Can I rant a bit about today’s typical educational model? Please? Thank you.
I HATE IT.
I am talking about the typical set-up with one teacher and 18-30 children for eight hours a day, five days a week. I even have an aide, and it doesn’t help.
Here’s a glimpse into my day:
“This story is called Is This Panama? It’s the story about a bird — A, please sit belly or bottom. It’s the story — what is that in your mouth?”
“It’s gum, teacher!”
“No, it’s not gum, teacher, he’s lying.”
“Spit it out and throw it away, please. All right, now I need everyone paying attention. Look at how nicely Y is sitting. Can you all sit like Y? Oh, I love how M is sitting now. We’re just waiting on E. E. E. E. E! Hello-o. Please stop talking and look up here. So, this is the story about a bird named Sammy — “
“STOP TOUCHING MY HAIR.”
“I’m not touching your hair.”
“F, please stop touching S’s hair.”
“I wasn’t touching her hair.”
“YES YOU WERE YOU LIAR.”
“S, kind words. F, please sit down. Y, please stop touching my knees, for the third time. SO THIS STORY IS ABOUT A BIRD NAMED SAMMY AND HOW HE MIGRATES TO PANAMA. Can you say Panama?”
“A, what is in your mouth?“
Welcome to one of the better-behaved classes academically outperforming the other K5 students.
You might wonder, why so stringent? Why can’t he lay on his back? Why can’t he mess around with the string on the carpet? Why can’t they call out comments and questions as the story progresses rather than requiring them to raise their hand?
Because we are always one wiggle away from all hell breaking loose.
With a handful of kids, it doesn’t really matter if they lay on their back or mess around with something or call out a response. With eighteen kids, it is an unstoppable tide.
It kills me, it really does, to focus so much of my energy on crowd control. This is not the education I want for them. I want an individualized education that works with their quirks and preferences. It’s exhausting and disheartening trying to squeeze little individuals into a predetermined way of learning just to keep the class together enough just so at least some kids will catch on.
I mean, I never learned best sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor or sitting upright in a chair. I did history draped across the couch, with little naps here and there. I did math sprawled across my bed, with extra time to doodle scenes from the novel I was working on. And I was done with school for the day in two to three hours. To this day, I never work at a desk.
I can’t imagine spending over eight hours a day in school and on the bus, only to have homework waiting when I get back. And I’m an adult. This is what we require of kids as young as four-years-old.
To be clear, I am not opposed to children going to school. I am opposed to children going to a school with an educational model that fundamentally undermines who they are as kids and as individuals.
The problem is two-fold: there are too many kids, and there are kids who don’t work well in classes.
Of course, some kids do work well in classes. The majority of mine are whip-smart. They can focus fairly well, they can work independently, they can read, they catch on quickly, and they would do just fine if the five kids who consistently cause trouble were absent from the class. I can pull out my fun games without worrying that a fight will break out; I can pull out the multisensory activities without worrying about spending fifteen minutes cleaning up; I can read and read and read books to them and even ask a comprehension question or two without the entire class melting down.
Oh, what a glorious day it is when certain children are absent and the class size is down to a manageable fifteen and we all have fun and I go home feeling like maybe what I do is worth it!
Don’t get me wrong — I love each of my children dearly. But there’s only one teacher and eighteen of them, and it’s impossible to give them all the attention they need.
Early into teaching, a parent mentioned to me that I spent more time with her child as the teacher than she did as a parent.
That terrifies me, because filling in as a parent for eighteen young students means everybody loses.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to put one child’s needs on the backburner in order to put out larger fires. Your head hurts, babe? One second — A just stabbed S with a pencil. Your dad’s in jail? Hang on, love to talk, but J is having a meltdown over here. You think I’m the best teacher ever? You’re too kind, sorry for interrupting, but I promised M I’d get her ointment for her sore finger and this is the fifth time she’s bugged me about it.
I feel the limits of my own inadequacy every day. I see the results of my inadequacy every day. Would S still have these behavioral issues if I had the time to talk with him? Would A feel more loved if I had time to kneel down, look in her eyes, and express genuine sorrow that she bumped her knee? Am I perpetuating a cycle of poverty and crime because I don’t have the time to meet each child’s needs?
That’s not as far-fetched as it seems. One of my students, suspended multiple times, has had siblings kicked out of school and a parent in jail. This student exhibits similar deviant behavior — despite being the smartest kid in class. I can’t help but feel that the time I have with this student might make a huge difference as to whether they end up kicked out of school, in jail, or graduating college with honors.
Ironically, it’s the well-behaved kids who suffer too. I hardly know my quiet, obedient students, because they’re not screaming at me, starting conversations about sex over lunch, or refusing to fill out their worksheet. They literally, physically cling to me at recess or beg me to read them stories to compensate — and it’s only a matter of time before somebody busts their lip or busts somebody else’s and oops, sorry, we’ll have to see whether he likes green eggs and ham another day.
Ignoring kids was not what I signed up for as a teacher, but I have to do it every day just to cover all the material and keep the class unit functional.
Suggested solutions: Smaller class sizes. No more than fifteen, please. The smaller, the better. Alternatively, add more teachers and teacher’s aides. One teacher for every five or so kids. Require parental volunteering. Something. If schools are going to be parenting the kids more than the parents, we need to be able to parent more effectively. And maybe make it a bit easier for people to get educated and certified as teachers?
The other problem is, of course, that some kids don’t work well in groups of any size. I can rattle off to you all the kids in my class who would need or strongly benefit from one-on-one attention. They mostly suffer from being kids or needing lots of guidance because of their behavior issues.
I like to daydream about how I would approach a one-on-one education for some of my kids. Lots of STEM for one boy who literally never pays attention but loves dinosaurs, planes, and building things. Lots of sensory bins and active learning games for one girl who cannot sit still but loves to sing, dance, and handle animals. This girl is a spazz ordinarily, but put her with an animal, and she is the calmest, most tender, thoughtful child ever. I bet she’d love to do math with a rat in her pocket or read to a dog at the library.
Can’t we create a space for these kids? A tailored public education that gives two or three hours of individualized hands-on instruction (if even that much) and then lets them play and create for the rest of the day?
I know how idealistic all this seems, but it’s so needed. My kids and I myself would be eternally grateful for any improvements in our educational system that acknowledge the inadequacy of one teacher among 18-30 students and the uniqueness of each child whose needs buck the current system.