Thursday, October 22, 2009


On my first day of vacation I drove to my mother's school, about an hour away from my own. I had things to pick up from my family, errands to run, but more importantly, I had yet to meet my mother's second grade class.

My mother began teaching when I was in high school. During my formative middle-school years she drove to and from a college about an hour away to get her teaching certificate. Sometimes, when I wonder why I got into teaching, I blame that time- when for whatever reason I wanted to know what she was studying, asked questions about what she was learning, and listened to her explain theories of education. We all should have known at that point I was hooked. When it came time for me to take my own education classes I realized the material was all old- it was information I assumed everyone knew, but looking back I realize it is because I was learning it right along with basic algebra and 7th grade language arts. (It also says something about my poor education coursework if they were not teaching anything new in 10 years).

Since then I can't think of a year I have not met my mother's class. It's become harder since I started teaching myself, but our year-round calendar makes it easier. So, on that Friday, my first day of break, it was time to meet them.

I did a read aloud because what's a better way to get get to know a class than a read-aloud- you see who hangs on every word, who asks questions, who wants to talk about their dog, who adores books. This read aloud was one of those quick, short read-alouds you do when you grab a book you know well, but don't really think about how you'll present it- expecting it to be old hat.

and I began to read- in the same way I'd normally read for my first graders or kindergartners, who are learning to speak English, and have special needs. As I went on I started to feel ridiculous. The arm motions, the repetitive language I was using, the animated nature of my voice, was all what has become second nature to me in order to keep the attention of the students at my school. My mother's children- who speak English, entered kindergarten from preschool classes, or, if did not have preschool experience, had 4 strong years at home with a stay-at-home mother, did not need the sort of acting my read-aloud was giving to them. They stared in a kind of awed confusion, as I repeated key words from the story, asked questions in a dramatic voice, acted out 'thinking aloud' and made large arm gestures every time I said certain words.

I felt ridiculous.

And scared. I am so use to the developmental progress of the children I teach that I forget what is typical. I forget how behind my children are in so many areas. How at my mother's school, like so many others, they are focused on getting 100% of their children to earn passed advanced on the tests- not desperately trying to get 86% of their students to simply pass. I forget that while my children are working so hard to understand what the teacher is saying other children in other schools are listening to the teacher while their minds race- making connections, applying their prior knowledge, asking questions- all without being asked by the teacher- simply because that is what you do. Because when your family sits around the dinner table you listen to adults talk about their days, make connections, and apply prior knowledge- and so you just assume that is what you do. You do not need a teacher to repeat everything she says, make wild arm motions, use funny voices, or do back flips. In fact- to you- that is distracting.

But then, the following day I was on a plane to Peru. And I walked through the streets of Cusco at lunch time and watched the children run through the streets during their lunch break, unattended and free from adults prying eyes. As our train slowly crept along through the country side of the Sacred Valley on the way to Machu Picchu I watched the children walk to school through the corn fields- making the long walk by themselves when no school was in the line of sight. How much further would they walk before they arrived at school, only to turn around and make the long walk back that evening?

I listened to our tour guide talk about how frequently the children raised in the countryside drop out of school because education will not get you as far as a good knowledge of working in the fields and helping your family. He talked with sadness about his friends who went to medical school in Peru only to become doctors and realize that being a doctor in Peru wouldn't earn you as much as being a waiter in America. So they left the country and their education to try again somewhere else. He explained that being educated just wasn't valued or necessary in the countryside, and those who were found it difficult to make a living.

I thought about a little boy I taught years ago, who had come to us from Peru. He was with us for a few months before his mother came to me, crying, telling me they'd decided to go return home. They'd come so their children could get a good education, learn English, and know there was more to the world. But now, realizing the only job for their father- an accountant back in Peru, was to be a day laborer, they decided to return home and pray their children could return to the US for college.

The world is larger than making sure we make AYP. It's larger than the schools trying to get a 100% advanced pass rate. We're educating the world's citizens- teaching skills to help with life- whether those skills will lead someone to college or lead them to be successful farmers. We're preparing students for their futures- whether those futures are thought to be "successful" by popular thought or not.

So, without ranking our schools, without altering expectations, without assuming what is the best for all students, everywhere- we each, individually do what all teachers do- and what all teachers have always done, and will always do despite what debate on education is raging over our heads. We teach the children in front of us. We watch what they need, we adapt to give them exactly what will let them take the next baby step forward- and baby step after baby step they grow into the people they can be.

somehow this post rambled on and became something i didn't intend for it to be when i started. it was merely suppose to be about visiting my mom's school. i'm not sure how all that about peru slipped in there, or the thoughts on testing and ayp. so, now, overwhelmed by trying to figure out exactly what happened and why it took on a life of its own i'm simply hitting 'publish'. i apologize for the rambling and the disconnectedness. but i'm on vacation and my mind is allowed to wander, right?

No comments: