Education in America has found itself un-hemmed and frayed. Standards have fallen to nearly zero and the low expectations begin as early as preschool. Bureaucrats have taken over the mandates of curriculum as well as the expectations of both teachers and students during the course of a school year. Unfortunately, these enforcers have never been in the classrooms in order to survey the realities of the day to day running of a classroom.
I taught in elementary and preschool classrooms for ten years before burning out. I realized at a certain point that my enthusiasm for teaching had been replaced with a sense of frustration at not being able to do my job. By the end of my profession, I was out of the classroom for larger and larger portions of the school year having meetings regarding IEP’s, Individualized Education Programs, for the growing number of students who had specialized needs of one sort or another.
The inclusion model, which is the current trend, places students of varying abilities, both physical and cognitive, into one classroom. As a second grade teacher, I had children who couldn’t and weren’t expected to ever identify the letters of the alphabet as well as children who were reading chapter books. The concept is that the advanced students would help the challenged students and the challenged students would be accepted into an environment of normalcy rather than be subjected to schools specifically geared to special needs. In my experience, this led to heightened frustration from both ends of the spectrum and a nearly impossible task as a teacher to keep everybody working at their level. I found that the majority of my attention went to the lower functioning children and to the exceptionally bright children in an effort to deal with behavioral issues that come with frustration and boredom. That left the average children who were right where they needed to be at a loss. I just didn’t have the time necessary to teach to the entire spectrum.
The benchmarks, or target information that every grade level is required to complete, take a back seat under this system. Even if I didn’t have the majority of students competent in addition and subtraction, I was instructed to move on to multiplication because that was a necessary benchmark by the end of second grade. When I questioned how a person could learn multiplication without a solid basis of addition and subtraction I was told to move on and that there would be review of basic math in the third grade.
I left the teaching profession just as No Child Left Behind was implemented. This absurd law, a brainchild of the G.W. Bush administration has furthered the disconnection between bureaucracy and educators. Now, the sole purpose of a public school education seems to be teaching for a series of standardized tests that are mostly irrelevant to the lives of the average person. Whole school years are devoted to practicing for these tests, which will decide the fate of teachers, schools and students.
My interest in teaching was all about my love of children and my belief that if learning is fun, it becomes a lifelong thread that connects us with our world. As I look into the career I left behind I realize that teachers such as I was have no place in the education factory, where many children go in with the inherent eagerness to devour information and leave devoid of curiosity with no tools for connecting to life.