I’ve been an educator most of my life.
Apparently—and according to my parents—I was “born with a chalkboard in one hand and a baby in the other.”
Over the past 40 years, I’ve worked with students of all ages, from pre-k to adult. I’ve taught in large county-wide government-run systems, small public districts, Catholic schools, loosely-connected homeschooling settings, and my own brood of six.
I have seen and experienced many swings in the educational world, I’ve suffered through the imbalances in different systems, I’ve watched the naive embrace of new ideas (some good and some bad), as well as the reluctance of some to dismiss outdated methods. I’ve worked with amazing individuals willing to share and open to learn, I’ve worked with some whose minds are closed, and every type of educator, parent, and child in-between.
Years ago, one of the trends running through education was value-less education, the idea that we should not force our values on others. This idea was fatally flawed from its inception; teachers, parents, and others involved in the lives of children (or humans of any age) demonstrate and teach values constantly by their actions and attitudes.
And like it or not, this is how your child is indoctrinated in the classroom. I believe that most parents would be shocked if they realized what went on in these large school systems and the propaganda that their children receive daily, whether intentionally or not.
It happens in subtle ways and begins at the youngest age, through the choice of literature, the wording of math word problems, the current events discussed, the acceptance as ‘gospel’ of certain points of view, the perspective of teachers in presenting history, the language used, and more. With a focus on political correctness, children are not taught to think critically or analyze the world around them; they are exposed to one point of view—the prevailing political view of the day. Schools have become ‘echo chambers’ of thought, and this is dangerous in a free society.
Another major and dangerous flaw in the large systems is that teaching is dedicated to test preparation in one way or another—the wording used on tests is analyzed, ‘unpacked,’ and used in all exercises. ‘Look-alike’ tests are created and used in the classroom to prepare students for these assessments. In these government-run schools I’ve been forced to teach to the test by administrators intent on producing data that reflects well on them, being told such absurd things as, “Students should never see questions for the first time on a test…” and “to feel less ‘dirty’ about this, just think of it as preparing students to do well.” I’ve been given scripts to follow, told what questions to ask and how to phrase those, what literature to use, and told what I can and cannot hang on the walls in the classroom.
In Virginia, SOL (Standards of Learning) testing begins in third grade. I can assure you, having lived through this, that the focus of administrators, and therefore of teachers (if you want to stay employed and provide for yourself or your family), is to prepare children for these tests. Staff meetings, professional development, teaming, and teacher evaluations are heavily biased in using this testing data as a measure of ‘success’ as individuals and as schools.
My conscience and freedom-loving perspective could no longer tolerate this system: a system that makes testing, data, and sameness the ultimate goal rather than educating the whole child. I left the government-run system and found a private school that aligns with my passion for true education, with a focus on allowing and promoting critical thinking, allowing creativity on the part of the professional educator, and a more reasonable (much less) standardized testing schedule. My students show growth and achievement beyond that of my students in the government school setting.
Now, COVID-19 hits. Children are home with parents, teachers are scrambling to teach from a whole new platform, parents struggling to balance home and school roles.
What is the response of the state of VA? SOL tests are cancelled. Those ‘all-important, time consuming, pinnacle of importance’ tests are cancelled. Schools scramble to find equity and balance in the midst of these strange times. In some counties, the expectations are low; very little is required or expected from teachers and students—work is optional, and if done can only improve the grades of students. What kind of educational response is this?
Because I am now in a private school setting, I am still teaching daily—recording lessons, running Zoom meetings with students, finding and creating appropriate and targeted lessons for my students. I do this because I do not teach numbers, content, or data. I teach human beings.
I mourn the loss of seeing and interacting daily with my students. The system of love, support, and personal relationships that I’ve worked so hard to build with them has been altered. The routine and structure of the day, the movement of the classroom, the life lessons, the hard work, fun, and creativity that I work so hard to build into their day and their work has been changed.
However, I embrace the challenge that is presented: nurturing these little humans, maintaining and furthering the connections that exist, and fostering a love for learning and curiosity about the world, all while teaching core content in a balanced manner that respects the child’s and parent’s circumstance.
I am hoping that as we face this unprecedented time in our lives, that parents and teachers will grow in respect for each other. I hope that parents will become more involved in their child’s life and education, and will find their voice in speaking up and out about the lack of balance in their child’s government-run system. I hope that these systems will be challenged, that solutions will be sought and found.
In the meantime, go outside, run, play, climb, walk, explore, listen to the wind, watch the trees bloom and the earth waken. Speak, listen, and hug each other. Try new things. Open your mind. Quiet yourself.
Discover that you can learn anywhere.