I was very moved by Susan Sluyter's letter in the March 23 Washington Post "My job is now about tests and data - not children. I quit." After teaching for 25 years, she sadly concludes:
I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them.
Each year I have had less and less time to teach the children I love in the way I know best—and in the way child development experts recommend. I reached the place last year where I began to feel I was part of a broken system that was causing damage to those very children I was there to serve.
I’d describe our current period as a time of testing, data collection, competition and punishment. One would be hard put these days to find joy present in classrooms.
I was trying to survive in a community of colleagues who were struggling to do the same: to adapt and survive, to continue to hold onto what we could, and to affirm what we believe to be quality teaching for an early childhood classroom. I began to feel a deep sense of loss of integrity. I felt my spirit, my passion as a teacher, slip away. I felt anger rise inside me. I felt I needed to survive by looking elsewhere and leaving the community I love so dearly. I did not feel I was leaving my job. I felt then and feel now that my job left me.
The actual letter goes into detail explaining the amount of assessment kindergarten teachers like Ms Sluyter are expected to do in Cambridge MA schools and that impact on her students. (Read it all.) I can't help but think that any parents reading her rational, well-supported, heartfelt resignation would actively question their children's school board about the amount and effectiveness of testing done at all grade levels.
Call me a sentimentalist, but I see pre-school and kindergarten not as college prep, but a time to build a positive view of education, of learning to work and play with other children, and to discover new ideas.* Our Scandinavian educators have an excellent solution to making sure all children read well. They don't start formal reading instruction until a child is at least seven years old - developmentally ready.
It is getting harder and harder for me at leadership meetings to speak unemotionally when even more testing is suggested as a solution to a real or imagined problem. Like the author of this letter, I feel what I consider why education is noble calling is leaving me - not the other way around.
But here is what really worries me. Since Ms Sluyter is a veteran teacher with over 20 years in the classroom, she remembers a time before NCLB, before RtI, before the craziness where we insist all children progress to the same level at the same rate regardless of what it takes.
Our newest teachers - no matter how good, how dedicated, don't have that frame of reference. Unless they remember it from their own days in kindergarten.
I worry for my grandchildren...
I would be very interested in reading a counter argument to Ms Sluyter's letter that is child-centered.
*Come to think about it, I feel this way about all levels of education.