Scrivener has up a post about a NYT article that talks about the death of play for the average kindergartner. As a kindergarten teacher, I would love to have more playtime in our day. I think we force too much on children, too quickly. We force it on them because that's what's required of us. No Child Left Behind -- while a good idea in theory -- is not conducive to putting the play back into the regular school day.
When I was in kindergarten, I remember a lot of play time. I remember the playground and the giant slide that looked like a clown. I remember getting in trouble for giggling during rest time. I remember meeting other kids and running together like wild hooligans in the schoolyard.
Sadly, those days of endless play are gone. The article references a group of children who do nothing but drill all day. That is not the case for my class. I try to plan my lessons with the thought behind them that all children will be bored with learning unless you engage their attention. Running rote drills does not inspire love for learning. Sure, you can get the kids to do a lot by rote, but they don't truly get anything from it. And if it's not being retained, then why waste your time teaching it?
I mentioned in Scriv's comments that most of the parents that I've encountered here on the blogosphere are very involved parents. They care about education, both the state of education, and their child's role within that framework. They want their children to do well. Most of you with children who are at kindergarten (or near) age have worked with them very diligently on the good foundations that they would otherwise get in kindergarten. Your children know their letters and sounds, numbers and colors, and other basic personal information like full name, age, address, and telephone number. Yours are the prepared children. I see many other children who are not so well-equipped to begin school. I have taught children who did not know their letters, and indeed, did not even know their last name. I had a student last year who came to me unable to do more than draw a very shaky circle. By the end of the school year, he had a very legible handwriting, and a short story that he illustrated was good enough to be sent in to a Reading Rainbow contest. These may not seem like great strides to some people, but they are when the child could barely grasp a pencil before.
I have also had less-than-involved parents. Just last year, I had a father that I met once. And I only met him that one time because he came to complain. I could not imagine being so uninvolved in my child's education. All too often, though, we do see parents for whom we are free daycare. I have had parents tell me that they would not come pick up a vomiting, feverish child because he wasn't their responsibility until 3:30pm. I was stuck with him -- he was *my* problem during the school day. I've had a parent who let her daughter come to school in clothes so filthy that I was reluctant to even touch the child, even though I knew full well that the child had plenty of clean clothes at home because both myself and a friend had donated huge amounts of clothes to the family. I've had children tell me about drug use in their families. And then I've had students who were just pure joy to teach.
The problem with having such an obvious chasm between the high-achieving students and the ones who come to us ill-prepared is the constant state of catch-up we, as educators, are in. We have to play to the lowest common denominator. We have to try and explain concepts to the child in the room who has no clue to what we're referring while still retaining the interest of the child who has already mastered that concept. Are we out to create a legion of folded-hand zombies who do no critical thinking? No, but sometimes we are forced to teach in styles not of our own choosing because of district and national mandates.
These days, the average kindergartener has to be able to count to 100 by 1s, 5s, and 10s. They have to count to 30 by 2s and backwards from 10 to zero. They have to know all of the letters of the alphabet, and each corresponding sound. They have to know common diagraphs like /sh/, /ch/, /wh/, /st/, and /th/. They have to know how each individual letter sounds, and how they sound together. They have to know sight words -- words that are harder to prounounce using typical phonics, and so should be known on sight alone. They have to master simple addition and subtraction. They need to know ordinal numbers -- first, second, third, and so on. They need to know basic punctuation, and the difference between a letter, a word, and a sentence. They learn the concept of more than and less than, not only in objects: "I have more cookies than you," but also "Seven is more than three. How many more than three is seven?" They learn about science, and history. They learn library skills -- what a title page is, what an author is, what does "illustrator" mean? There is so much more to kindergarten now than there was even as recently as 10 to 15 years ago. There are way too many objectives for me to list.
I take exception to articles like this. The reason that I take exception is because it is a wide, sweeping generalization. Not all schools are like this, and even then, not all public schools offer a terrible education. Is there better to be had? I'm sure there is, but don't make the assumption that all public schools are not worthwhile. There are jewels in any school, both in the student population, and in the professional population. Is it sad that there is very little play time left for students? Yes, it is. But, if you have a teacher who engages your child, who makes learning fun, isn't that something?
Another thing is that people don't want to pay teachers. They want us to give the average student a stellar education (which is my goal anyway, regardless of salary) but they don't want to have to actually pay us for it. Do you know, in my area, a Farm Equipment Mechanic makes more money than a teacher does? Is it any wonder that people are leaving the profession in droves? Each year, more and more classroom supplies come out of the teacher's own pocket. I can't tell you how much money I spend in a year on classroom items. It's hard to provide a great education when your family is eating Ramen Noodle Soup so you can buy printer cartridges and crayons for your class.
I do agree that it's a shame that there are fewer and fewer dress up corners and less and less time to make Lego creations. I would love to have more time to incorporate these into our average day, I really would. I would also like people to be more aware of what teachers do for their children. Kindergarten may have more objectives to cover now than ever before, but I'm also the one your child runs to when he's fallen on the sidewalk. I'm the one who hugs her when little Susie won't share the crayon basket. I teach them manners and math. I talk about good citizenship as well as good hygiene. We cover phonics and friendliness. I love these kids. I make them presents for Christmas. Sometimes, I'm the only hug a child gets all day. I teach, and I'm proud to do so. Teaching is not just "my job." It's what I was meant to do.