Friday, September 19, 2014

Enough. Let them be.

My seven-year-old is "Star of the Week" in his first grade class, so this morning he could pick out two special things to bring to school to show to his classmates.  Oh, boy, was he excited!  Without hesitation, he disappeared into his room and emerged two seconds later with his arms full of blankies and his favorite stuffed animal, Kanga and Little Roo.  "Is this too many things, Mommy?  I know it's three but these are my favorites."  My heart melted into a puddle at the sight of his precious lovies piled up to his chin.  He might love Angry Birds and Star Wars and fighter jets and basketball and Lego and fart jokes, but he's still my baby.  There's no "cool" filter here, just pure, authentic SELF.  Children are simply the best.

I have to admit, it was hard for me to send my boys to full-day school this year.  It's my own heart beating outside my body in my four kiddos, and you had better believe I want to keep them close to me forever!  But, I believe in the good of public schools.  I graduated from public high school, and a public university.  My mom is a public school teacher, and so was I for many years.   Some of the finest people I know are public school teachers, and I was so privileged to learn from them and eventually work along side them. I believe that the free public education we offer all of our citizens is the foundation and future of our democracy.  It's not perfect, but it sure is one of the best things about our country.  Plus, I love our neighborhood school.  They have wonderful teachers, counselor, bus drivers, principal, librarian, secretaries. . .the list goes on!  Their school is full of people who care about kids and love my kids as much as I do.

But, there's one teeny-tiny problem.  And it's making my heart ache.  My kids are little.  They are sweet.  However, the expectations being put on them by the "powers that be" are not little, and not sweet.  We've been feeling the stress already this year.  Testing.  Data.  Testing.  Data.  Data.  Data.  Data.  My kiddos have already spent valuable instructional time taking one huge standardized test this year, and will take it again in the spring.  They have to improve a certain amount on the test, or their teacher will not be considered effective.  "Never mind that he's in the 99th percentile, he had better improve. Otherwise what was his teacher doing all year?"  That sort of thing. All considerations about whether the data is valid or if this is even a valid use of this particular test aside, I just don't feel right about my kids taking all of these tests.

I haven't breathed a word to my kids about their test scores, on the standardized tests or the spelling tests or the math times tests or any test for that matter. 
I don't care if they can't spell "while" yet.  If they read enough books, they will learn. 
I don't care if they can't add fast.  It's only the second month of school. Math facts will come with practice and time.
I especially don't care how my kids "measure up" compared to other kids in their class and district and grade level and world. 

I do care if they LOVE LEARNING. This is why I sent them to school.  This is why I have been answering every ridiculous, insightful or mundane question they have thrown my way for the past seven years of my motherhood and Paul reads them book after book after book even when he is exhausted after a long day at work.  They love to learn.  PBS Kids, Paul and I gave them that!!  PLEASE, DEAR TEST PEOPLE, DON'T TAKE IT AWAY!!!

Love of learning is an attitude that is caught, not taught.  We catch it from our parents, and from our teachers who nurture our curiosity and encourage us to grow.   There's no score for it, no test for it, it simply can't be measured. I feel like my kids are successful in school if they come home and say, "I gave someone a compliment today" or "I love the book that our teacher is reading us!  Let me tell you the funny parts about it!"  I've heard both of those things because their teacher is lovely, and it makes my heart full.  But, I have also heard, "Mommy, I am nervous about my spelling test today.  I don't want to go."  "Mommy, if I am sick, I don't have to go to school, right?  I could just stay home with you?"  There's the heart ache.  I can see it already, the cycle of measurement beginning.  My kids seem to be doing fine on these tests, but when will they start getting burned out on these things?  And what of the kids who don't measure up?  They start feeling that in first grade?  What way is that to start their school career?  All kids want to do well and please the ones they love.  But what if the test says they aren't good enough?  A child is so much more than a test score.

As much as the people who make their living measuring people would like us to believe, you can't measure success.  At least not this way.  In the adult world, we know we can't truly measure success with numbers- your bank account is not where the real wealth is.

Success is resilience in the face of life's challenges. 
Success is people who love you and whom you love in return. 
Success is kindness, patience, and persistence when the odds are against us.

Can you learn the foundations of this kind of success in school?  Yes, you can.  But not if your teacher is forced to teach to a test in order to preserve the roof over their own kiddos' heads.  Only if your teacher is teaching the way they know how to teach.  Those research-based methods of instruction they spent tens of thousands of dollars to study and now can't implement because they are too worried about testing?  Yep, those will help our kids love learning.  The love in their hearts and creativity that they are struggling to express because of the need to produce data?  That will help, too.  Our kids don't need fancy ipads so they can take more tests on the screen, or more standardized tests to give us more data about them, or longer school days to take all of the tests.  They just need to know they are valuable and loved.  The learning will come right along with it.  You can't measure it, but you will see it in the light in their eyes and the joy in their step going into school.

Teaching is not so much a profession as it is a vocation. 
Enough measuring "success", as the life's work of a teacher may not bear fruit until many, many years down the road.
Enough with the pressure of these tests to tell them they have been successful.
Let them be teachers.

Our children are so precious to us.
The important things about them can't be measured.
Enough with the pressure of these tests to tell them they have been successful.
Let them be little.
I don't really know who this letter is to.  I guess all of the "powers that be". All of the "measurers" doing the measurement on my kids and yours and  their teachers, too.  Just. . . enough.  Let them be.  I also don't know what I can do about it, but I guess I just felt like I needed to speak out for our kids and for our tired and frustrated and overworked and caring teachers.  We parents stand behind you. You are good.  You are loved.  You are ENOUGH.