Saturday, April 25, 2015

Grit & Rigor

The past two days have caused me to reflect on my own experience in Elementary School.  I realized that after all this time, I remember very little of the content I was taught.  What I do remember is some of the teachers that touched my life by helping me develop the love of reading and encouraging my curiosity and thirst for knowledge, both of which are still a strong part of my life today.  I don't remember learning to write paragraphs, opinion pieces or narratives in the primary grades, but I do remember practicing my handwriting and being very proud when my penmanship was praised.  I learned early on that the first step to becoming a writer was to learn to be legible so others could read what I wrote.  I recall reading insatiably and being allowed to "work" in the library shelving books as a reward for my good grades and behavior.  

As I sat in, yet another, meeting where teachers are treated as children and more and more regulations, initiative and procedures are handed down to us as though our years of experience and master's degrees mean nothing, I thought of how we are truly doing the profession and our students a grave disservice.  The words "grit","rigor","college and career ready" and "learning targets" are thrown around like they are the most important adjectives ever.  In reality, why is it so important to be college and career ready?  What about beyond college?  How about life outside a career?  Why aren't we preparing our students to be citizens of this world (not global economy) by giving them time to be children, learn to share, take turns, take pride in neat handwriting, love to read and learn to always be curious and kind?  How can they learn to be compassionate, empathetic, charitable and giving if most of what they read and write is informational?  How can they learn to be kind souls if they are not given opportunities to interact in an unstructured way?

These thoughts were all intensified today around 1:00 p.m. when one of our butterflies emerged from one of the 5 chrysalids in the habitat in our classroom.  The kids were super excited by this and were fascinated to watch the Painted Lady dry her wings and attempt to fly for the first time.  Obviously, my lesson plans for the afternoon were tossed out and we used the opportunity to watch the wonders of nature before our very eyes.  Unable to choral them back into the math lesson, I quickly decided to give them some much desired "free time".  My one little guy who is an English Language Learner (his family moved here from Jordan about 1 1/2 years ago) wanted me to teach him how to play checkers.  I soon realized that not one of my kids knew how to play the game so we formed teams with me helping and teaching them the strategy of the game.  I find it amazing to think that none of these children know how to play board games, but I really should not be so surprised.  Who has time for that anymore in this age of "grit" and "rigor" and "playdates" and afterschool organized sports and classes?  The hardest part of the game for my students was learning to take turns and wait for the other team to decide on a move and execute it because they are so used to being "self-directed" (another of my hated buzzwords).

At the end of the day, I am going to continue to do my job to the best of my ability, including teaching my little ones to be curious, love books, be amazed at the wonders of nature, learn to take turns, accept each others' differences, share and be kind souls.  None of them will remember that I taught them to add and subtract or that we wrote paragraphs and "identified the main idea and key details" of a story.  Hopefully, they will look back someday and vaguely remember that they learned to love reading and books, played checkers, had Lunch Bunch and danced to "Happy" by Pharrell Williams on Fridays.  If they are kind souls and good citizens, whether they go to college or not, well, then I did my job.

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