Posted by: minnow | August 5, 2010

BACK TO SCHOOL

The last couple weeks have been exciting, scary, full, challenging, nerve-wracking, sleep depriving, and probably a few other adjectives I have not yet figured out.  Why?  Because I have rounded a corner in my journey and am about to step out/toward a new thing.  At half a century plus I am putting my 5-year-old into Kindergarten and going back to school myself. 

You might think a child heading off to kindergarten should not feel so scary to me.  I have five children after all.  BUT you see, I have never put a child into Kindergarten before.  I have never watched one of my preteens climb on a bus without me or head out the door to spend eight hours all by themselves.  The next in line was a third grader before she went to public school and the others were older than that.  She at least could check in with an older brother a couple of times a day.  The third grade for my oldest daughter was just two and a half blocks away.  I could walk it in five minutes.  I will not be able to get to my five-year old in five minutes even if I take the interstate.

Still, I think she is ready.  Unlike her brothers and sister, she has not shown any early signs of dyslexia.  Thanks in part to four older, older siblings she is fairly social already, quite confident, a bit sophisticated, but mostly she wants to learn.  I am pretty sure she will be fine.  And I will be if she is.

The idea of returning to school myself has been turbulent and I am still not totally out of the water.  My practical well-if-you-are-going-to-do-this-at-least-get-something-you-can-use side has wrestled with my this-is-probably-the-last-chance-you-have-to-pursue-what-you-really-want-and-actually-make-it-work side.  (I initially had that chance right out of high school but made a mess of things for some pretty stupid reasons–long story not worth retelling now).  Anyway, after briefly playing with the idea of law school or getting a MSW so I could better serve the marginalized I moved toward a masters in special ed so I could make a difference for children with “learning disabilities” like my own.   I finally landed on renewing my teaching credentials by adding two endorsements–political science to appease the practical side and art because that is what I really want to do. 

When I started imagining myself back in the classroom I realized I would be a much different teacher now than I would have been right out of college or even five years ago.   Having children who struggle with dyslexia in a variety of ways has changed my understanding, not only of how  kids learn but of what intelligence is. 

I have smart children.  They are not necessarily linguistic (even though some are definitely verbal) but they are intelligent.  Unlike many who have grown up in the system, they have never been told otherwise by me And the lies the system tells them have been corrected.  They have taught me to see differently, to look for some other shining jewel in the non-reader or the disinterest.  Confession time: During my first teaching gig I actually made a student write his papers out long hand because he had spell check on his computer and I did not want him to “cheat”.  If I could tell that student how wrong I was and how sorry I am that I was one of those teachers I would do it in a heart beat. 

Today I say thank God for technology!  Thank God for spell check and cut and paste and books on tape and smart pens and programs like Dragon Naturally Speaking.  And with newer, more user-friendly technology on the horizon, no reason exists for a student to be left behind.  That is, if we can convince the system to change and find enough will in the people to invest in our future via education. 

The issue is not just about money.  Although money that means smaller class sizes and better toys  will help.  The bigger issue will be whether or not the system will ever be willing to “train children in the ways they  should go.”  Will we ever choose to teach differently?  Can we figure out how people learn and make the adjustments?  Will we start seeing visually smart kids and musically smart kids and interpersonally smart kids and help them conduct math, or experience a novel or dance through history?  Are we ready to play to a students strength so we can  jump the hurdle of the student’s weakness?   

Frankly I  think we can not afford to do business as usual but I am afraid we might try.  So far our attempts to “improve test scores” and compete in the “global village” has resulted in a deeper chasm between the haves and have-nots and a dumbing down of material for those in the middle.  Wealthy neighborhoods have expensive toys and better paid teachers with more qualifications to teach.  Poorer neighborhoods need to worry about the plaster falling off the walls and whether or not they will have heat in the winter.  In these schools students do not even have their own text books so if you did not have enough time in class to finish reading the assignment–oh well, too bad for you.  Do not expect us to change our methods.  If you did not finish you must have been goofing off.  Is it any wonder these kids get discouraged?

Maybe adding one more I-see-education-differently teacher to the mix will only be a drop in an ocean sized bucket.  But if those people I impact make a difference for a few others along the way…  If we can teach two or three more to see education differently…  If bodily smart students and spatially smart students and mathematically smart students start gaining confidence and finding their voice…  Who knows how big that ocean might become.

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