May 22, 2015

Thank You...

The boys' school year is winding down this week. They've brought home grimy crayons and pencil/marker boxes, and piles of papers. One had a little container of grape jelly smushed in the front pocket of his backpack; the other a pile of crushed acorn shells.

For the most part, the papers went into the recycle bin, but they had something that caught my eye and made me pause. Each had his own grade-level equivalent of a journal in one of those mottled-cover composition books.

His Highness had a second grade writing/drawing journal. Each entry contained half a page of handwritten words with half a page of illustrations. There were several that were obviously started by a teacher prompt, several relating to dinosaurs, and, I assume, several teacher prompts which were expertly finagled into dinosaur-related entries. Because, dinosaurs.

The Littler One had a reading journal. There were some handwritten words, but mostly colorful worksheets that had been cut out and colored and glued into place. Little matching games connected words to pictures. Flaps lifted to reveal words, pictures, and drawings. The progress of the school year, new papers being carefully glued in each week, doubled the thickness of the book. I could see what my boys had learned; how they had been engaged and thoughtful in their work (some days more than others).

Look, I'm no Common Core fanatic; at best my feelings are neutral about the whole thing. What I want to point out, though, is that amid a lot of controversy and argument and OPINIONS about how kids should learn, about how things are SO different than when we went through school, and a lot of what's going wrong (and yes, there's plenty to work on), there are things going right too. There are lots and lots of caring, gifted teachers who are teaching these children like a BOSS, and there are lots and lots of kids doing hard work and learning well.

I offer this up gently, knowing friends who have struggled mightily to provide their kids with the right educational options for them, and public school was not it. People failed them and "the system" didn't come through for them when they needed it. It is real and true.

But still...for others, it works. I read an article about a sad tale of a kindergarten where the children sit at desks and write all day, and I think definitely we should go storming into that school and shake things up a little, because it doesn't have to be that way, and it ISN'T that way in many many places. In kindergarten this year I watched kids sit and write a little. I watched them move around the room to different learning centers, working with their hands, advancing those fine motor skills with cutting and gluing and folding and painting while they learned about numbers and reading and writing. I had the immense privilege talking with them as they sat on the alphabet carpet, bursting to tell me ALL THE THINGS about the story we were reading together. I helped them take reading quizzes about stories they chose themselves. I watched them dance and sing and move. I also got to chase a group of them running like banshees on a scavenger hunt through the hallways before we worked out the logistics of how not to do that.

In second grade I got to take them to lunch a few times. I got to read to them in funny voices. They showed me how to work the smart board so I could show them the pictures on the projector. I got to give them reward points due to compliments from other teachers about hallway behavior. I got to see how their teacher taught them to care for one another, and how their teacher cared for them. She sent them home with a memory book of the year. They wrote entries about their field trips and projects, and she added photos and bound them into real, actual books using donations and her own funds.

In both cases, the kids oogled over Tiny E, showing the little visitor how things worked in the big kids' classes. I saw two young teachers caring about their students, pushing them to do hard things and cheering for them the whole way. I saw them correcting and being strict, sometimes with humor and always with an underlying gentleness that said, "I am FOR you, and you need to stop this nonsense right now." Because these children are capable of a LOT of nonsense.

You know what else these children are capable of, though? These children are capable of doing hard things. They are capable of building reading and writing journals over a school year. They are capable of attending 3 schools in 3 years (not ideal, but reality sometimes), making good friends, and thriving as they grow and learn. It also turns out they are capable of catching actual fish using some twine tied to a paper clip with a piece of hot dog on it (who knew??).

This is all to say thank you. Thank you, teachers of my kids, for those little journals, and for all the things this year. Thank you for letting me in and sharing a little of the process with me.  Thank you, friends of mine who are professional teachers, for staying in this hard profession and offering up your gifts to our benefit. Thank you for managing them well, so that you can spend more time teaching. Thank you for putting up with the nonsense of standardized testing, and conflicts, and paperwork, and all the extras that drain the joy out of the good parts. Thank you for challenging them, and for doing more than what is required to make learning more interesting, and sometimes even fun.

May your summer include lounging poolside with umbrella drinks...

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