As my generation gets older and starts having kids that are now beginning to go off to school, I am startled by what I see and hear while my friends are signing up their little tikes for kindergarten even preschool, not by how much school has changed from when I and my friends attended, the technology, the brazen audaciousness of students, but the fundamental fact that the educators charged with instilling knowledge into children are the least interested in doing so. Despite posh preschools, alternative kindergartens, one being in an outdoor rain or shine setting designed to get kids connected with nature, teach them focus by giving them interesting things to focus on, we still have kids routinely falling through the cracks. And it goes beyond teachers just teaching for the health benefits or the summers off; it goes beyond bratty children, indulgent parents who have never disciplined their child or constantly makes excuses for them, helicopter parents arguing over grades, overestimating their child’s abilities or even the plight of urban, inner city schools with gangs, drugs, fights, dangers to teacher safety, so much else going on no wonder none of them are concentrating on learning. Instead it goes to the heart of a system whose foundation seems to be summed up in the phrases pass the buck, it’s not my problem; goals are set over the students heads from day one, no one any longer possessing a clue about reasonable expectations per grade level. Only in specialty schools for troubled, at risk youth do teachers from the get go understand the obstacles their students have and adjust their approach accordingly, only at these schools, dealing with older children do teachers and administrators endeavor to listen to students, help them solve their problems. The track to failure perpetuated the second children walk through the doors.
Example woman has her son on list for Head Start; his name doesn’t come up on the waiting list until she is enrolling him in summer school before kindergarten, attempting to give him some prep before actual school began. From the beginning she warns the school about his 2 food allergies, his asthma, the fact he cannot go outside for recess when the temperature is above 90 degrees as it will trigger an attack and the fact that her child has never been in a daycare or preschool setting. Mere days into summer school they try to take away his recess claiming he went inside during that time kept opening doors, running around, making a mess; the mother knew immediately what her son was trying to do, that he had gotten hot playing and had done exactly what she taught him to do to stave off an asthma attack- go inside, sit down, get a drink. Now, should he have asked and waited for permission before doing so of course, but teach him how to do that. Sadly things got no better for the young man as he proceeded to kindergarten; by this time they were reporting “explosive temper tantrums.” The parents tell teacher what they do with him at home; do not talk to him when he’s mad, let him go off by himself and wait for him to return when he is calm, something that takes a matter of minutes and prevents screaming, yelling, throwing things and the young man being suspended. However it took half a year for the teacher to follow this simple advice despite her suspecting he had ADHD, later requesting he be tested and seeing him fall further and further behind. He was held back to repeat kindergarten again this year based on his inability to cooperate with others and lagging math skills.
Over the summer he was evaluated for ADHD tests being inconclusive; testers leaning toward he was indeed ADHD but not severe enough for medication, something the mother refused anyway. Evaluations also revealed a mild learning disability, yet at the start of school it was the same old ballgame with the same teacher though different principal, one who has no interest in the calming technique that worked every time when used the year before once sending him back to class when he was specifically asking for it. He came home during the first week of school saying they were going too fast for him. Upon continued behavior problems, they suggested only having him go half days, an idea the mother rejected on the grounds he needed to learn to cope in preparation for first grade. So they tried putting a tutor in the class with him on the teacher’s comment that he does better with increased individual attention and how the existing tutor, there for another student, was able to help him. Again success was short-lived as they stopped consistently doing the calm technique on the grounds they did not have time going from art to music to P.E. He is currently under extended evaluation for an IEP (individual education plan) to address both academic and behavioral concerns; finally on his last behavioral incident the parent said let him go half days and send the remainder of the work home with us and I’ll work with him after he was suspended for smacking a child in the mouth for asking him to be quiet. Regardless of appearances, this is not a child growing up in an undisciplined household sans rules; in fact the parents are possibly too strict.
That being said, she is not going to punish her son for things she sees as the school’s failure; she even had to chastise the school for not calling her immediately after the problem occurred so she could come and correct him, opting to wait 2 hours for some unknown reason. She is not going to spank the behavior out of him when she herself is frustrated and fed up with the school’s failure to use the suggestions she has given, they begged for in the first place unable to generate any solid ones of their own, when it has taken this long to try and get him help and a general failure to be able to teach all around. Illustrated by not only the latest incident in which the principal used an anti-bullying statute to suspend her child because he hit another student, but at least one additional minor instance where he got upset during snack time, because after he had already chosen his snack, a small Kit Kat bar his mother put there for him, they said healthy snack and informed the mother they were trying to teach students the difference. Mother’s advice to her son, find out what they want you to have first, leaving the obvious question of why didn’t the teacher specify that from the beginning, because if he had simply not listened she (his mother) would have told him he needed to and/or punished him accordingly. Additionally when he does act out and it’s clear it’s all him or a bad attitude he is punished, once having to do homework all weekend for getting sent home from school; when he was pushing ahead of kids getting off the bus she suggested the driver make him get off last, a way of teaching him to wait his turn and if that didn’t work she had other ideas. Measured responses meant to impart lessons.
Unfortunately this parent’s experience is indicative of several issues plaguing schools nationwide today, not only in terms of help and services designed for children with special needs, disabilities or behavior problems but issues bound to effect all students the moment they start school, beginning with the growing trend of teachers who have no idea how to handle children who have not been previously indoctrinated by preschool, teachers and school administrators who no longer understand that kindergarten is a big adjustment for kids even if they have had a prior preschool experience. It could be as simple as a child missing their old teacher, friends and school, adjusting to different rules than their school setting before, let alone the impact for a child who has had no former experience; also lost on teachers, the pure truth that preschool is not available to all children. Many parents today are astonished and perplexed by the amount of information kids are required to know as they start kindergarten, including their parent’s names, address, phone number, how to tie their shoes; those obviously being safety necessities. Beyond that they needed to know their alphabet, their primary colors, shapes how to count to 100, be able to write their names; leaving multiple parents saying so what are you going to teach my child? In this case the mother reported they were trying to get her son to write sentences, a task she shrewdly noted was first grade work, she should know having babysat her share of school age kids in lower grades. Pertaining to why this particular woman’s son was held back, in addition to his erratic behavior they claim he cannot work independently; however the first day his mother worked with him she told him she would not look at his papers until they were all completed, to get him to continue working all she had to do was repeat her earlier statement, telling him to switch activities if he was confused or frustrated. Why can’t his teacher do the same, or provide help when he appears frustrated, lost, teach him to ask for help then?
Social expectations are far off base here and typical in other school’s too; the goal at the end of kindergarten should be a child that can cooperate both with peers and authority not one who automatically does so perfectly when they walk in. The goal should be a student who understands the rules and thus can move on to the next grade with ease not one who already does before they have even gotten through the first quarter of the school year. None of the teachers in this young boy’s school seem to know anything about handling children evident by the snack scenario; the teacher should have said today we want you to choose healthy snacks at snack time, reviewed some examples or, if this is a first time concept, asking students to name some examples, before snack time draw aforementioned examples or their favorite healthy snack. Doing so means everyone knows what’s expected at snack time and there are no tantrums from anyone; further, it presents expectations in such a way as not to upset a young kid not so far from their toddler years, instead of what this teacher did, forcing a student to choose something else after already having their heart set on one particular item, a situation ripe to cause a tantrum in any child that age, never mind one showing signs of a behavioral or emotional problem. Before any naysayers look at this and think it’s too lenient, it’s making excuses, consider that you treat a kindergartener differently than a 5th grader; why, because you are dealing with a completely different maturity level. A choice outside of conditioning student behavior would be to ask parents to only send healthy snacks with their kids. Similarly it could be asked why the principal was involved in the hitting incident at all, why he simply wasn’t sent to calm down, have his recess taken away or some other minor reprimand informing both sets of parents at the end of the day. Structural problems too exist, because her son attends an all-day kindergarten he is subjected to a 30 minute nap or rest time, as she pointed out to them likely exacerbating his behavior, due to him A- having outgrown a nap and B- always been let wake up on his own from naps when he was taking them. Students still taking naps at home aren’t going to do well with 30 minutes of nap time, making them cranky, irritable and far from ready to learn after the allotted time. Better to make it at least an hour or not do it at all.
Here is an elementary school that has made it clear they don’t want to deal with a very young person who seems to be the typical boy, houses a principal trying to earn their stripes or their job, failing to realize small children hit each other; it’s what they do. It is typical kindergarten/first grade behavior that they will grow out of only needing to be handled properly. And no one is condoning his or any other student’s unacceptable actions, but most can agree it’s how you handle it; whether or not he is ADHD, try strategies that work with such kids, see if they work for him. His teacher, who is on board with following the parent’s suggestions, cannot go it alone when others in the school do not support them. Again coming back to goals, the goal is to find a way for this child to be successful, to remain in the educational environment, to learn and be able to move on, to do exactly the opposite of what this school has done which is send him home every time they don’t want to deal with the problem, his mother remarking they do the calming technique when it suites them, displaying the exact kind of inconsistency a child struggling doesn’t need. Considering he is under evaluation for an IEP to confront the problems, why would you not use a simple calming technique that takes minutes, why can’t they make the small leap that at his age academically delayed almost always means emotionally delayed as well; translating into while he may be chronologically age 6, emotionally he could be more like age 4. That possibility in play demands a significant change in approach, especially in light of the deficiencies detailed effecting all kids’ learning not just his. Because it’s not a case of infringing on other students’ time, learning quality; it’s a case of adults in power saying we don’t want to. Giving credit to every wonderful teacher out there going above and beyond, making learning fun, doing more with less, certainly able to handle the child detailed above, why is this school so lacking in the basic skills of managing children, why is no one’s goal to aid kids in functioning within the environment they presently occupy and to prepare them for the next one, in this case first grade? Why does that appear to be such a foreign concept in today’s school system?
Even when parents try to take advantage of preschool options, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything positive; despite having her son participate in first steps an early childhood learning program, despite using the local Lend and Learn program for socialization and extended toy access, surrounding him with books, her first child had a horrible first year at school and is on track for a repeat. The parent above was determined her second child would not be subject to the same negative school experience, thus signing him up for preschool earlier. His name came up at two and a half; originally they said they would assist in potty training. So she gathers all the paperwork, gets the required medical screening only to be asked again if he is fully potty trained and be sent away when he was not. Now at age 4, completely potty trained and her being prodded by the local Lend and Learn teacher, she tries to have him screened for preschool. He doesn’t talk to strangers so the screener began with can he talk, an absolutely silly question as she would be having him seen for much more if he could not. Screener cannot get him to complete needed exercises, yet when the mother steps in, gets him to do the majority of the tasks only to be told he is not ready. Garnering the response excuse me isn’t that what preschool is for; you will put my son in a preschool class. At which time screener changes her tune saying oh we will but he’ll need another screening; woman saying emphatically no, you will put my son in a preschool class, only for him to be placed on a waiting list, projected start date next fall.
Once more you have another educational entity trying to turn a child away saying he isn’t ready when at age 4 they expected this toddler to manipulate scissors, something the parent told them he had never done that she wasn’t going to give an active 4-year-old even a pair of kid, safety scissors with a younger child in the house, as it is an accident waiting to happen. Exhibited here is a preschool screener who has trouble getting children to do tasks, likely has had no training in how to do so, and, judging by her comments, expects his parents to teach him how to use scissors, a host of other things before they will accept him vs. realizing that is what preschool is designed to do in addition to readying children for kindergarten. As alluded to, a game of “pass the buck” and not my problem; preschools demand teaching from parents, elementary schools seeing it as the preschool’s job to ensure kids comprehend certain concepts, your child couldn’t get into preschool, too bad it’s on you, you wanted your child at home until starting k-12 schooling, then it’s your job to ready them. A two sentence summation of educator and administrator attitudes forgetting that’s why we have educational programs to train preschool, early childhood workers and why that training is required for people who work in those fields. Forgetting there is a reason you have to go to school, be educated, trained to be a teacher; it’s why we have an educational system in this country, because not every parent can teach their child. Even homeschooling parents are given materials to guide the learning process and depending on which state you live in, your child is required to take state exams or meet certain milestones. All so that children assimilate the information needed to function in the world today and tomorrow.
With the death of Apple founder Steve Jobs came the timely release of his one authorized biography, quotes and comments from the authors several interviews with Jobs in preparation for the book have shocked many. I was struck by the one regarding education; certainly not surprised, definitely disappointed to hear Jobs’ ideas to make things better consisted of schools being open until 6 pm and in session 11 months out of the year. Putting aside the impracticality of his model, that if children where there until then the temptation would be to work them all those hours not turn say the 4:00-6:00 slot into a built-in after school program. As if such a set up would be acceptable to parents of pre-k through second grade students, mandating schools be open 11 months out of the year creates more headaches than lack of family vacation, lack of down time for kids already stressed; the idea means several problems with cooling either kids or buildings during the summer, holding student concentration without air conditioning. Winter means getting students safely to and from school on slick, icy, snow-covered roads, increasingly combating huge storms known to paralyze cities, not just close schools for a day or two, now seen in areas unprepared for the type of weather they are experiencing. Continuing he states this at a time when school districts are switching to 4 day weeks to conserve fuel consumption for buses, power consumption for school buildings and showing positive results in less absenteeism from both students and teachers alike. Besides it isn’t what is truly needed; neither is, no recess to boost academic performance, banning everything from Catsup to chocolate milk to juices, to do everything from curb obesity to getting kids to sit still for extended periods of time, forcing kids into uniforms, sex segregated classrooms to enhance focus.
What is truly needed is to properly utilize the time students spend in the classroom not just make them spend more of it. Truly needed is the adequate start for students in both exposure to preschool and proper foundational education in the early grades k-12 so that teachers at charter schools, for the few getting a good chance, don’t have to put in 18 hour days trying to get children in the ball park of where they should be (what happened with one teacher at a charter school actually happy to be fired, because it no longer meant saying no to her family to help her students). If we embarked on the premise mentioned in the opening paragraph, adopted by at least one at risk youth school, of listening to students and attempting to help them solve their problems from the moment they started pre- k, the focus would be entirely different. Our young man wouldn’t be throwing a fit at snack time, because it would have been handled in one of the ways detailed above, preventing the problem all together. He wouldn’t have a chance to hit another student because someone would have been watching him, seem him getting bored, antsy, frustrated and intervened. Teachers would automatically understand part of their job description is comprehending the challenges their students face outside the classroom, being given the administrator and social supports to aid those students and crafting an approach that makes kids want to come to school, want to learn and see the value in that learning the second they walk through the door. Instead of what they encounter now teachers who neither understand nor care, who write them off based on “bad” behavior, often ignoring evidence of emotional, behavioral or learning problem, that properly diagnosed and treated, could be eliminated or at least managed. Other teachers who hold grudges and prejudices against students based on where they live, economic status or life experiences.
And it, the status quo, the passing of the buck, the let people learn it by osmosis mentality reaches past k-12 learning into both the college and employment worlds; droves of students today aren’t told they may need something beyond a B.A. to succeed in their chosen career field, are in the dark about summer jobs, internships, practical experience required to augment their educations to be able to find a job after earning a degree, vocational certificate. Employers engage in the monumentally stupid practice of not being willing to speak with up and comings about the jobs they hold or give an accurate picture of how you get a job at business X, refuse to create, maintain on the job training in the latest PC software, other materials related to their job or provide basic training to new employees in any area, then bemoan their inability to find qualified workers, are rarely seen speaking at colleges, universities, vocational training centers while screaming about the need for better education. But the biggest thing needed for better education on all levels is the one thing we do have but are not using, the willingness to teach, the willingness to give information, a willingness to fully actualize the potential of educational institutions that already exist has yet to be done, a crime against our children and our future.