proud to be a teacher; however, in the last couple years my pride wavers. I am no longer proud of our public education system. Teachers everywhere are being forced to do things that go against everything we have been trained to do. Class sizes have grown, schools all over the country are being shut down as I write this, and students are being reduced to tears and test scores. Public schools are being sold out to businesses such as Pearson that do not have our children’s best interests at heart, and communities have little to no input in decisions that are being made for our children.
I believe every child is unique. I believe every child can learn. I believe every child has potential to do something great in life. I believe every child has a reasonable desire to learn reading, writing and arithmetic in an authentic way, not just through a text book. I believe that children are not learning when they are testing. I believe that I can and will continue to make a positive difference.
When I returned home from above mentioned forum the other night, I found on my facebook wall a picture/quote from a former student who was in my 9th grade English class twelve years ago. It read, “This made me think of you”…. and the picture said, “Teachers who love teaching, teach children to love learning.” This thoughtful gesture was a heart-warming reminder of why I will always love teaching as long as I can do it in a way that works for my students and for. More importantly, this reminded me why I need to keep pushing back.