Becoming a mom, I was excited when each of my children entered school. If I loved learning and school, they would too, right? In Kindergarten and first grade my son had fantastic teachers. They both told us what a good student he was, he was happy all the time, and we looked forward to watching him grow and learn.
Second grade was a completely different story. I was saddened to learn that it’s common knowledge among parents that your kids will have good years and bad years and those years are largely determined by who the teacher is. If your child has a great teacher he or she will learn leaps and bounds. If your child has a not so great teacher not only will he or she learn less but your child may fall behind.
Let’s not put all the blame on the teachers. Parents, school policy, administration, and even funding have roles here as well. For second grade my son had a new teacher. By new I mean first year out of college. Due to district budget cuts, there were no teacher assistants for classes. A new emphasis on testing was also put in place for all grades as the district moved to a pay for performance model for teachers (teachers’ pay is determined by how well their children score on standardized tests). For grades K-2, these tests must be administered orally as the children can’t all read yet.
This teacher, first year out of college, with a class of 25 students, would spend weeks at a time administering tests one-on-one, one-by-one with each child while the other children were given busy work and told to remain quiet in their seats. My son, in the second grade, seven years old, declared he hated school. He fell behind in most subjects, and his two parents, who both work in education, were ashamed to admit that no matter what they tried, their child could not read nor did he want to.
My son complained about the testing. He complained about the teacher yelling at other students. He withdrew and seemed depressed. At this point we were worried that he might have a learning disability. The school refused to help because his problems were not severe enough, so we paid to take him to a child psychologist who said my son was extremenly intelligent, mature for his age, and most likely was bored in school.
The relief! We had not failed as parents. He needed to be challenged more at school. However he was already enrolled in a learning immersion magnet program. But with all the testing there was little time left for learning.
I dropped in occasionally to see what was happening in the classroom. Nearly every time I dropped in, the class was out of control and the teacher was yelling at the students. Meanwhile my son would just look at me as if to say, “See I told you so.” We seriously considered home schooling.
Later that year, I took a new job in a different city and we moved and enrolled in a new school system. My son’s attitude about school changed almost immediately. His class had not only one teacher, but a full time teacher’s assistant, and a mostly-full time student teacher from the local university. His class, only slightly smaller, had three teaching professionals in the class all day. With less emphasis on testing, there was more emphasis on making learning fun. By the end of the school year, my son was at grade level and loved school again. He even began reading stories to his sister.
This year, in third grade, things are still good. Three adults in the class are still making learning fun. This year is the first year my son takes official EOGs, end of grade tests to ensure he’s on grade level. However, the teacher does not teach to the test or if she does she makes it fun. My son earned three As and one B on his last report card, and I’m proud to say he’s now reading at a middle school level. My daughter in Kindergarten also has three teaching professionals in her class and she loves school as well. Both children read for fun every night at bed time. My daughter reads no matter where we are, like her mom she always has a book in hand.
What happened here? How can our experiences be so different?
We did everything we were supposed to as parents. We read to our children daily. We have a home full of books. We are involved with the schools. We communicate with the teachers and attend parent teach conferences. We spend hours helping with homework. We use positive reinforcement. We sought out help when there were problems.
I am scared to think of what might have happened had we not moved. Would my son still be behind and hate school? I like to think I could have solved this problem somehow. But the truth is parents in public school systems are at the mercy of the district, its policies, and the teacher. The other thing I think about is that there were other kids who excelled at our former school. Each child is different, learns different, and our current educational system of standardized testing does not allow for that or at least not all teachers are trained properly in how to teach under this system.
As a parent, I cannot emphasize how important it is to be involved in your child’s education and know what is going on at school and in the school system. As educators we must either fight legislation like no child left behind or find a way to work with it that allows us to still instill a passion for learning in children. As parents we need to support our teachers and find out what they need to more effectively teach our children.
I’d love to hear from other parents and teachers about this. Have you had two vastly different school experiences?
Note:I’m happy to see that our former school system revoked the pay for performance program and the testing that went with it. However there are many systems looking to adopt this model. Had we stayed in this school system I believe we would have eventually enrolled in a charter school or began homeschooling.