Get Mad – But Not at the Schools

Kindergarten-1-225x300Have you seen this yet?  It’s a letter sent to parents by Ellen Best-Laimit, the interim principal of Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, N.Y., and four kindergarten teachers stating that due to “more rigorous learning standards,” an end of the year kindergarten play is to be cancelled.  (You may be interested in reading the full article in the Washington Post.)

Although I’m as disgusted as the next person about this decision, we have to realize that these things are going to start happening more and more. Administrators and teachers are going to start making these decisions to focus more on the test prep and less on the whole child education we ALL KNOW is what’s best for our kids.

In fact, it’s already happening.

I encourage you to get mad! Write a letter, make your voice heard. Ask parents to speak up.  For years, I’ve heard teachers get mad about this, but our hands are tied.  We cannot make the change happen alone, it must be a community effort.  Unfortunately, it’s decisions such as these that are going to make the waves needed to create a change.

I preach arts integration, I preach inspiring students, I preach giving students chances to ask questions and explore concepts and I practice all those things. But each year the pressure gets more and more. Sometimes I feel that in doing all of this I am going against the grain.  It is so hard to teach to those standards I layed out for myself. And I’m not alone.  My colleagues feel this pressure too.

I say, “Give yourself permission to do what you know is right for your students.” And yet, I find myself in the past six weeks of school having to teach, no cram, 6 units of math so that my kids are “prepared” for the math MCAS. Are you kidding me? Just in case you didn’t understand that last statement, let me explain:

My fourth grade team and I have been teaching the math curriculum at a steady pace since September. Once we hit late March, we realized that we needed to teach 6 units of math in the six weeks we had left before the kids were tested on this content – little time for practice, let alone mastery.  It was outrageous!  I found myself in the last week before the test cramming in three chapters of measurement.  (I’m not exaggerating: customary/metric units of measurement, area and perimeter and measuring angles.)  Each morning, we spent time on one concept, took a short literacy break, learned or practiced more math and each afternoon we dabbled in another.  It became my hope that the exposure (yep – I said exposure, not practice) to the concepts would be good enough to trigger a student’s memory if they were indeed asked such a question on the test.

That is not teaching.

I am very fortunate to work in a school that still values the arts. Each grade level realizes the importance of and makes time to create, rehearse and put on a performance of some sort for the school and greater community. And anyone who has had that experience can tell you of the great learning that can be done during such a feat: story structure and telling, collaboration, poise, public speaking, music, design, process, and stick-to-it-iveness, to start a list.

But there is a tangible feeling that these things lose value to those things being tested.

By the way, I should mention that in the next (the last) five weeks of school, we will need to give our students between 7-10 end of the year assessments.

As we finish out a month where we appreciate teachers and all that they do, this point needs to be heard:  We are struggling to keep creativity and innovation at the helm of learning.  The demands of state assessments and racing to the top are hurting us, not helping.  We must do something about it.

So – get mad!  But not at the schools and certainly not the teachers.  Who do we point fingers at?  Well, who is making the decisions about mandated curriculum and assessment?  (And I’d be willing to bet those people are quite separated from the classroom.)

Who are you mad at?  Let’s do something about it!


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Article by Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson has devoted her life to education and to reaching out to other teachers who want to remain inspired. Mrs. Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of She holds an M.Ed. in Education, “Arts and Learning” and a C.A.G.S. degree with a focus in “Arts Leadership and Learning.” Elizabeth is author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented into her own teaching. She teaches workshops and courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and organizes the annual summer Teacher Art Retreat. Mrs. Peterson believes there is a love of active, integrated learning in all children and from their enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.
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