Saturday, October 17, 2015

Stress, Common Core, and young learners

I've recently found myself in several conversations about the strain that is falling onto elementary school teachers. Specifically, on the lower elementary teachers that have been handed a TON of content responsibility in meeting certain learning objectives as set by the new common core state standards (CCSS). 

Now, I've written about the CCSS several times on my blog (The "New" Math, Homework Issues, & It's Over Reaching). And I don't want this to be another "The CC sucks!" type post. Because, while it does have some glaring flaws, the idea of it I still stand by. I like the inquiry driven and real life content connections that are encouraged by the CCSS. I appreciate the idea that we should have a national set of academic standards, so that a kiddo in 3rd grade that moves across country won't be at a total loss when it comes to school. 

I instead want to talk about this strain that is suffocating many elementary schools. I've witnessed this strain first hand with the experience my oldest 2 kids had with kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades. As kids of a teacher, they both loved the idea of going to school while they were in preschool. But then K and 1st grade happened. Both witnessed extreme pressures from teachers and schools that were very standards focused. We heard phrases like "grade level expectation," "standards based assessment," and "compared to others in this grade." The focus was placed on where the kids "should be" based on these standards, and not on who my kids are as people or learners. I often left school meetings thinking that the CCSS were more important the my kids. As if there was a CCSS God that needed to be appeased at the expense of my own kids. 

And the results of this are extreme. I hear more and more about kids in elementary school having tutors, or parents spending hours after school each day teaching a kindergartener how to read. Seriously?! The pressure to have kids doing academic things at such a young age, before most are developmentally ready is just frustrating. 

Kids are natural learners. They will pick up on the things that they find interesting or necessary. But if we are forcing the issue on things like reading or math at a young age, before they are ready, we will turn them away from the love of learning. And, if you talk to an early elementary teacher, they know that. Most want to go back to a more relaxed way of teaching, but the CCSS loom. Especially in buildings or districts with administrators that force the pressure. There are places out there that look at the CCSS, smile, and remain focused on a fun, relaxed, and student centered way of learning. Some schools have embraced the CCSS with a relaxed approach remembering that kids will learn to read when they are ready. 

These schools are the ones that are still performing well on standards based assessments, because the kids aren't stressed about them. A test is a test is a test. The teachers aren't made to feel like their jobs are on the line if a few kids don't meet "grade level expectation." Life goes on knowing that the kids will eventually learn to read or do math when they are ready to. And as my wife says, "kids learn to walk and talk when they are ready too." You don't hear about families hiring tutors for those things, and if you do, you think they're crazy! 

So the point of this? Don't stress about your kiddo's reading level at grade 1 or even 2. Pull the stress off your kids, and let them know that they can and will learn. Let them know that all you ask is that they try, that they work hard, and that they not give up. And more than anything, tell the school to back down. If your kid is coming home feeling stupid, talk to the school. That's not right. All kids learn differently, and at a different pace. If the school doesn't know that.. then find a different school! I have a post (here) for that too! 

Ultimately, the CCSS put a lot of pressure on the elementary schools. There is a ton of emphasis on getting kids to learn things before most are developmentally ready. The good schools take that pressure off the kids and themselves by focusing on what learning should be. Others let the pressure slide right down to the kids and their parents. It's not ok. And, if you're feeling that stress from teachers, or parental peers, remember that you're not alone. That there are plenty of kids out there that are reluctant readers, or that struggle with math. And that's ok, because your kiddo will get it when he's ready to. Don't force the issue at home by stressing about it further. Let the school hold onto that stress. Your family doesn't need it. There are plenty of successful people that didn't ace every grade in elementary, middle, or even high school. Help your kiddo become the excellent person he is going to become by supporting his strengths and not stressing over the weaknesses.  

Thanks for taking the time to read my post! Please take a moment to follow me on facebook, and on twitter @Ken_TeacherDad.