And I Thought Kindergarten Was Rough. . . Welcome To The Academic Treadmill

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We went to our son’s school for Open House earlier this week. I’ve been fighting a gnarly head cold all week, hence my lack of blogging, but I dosed up on Claritin and Tylenol to get in there and sit in that tiny chair behind Jack’s desk.

He colored a stunning picture of him playing outside on a sunny day which was left on top of his desk. On its back he wrote a little note welcoming us to his classroom. It turns out that this was the only bright spot of the event.

His teacher welcomed us to the first grade classroom by letting us know how busy the kids have been. “I have them on an academic treadmill,” she proclaimed. “I don’t do birthdays. I don’t do holidays. There is not time for me to read to them, and we eat a ‘working snack,'” she continued. She then handed out a packet on the “Common Core Standards” they are enforcing with the kids.  She talked for another ten minutes and then “dismissed us.”  She did not seem to want any questions.

Granted my head was fuzzy from the cold, but I had a hard time processing this information. I wasn’t sure if I was depressed, annoyed, or scared for my kid.  It seems they are trying to tighten up academics, teach more, encourage more independence, and create better learners. But is putting our little ones on an “academic treadmill” the best way?

Her presentation lacked warmth or empathy. While I understand that in this educational climate she is under the pressure of being responsible for my child’s test scores (and not much more apparently), she did not have the sense of self to know that telling parents you are training their precious children to run like rodents is NOT the most reassuring way to go.

What became clear to me were the reasons for my son’s apprehension about school. He ‘s giving us a hard time in the morning, saying he hates school, he feels sick, and the usual avoidance tactics. We chalked this up to him being bullied in the first weeks of school, but this situation was addressed. We were optomistic things were on the upswing.

The other clarification I received was why Jack comes home so agitated in the afternoon- his poor six year old body sits behind that little desk all day while his brain races away and he’s desperate for some physical release!

I posted a while back about our struggles with the rigorous expectations of kindergarten. It had been so hard for us to adjust to institutionalized education after our idyllic experience with Jack’s early child care. But at least they had story time and show and tell in kindergarten!

My concerns with first grade are the same as they were in kindergarten- that Jack will find education a drudgery as opposed to finding learning is fun and full of opportunities for creativity. It also concerns me that there is no room in this curriculum to teach compassion, which I feel should be mandatory. This is, however, the system we have. I do not have the luxury of sending my child to a private school with a less-traditional approach to learning, nor can I stay home and home school So, I don’t know any other answer than acceptance and hope that it will all be okay in the end.

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School is different now than when I was small. I find it hard to believe they challenge our little ones with so much academic rigor when developmentally their brains are wired to learn from play and socialization with other children. But this system here and now is all that Jack has known, and I will be enthusiastic and supportive of his education. I will also provide him with opportunities to play, laugh, be creative and wild in the time when he is with me.

We signed him up for soccer and karate, both of which he is thrilled with. I hope the physicality of these activities provides balance for him. I’m also making an effort to be a little more laid back with our structure in the home, to be mindful of the fact that Jack has been subject to academic dogma for six hours straight and needs some physical and emotional freedom.

I don’t think my kid is any better than anyone else, but he is mine.  So you bet your booty I’m going to advocate for him any chance I get, or when I see a need to foster understanding and compassion.  I’m also thinking of joining the PTA, because I think maybe getting involved will help temper my fears and anxiety.

That night at Open House, my nose was dripping like a faucet and I was dying to get home and commune with my netti pot.  So, I left without saying anything to the teacher, which was probably the better choice anyway.  As you might imagine, I will be on the lookout for opportunities to help this teacher understand that my son is a sensitive, thoughtful, energetic little human and not a simple mouse who runs blindly away on a treadmill to nowhere.

Are you satisfied with the education your child is getting?  Have you ever had to advocate for you child at school?  Did it make you uncomfortable?  What did you do or say?  

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14 responses »

  1. That’s really tough. I would just really make your presence known to the teacher, let her know you are interested in his education, and try to get to know her. Brown nosing never hurts!

  2. I am sad that your child’s teacher used the words academic treadmill that is what I try with all my heart to avoid in my classroom. Learning should be joyful and children should want to come to school. You absolutely must advocate for your child. Children only get to be little once!

    • Thank you so much for your warmth and insight. I think that most teachers are really good and caring about kids, and while I don’t think my son’s teacher is any exception to that, I do think that her choice of words was poor! I do hope that kids can find the joy in learning!

  3. I had to advocate for my girls nearly every year. Joining the PT) and volunteering made that much easier because I built positive relationships and felt comfortable with the staff. I did that to the nth degree, but even so, I was very uncomfortable advocating every single time. I did it with respect and kindness (realizing that we really are all on the same team, wanting what is right for children – and knowing I won’t serve my child through antagonism), and also persistence and patience. I also did my own homework – knowing state laws, my school district’s responsibilities, my children’s needs, and the latest research on how to best meet those needs.

    Now that my children are 18 and 15, I know it was all worth it. But, boy, was it exhausting and painful at times!

    • Thanks for sharing this… It is always good to hear from someone who has a little more perspective and can say that all is well at the end of the day! I think you are right that we all want what is best for the kids, and I think that teachers really do their very best, but it is more our system that is warped. Hopefully, my being a social worker will also help me to advocate for my kids at school, but I will tell you that it is a lot more difficult and uncomfortable to advocate for my own kids, even though I have done it hundreds of times for the kids of other people!

      • It definitely is the system, and yet some teachers and administrators buy into it more than others. One thing I did was work with my principals nearly every spring to ask them to place my girls (for the following year) with the teachers who were the most flexible, engaged, and ambitious. (My girls are both highly gifted and needed more rigor and challenge than most teachers would provide.) That helped a lot.

        I love your last sentence! I was similar yet different. It was very, very hard to advocate at first, so I sought out the staff members who were most proactively supportive of my girls and me, and they shored me up to speak up. Then I found over the years that I needed to advocate for myself in various ways and areas, and that was nearly impossible! Yet I told myself that if my girls deserved it, then so did I.

      • Last year we paid for private kindergarten b/c I needed full day care for him. . . this year we’ve made the switch for public school and I am feeling a little less “entitled” to complain about stuff b/c it is “free”. So, I am working on finding my voice and learning how to advocate in ways that can be heard and not sound defensive or demeaning, you know? Thank you so much for your perspective! Every little bit helps.

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  5. I am seeing this with Kindergarten, as well. 😦 The teacher is not the warm, friendly BFF material teacher I envisioned. My kid gets the same dittos over and over and over again. She informed me today that they hardly ever get recess, because they frequently run out of time. We need to speak out against this common core garbage. If we don’t advocate for our kids, who will? Thanks for your posts!

    • Thank YOU for your supportive comments. It is always surprising to me how many other moms go through the same stuff. One thing I did last year with my son’s teacher was to explain that due to our work schedule, we didn’t really get home/started with homework until 6-7 and that my kid’s brain was really maxed out by then. She was pretty kind about letting us skip the homework on any particular night we had problems and then do it on the weekend or whatever. Good luck and keep us posted!

  6. Pingback: Dear Moms, It Will All Be Okay | momaste

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