I have always been an academically challenging kindergarten teacher, but I have gone to great lengths to ensure that academic skills are taught through play. I nurture my students at their academic level, the level for which they are developmentally prepared. Consequently it saddens me to hear teachers discussing where a child should be instead of celebrating where a child is.
This picture is my 1st grade class in 1964. I can remember that 1st grade was the year that we learned alphabet letters could work together to make words, a handful of sight words, and why Dick, Jane and Sally looked up and looked down. And guess what! As far as I know, everyone in this class turned out all right. In fact, most went on to achieve great things! And, believe it or not, I doubt anyone left Mrs. Little’s First Grade classroom reading any higher than a level D (the new kindergarten standard). Rather, everyone thrived celebrating their own pace of learning enjoying recesses and story time.
But today things are different. Children are being pushed beyond their developmental limits and frustration is the result. This frustration turns into self-defeating attitudes, behavioral issues, a dislike for school, and trips to the principal. And -- I don’t blame them! Because having unrealistic expectations is frustrating indeed.
When I was in college, my roommates took me skiing. I had never skied before, yet I was taken to the top of the liftup the highest slope, and there they went! My roommates took off! “WHAT DO I DO!” I screamed. “Oh it is easy.” They replied. “Just put your toes together and go down the hill.” Well that was the last I saw them. I proceeded down the tallest slope in agony! I cried, I fell, I tried, I fell, I (swore), I fell, I even tried just walking sideways down the slope. When I made it to the bottom, battered, broken, and sore, I crawled to the lodge and curled up by the couch and could not quit crying.
Do you think that I ever tried skiing again? No way! I was beaten down by this experience, and my trust in those roommates was completely gone. I was expected to do what I simply could not! I did not have the proper preparation to complete the task.
So, before we worry that a child is not working at the level we feel that they should be (at least according to our pushed down curriculum), please remember that these children are in our care and they are trying to meet our expectations. But, maybe they are not quite ready. Perhaps they need more practice in vowel sounds before they should be expected to spell words. Perhaps they should have more practice in number sense before expected to add two digit numbers, perhaps they should be given every opportunity to shine at their own time.
Each time I am frustrated with realistic expectations put upon me and my students, I listen to this beautiful song by Rachel Coleman from Signing Time