Legal Quandary

Sunday, November 13, 2005

When I Was Your Age, I Walked to School Barefoot. In the Snow. Uphill. Both Ways.

So here it is. I'm turning into my parents.

EC's school puts out a 8-10 page newsletter every week. It contains information on the school dances, the fundraisers, the PTA activities, and what the kids have been learning. Let me start by saying that I think it's great that they do this, although I wish they'd just email it out and save the paper.

The front of this week's newsletter has an article written by the principal. In it, she tries to give parents a snapshot of a day-in-the-life-of-a-teacher. She talks about what time teachers get to school in the morning, how many kids they teach, and the many duties teachers perform that everyone seems to forget (hall patrol, lesson planning, meetings with parents, etc.) And that's cool - with few exceptions, I believe teachers to be very dedicated professionals who do a job that I couldn't do. I mean, can you imagine me in a room with 30 11-year-olds? I can't even handle ONE some days...

Here's where I take issue with the principal's article:

The teacher must also be sensitive to each child's self-esteem taking care not to make any child feel singled out. Remembering that childing need auditory, visual and kinesthetic reinforcement and that young adolescents can only sit still for about twenty minutes, pre-planning is crucial. Remembering that we live in a world where everyone wants to be entertained and instant gratification is an expectation, the teacher needs to exhibit extra-ordinary showmanship no matter how he or she is feeling.

It's actually just that last part that bothers me. I appreciate that the teachers really try to engage the kids, but I have a hard time believing kids "can't" sit still for more than 20 minutes at a time unless someone is putting on a show for them. Is it "can't" or "won't"? And is it "won't" because no one actually expects them to? It seems to me that we're feeding into the problem if we just let kids cruise through life and never actually challenge the kids because we're afraid some kid will feel bad if we tell him to "sit down, shut up, and listen to what the teacher has to say."

I think this does a huge disservice to our children because someday these kids are going to go off to high school and college and be expected to sit still and absorb what teachers have to say - without the benefit of either a dog & pony show to entertain them, or a break every 15 minutes. And the last time I checked, there weren't many employees who gave recess.

I recognize that kids need time to be kids, and I don't begrudge them that. However, I think part of growing up is also learning how to behave in situations that are "boring" or "stressful". Life is not TV. I learned long ago that if I expected to be entertained all the time, I was going to be bitterly disappointed.

I seem to remember sitting still for a full hour at EC's age, and being fully capable of learning something during that time. I didn't have a choice. Maybe it wasn't always effective learning, but I tend to think it was - my 6th grade teacher did a damned good job of keeping us excited about learning and engaged. (Thanks Mr. Wiechelman!)

So when an educator tells me that my child can't be expected to focus on a single task for more than 20 mintues, I begin to wonder if our kids are just living up to our (low) expectations.

and Mrs. Gorilla - you both spend far more time in a (non-law school) classroom than I do. I'd be interested in your impressions. Or anyone else's for that matter. Especially you parents.

I'm a mom!!

My kids' school does not cater to these new realities of children, although before we moved to MA, I would guess their CA school did. My 9 year old has an hour of Math every day - sitting still, and staying focused.

Apparently the idea is that the constant stimulation has done more than "spoil" kids, but rather changed their true capacities. That the stimulation of light and sound and constant activity makes it so that brains work different.

Which is why we've always had very strict t.v. rules in our house, my kids do not have video games, and have very limited computer time.

I don't think I agree with teachers catering to this, either, though. If it is catered to, then you're right, standards are lowered ... why not keep the standards higher, and let parents see that something is wrong with the way their kids are spending their time? It's giving short shrift to those who CAN sit still, and who CAN spend more time learning.

Yet, if teachers don't cater to it, and the majority of the kids tune out after 20 minutes, the students don't do well, test scores go down, teachers get fired, and schools lose money.

My solution has been to give my children extra academic stimulation at home. They read like crazy, we do projects, I insist on extra work, I usually push them to take a passing interest and turn it into more focused research, etc.
I have to say that for all that everyone cracks on California schools, EC had some totally AWESOME teachers in California. The absolute worst teacher was in Seattle. Part of it was because he was brand new and didn't believe in discipline because kids might find it degrading. I wonder if he managed to stick with that philosophy...the principal at that school was also a complete loon who totally bought into the idea of teaching to the lowest common denominator. Which is exactly what prompted me to have EC tested for the Gifted and Talented program. As soon as she was accepted, we moved her to the other school. And the teachers there were incredible.

So I don't think that EC has been too spoiled. We also give her extra activities at home, and we asked about additional learning opportunities parent-teacher conferences - and it was a good thing we did, because there are extra math, science and poetry programs in available. (Which leads me to believe that my kid is not the only one who is bored and somewhat frustrated by the coddling.)

I don't really know what to do for the ones who can't, don't, or won't keep up. What I DO know is that I'm sick of my kid getting shortchanged. And I have to wonder if we wouldn't be pleasantly surprised by the results of challenging the others. I've never read of anyone going on to do great things because their teachers coddled them - all the inspirational stories I've read about people who overcame academic adversity involved teachers who refused to accept mediocrity.
We actually had a good experience in our CA school, too. We just seem to have higher standards here. Oddly, they seemed to sort of rush kids through units quicker in CA, but demand a bit less perfection. Here in MA, they take their time, but expect more during each step of the way.

But the school we were in while in Berkeley CA was VERY small, and for the most part, pretty good. I think the size had a lot to do with it.

I just had a p/t conference for Thing Two, and was *promised* that she would be getting challenge work. She hasn't yet, though, and it's already mid-November, so I'm not sure why the teacher's waiting until after the conference. It was promised all last year, as well, with her - and it didn't come.

So we just do it at home.
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