On Easter my cousin told me her five year old daughter had a Kindergarten screening the following day. Screening for what? They were checking to make sure she knew how to write her name – in upper and lower case, that she knew her address and phone number, to identify numbers and other such early educational milestones. My cousin then told me that if her daughter did not know this information she would be put in a summer program to ready children for Kindergarten. A pre-Kindergarten summer school, if you will. And this is public school. I was blown away by this. It’s not that I think Noah won’t learn all that stuff in two and a half years – he knows most of it now. I just thought those were the types of things kids learned in Kindergarten. That and it totally is in contrast with my own personal experience.
A couple of years ago I taught first grade for a year. In one of the cities poorest neighborhoods. I worked as a co-teacher to a very frustrated, unmotivated man who still today fluctuates between teaching and painting houses. Most of the kids came to our class knowing very little, even after a year of Kindergarten. Some of them were not English speaking, some of them were obviously learning disabled (I suspect lead), and a lot of them seemed to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder because their parents were inattentive, cruel, drug addicted, and/or in jail. The neighborhood was multicultural – the uniting factor was extreme poverty. This was a neighborhood of people whom education had failed and therefore it wasn’t a priority for parents to teach their kids, to be involved in their children’s schooling. I’m sure many of the kids didn’t even have books in their homes – though big TVs and video game systems were abundant. The general attitude was that it was the school’s and the teacher’s responsibility to do all the teaching. We got no support. And I am sad to say that even when I had the opportunity to work one-on-one with a student, which was rare since the students with severe behavior issues took up so much of our teaching time, any progress that I felt was made would be so quickly wiped away by a few days out of school. I cried almost every day for those kids. And I decided very early into the school year that I wasn’t going to do it another year but that I should stick it out until the school year ended so as not to add more change and uncertainty to the lives of these children. The lead teacher held the reins on the class pretty tight in that he didn’t want me usurping his authority and didn’t like me doing any lesson planning, which was odd because he was to disenfranchised and lazy to do it himself. I tried to focus on providing a nurturing environment to the classroom because I wasn’t really permitted to do much more. Shamefully I realize that many of those kids finished that year not knowing much more than they did when they started. And probably didn’t even know enough to get in my cousin’s daughter’s Kindergarten class, despite being passed into second grade because failing them would mean my lead teacher would have to do a whole lot of paperwork and extra work he refused to do as well as angering the parents who would probably show up to school for the first time when they found out their kid failed. The whole experience was eye-opening and disheartening. I think of those kids SO often, wondering how they will turn out, if they will ever get a break. It seems unlikely.
So in contrast expecting all the kids to know core educational milestones prior to setting foot in the school system seems insane. What do you think? Any experience with your school district expectations?