It’s the first full week of school in this part of New York. Normally, this is a time of year where kids are excited to meet their new teacher, and their teachers are excited to start a new year and get to know their new students. This year is a bit different…
As America looks to better their education system and rid the system of ‘bad teachers,’ we are seeing a system that is now based in fear. Fear that our teachers are not teaching effectively. Fear that our students are not getting enough out of their education. Fear that there’s just not enough time in a day to teach what needs to be taught. Fear, that we, as teachers, are not enough. Fear, fear, fear.
With all of this fear, we are now being driven to test our students ad nauseum. I teach 1st grade. Some kids are still 5 years old when they walk through the door. Others will soon turn seven. They are still babies in many ways, yet we are expecting them to sit and be tested for hours at a time before they have even had the chance to get to know their new teacher and the new routine.
This week, I watched as my children were forced to take several tests so that we could ‘show growth‘ by the end of the year (and the tests continue through this month). It’s not the baseline test that upsets me. I believe that we do, in fact, need some sort of baseline to see where our kids are at the start of the year and then again at the end of the year. We wouldn’t be responsible educators if we weren’t measuring their growth and monitoring our instruction as we went through our year. Any caring teacher knows that, and likely has devised their own tests or growth measures to be sure the children are in fact growing and learning. What truly bothers me is not only how we are testing our children, but more importantly, how much we are testing our children.
The tests that we are administering to our students need to be ‘rigorous’, according to our system. This week, I saw that rigorous apparently means, ‘so difficult that its hard for any student, even the brightest, to feel successful at the end of the test.’
This week, I taught my students to breathe deeply. I empowered them with positive affirmations, and told them that these tests were only to tell me what to teach them through the year. Yet I still saw tears. I still watched their breathing increase to a shallow, scared pant. I still saw their spirits sink. All of this because they look to us for guidance and they want to do well. It breaks my heart that we have come to a point in education where we must begin our school year like this.
I believe that in order to truly teach effectively, we must educate the whole child. I also believe, that in order to do that, we must touch their hearts before we teach their minds.
By welcoming our children to a new school year with test after test, we are simply allowing fear to drive our educational system. Worse, we are giving our children the message right from the start that they are not enough. What a terrible message to send to any person, much less a child.
I work hard to teach children to believe in themselves and speak their truth every day of my life. This movement in education, although it started with good intent, is harshly off course.
If we truly want change in education, then we need to start educating from a place of love instead of fear. The only way to do this is to utilize tests that show what a child ‘knows‘ at the start of the year (based upon prior learning), and what the child has learned by the end of the year. That would certainly show growth, and it wouldn’t bruise their fragile view of themselves in the process by testing them on skills that they are expected to know by the end of the year.
I agree that we need change in education, but is this really the best change for our children? With all of the issues we face in society based around fear, such as; violence, depression, anxiety and the break down of the family, shouldn’t we be building our children up, instead of breaking them down?
I vote for letting kids be kids. Give us, the teachers, the chance to welcome our students. Give us the opportunity to embrace them and touch their hearts before we teach their minds. If we continue on this path, no child will ever like school, nor will they truly be learning. When we come from a place of fear, there is no love, and where there is no love, there is no trust. Children need to feel loved, accepted and safe in order to thrive. I don’t want my students or my son to simply learn in order to plot data. I want my children to thrive. How about you?