I came across this quote the other day and laughed to myself, but also at myself. One of my many idiosyncrasies is that I used to grade myself as a mommy on a regular basis.
What kind of mother were you today, Stacey?
Well, let’s see, I made healthy lunches and put loving little notes with hearts and stars in each box, I volunteered in Isaac’s classroom and baked cupcakes for Harper’s, I spent time making art with the kids around the dining room table, and we took a hike in the woods. All good– BUT I also yelled at Isaac for moving at a snail’s pace to the car this morning, I let them eat some sugary junk after school, and I flipped out over a drawer left open, a pair of shoes in the doorway or crumbs on the floor (this one varies from day to day but results in the same degree of freak-out on my part).
Rare were the days that I scored an A. There was always room for improvement, and it drove me crazy. This mommy thing, after all, is my job.
But I realized that assessing every aspect of my day and declaring my success as a parent one way or the other based on an arbitrary list of events is a lot like the standardized testing I’ve come to loathe in our schools. By keeping score and tallying points on the “ideal mom” scale, I missed the greater picture. The focus became all the minutiae of day to day living and not the overall relationships I was trying to build.
When I left the classroom on a full-time basis, I transferred all my scheduling, activity planning, and assessments to my new job as a mom. Student performance is directly correlated to teacher performance, right? Isn’t that what we’re told? If you’re doing your job as a teacher, all students will show tremendous growth each year and make consistently high scores. If you differentiate, motivate, inspire, stick to the plan, know when to deviate from the plan (but not if it rocks the boat in any way), be creative and innovative, go above and beyond, throw yourself entirely into your classroom, each and every student will be successful . If you do these things, high performance is inevitable, no child will be left behind, and your school can earn the title of a School of Excellence.
(Anyone who thinks I’m being totally serious here, by the way, has clearly never been involved in public education.)
Teachers have my admiration more and more all the time. Our educational system seems less and less logical with ridiculous mandates and wasteful spending and misguided focuses, yet it still asks teachers to work miracles in spite of the crippling shackles that are continuously heaped upon them. By testing all kids in exactly the same way, we are getting caught up in
the minutiae and killing the very freedom that should define education.
When I think about schools today, I am reminded of some weird dystopian novel my 9th grade English teacher would have assigned. I see the inherent freedom of learning being slowly sucked out of the American classroom. Students are bound to learning in very specific ways, they are bound to testing and continuous assessments, they are bound to chairs and desks and to climate controlled rooms, they are bound to following a strict curriculum that has no room for anything “extra”. Many times they are bound to schedules that don’t allow for finger painting or putting on a play or writing a song and performing it. There may not be room for scientific experiments or walks in the woods. Those things, after all, are not tested. There is no assessment—yet—for what a child might experience by playing in a creek or digging in the dirt or caring for a classroom pet.
In our push to have good test scores and banners in our hallways declaring us as excellent or having distinction among other schools, are we sucking the very life out of what it means to learn? Instead of leaving no child behind are we just making everyone sit by the roadside and wait?
This kind of thing has been on my mind a lot lately. At this point in my life, I feel ready to return to the classroom. I miss the excitement of learning, but as a bystander and observer of what’s going on since I left the public school classroom nearly 12 years ago, I see that the excitement of learning is getting harder and harder to come by despite the efforts of some really smart, creative, and good-hearted teachers. It’s a system that drains even the most die-hard educators.
I’ve been considering all my options, both as a parent and as a teacher. Do I want to go back into the classroom and take up fighting the good fight for my children and countless others? (I have always loved a good fight, you know.) Or do I recognize the overwhelming tide of an educational system in real trouble and run for the hills, taking my children with me and venturing into a new life of homeschooling?
If only our legislators could see what any teacher in America would love to tell them—
We’d love to meet your standards for an ideal school, but we’re too busy teaching our children.