There were hints as early as preschool that my daughter wasn’t a good fit for traditional schooling. The preschool director called us when my daughter was three to complain about her behavior. “She dawdles on the steps when we go to the playground,” the director said. “And she brought the toilet plunger out to the hallway yesterday.” Apparently my daughter wanted to know what the plunger was.
In other words, she was a curious child. Not poorly behaved, not a troublemaker, not difficult — just a normal, average, curious kid.
We pursued traditional education up to and through kindergarten. But watching my daughter get off her school bus every day, completely defeated and sad, clutching yet another behavior note in her hand (“Tori wouldn’t sit still today.” “Tori talked to her table neighbor during quiet time.” Tori fidgeted in line for recess, so she lost her recess privileges.”) was too much for us, and we began searching for other options.
Blessedly, a Sudbury school had opened up in our city, and the tuition was affordable. For the last two years I’ve watched my daughter blossom into a happy kid that misses school on the weekends, and she’s learned so much on her own. It’s magical. This month she opened up her own “business” at the school making clothes for dolls. It’s amazing.
Because of her success at this school, I got a call from a friend who has an 8-year-old son struggling in school. She’d gone to a meeting and was told, by a team of educators, that her son was (in her words) “broken.” She was devastated. I hear this story again and again and again from parents, on blog posts and in person. While I don’t believe that everyone is a fit for a Sudbury school (in fact, most people aren’t), I know people are seeking alternatives (I have a friend, for instance, who has two sons succeeding in a brick-and-mortar version of a cyber school).
I thought of all of this today when I read this article about a public school kindergarten teacher who has quit in frustration. Here is part of her resignation letter.
In this disturbing era of testing and data collection in the public schools, I have seen my career transformed into a job that no longer fits my understanding of how children learn and what a teacher ought to do in the classroom to build a healthy, safe, developmentally appropriate environment for learning for each of our children. I have experienced, over the past few years, the same mandates that all teachers in the district have experienced. I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them. Each year, I have been required to spend more time attending classes and workshops to learn about new academic demands that smack of 1st and 2nd grade, instead of Kindergarten and PreK. I have needed to schedule and attend more and more meetings about increasingly extreme behaviors and emotional needs of children in my classroom; I recognize many of these behaviors as children shouting out to the adults in their world, “I can’t do this! Look at me! Know me! Help me! See me!”
This breaks my heart. Children are not data points. Schools are failing our kids — and it’s not because of the teachers. I truly believe they are doing their very best in a broken system. This has to change. What will it take? I am incredibly privileged to be able to both locate and afford a private school option for my child. Most people are not that lucky.
We have to fix this. And SOON.