Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Nightmare of 3rd Grade

My most vivid memory of my education is from third grade.  I will never forget Mr. Priester, the science teacher, accusing me of cheating on a communicable disease test.  I got all of the diseases correct and they were spelled right, so when he realized a study guide was left out on my neighbor's stack of books, he accused both of us of cheating.  That moment ruined my third grade year.  Though my mom stood up for me and the grade was kept, I can honestly tell you that in all of my years of elementary, middle, high school and college, third grade was my worst year.  (FYI, I can also spell thrombocyticpeniapurpura, Mr. P, so take that!  Yes, I'm still bitter.)

Interestingly, I now have a third grader and I can say without a doubt that this is the worst school year for him, too.  No one is accusing him of cheating, though.  This year is a nightmare for a whole host of other reasons. 

1.  The pressure.  They start harping on standardized tests in second grade, making it very clear that if  you don't pass your IREADs and ISTEPs, you're held back no matter what.  I am super glad my kid, and others that I know, were able to dwell on that all summer.  Threats and fear are super ways to motivate the kids that may struggle.

2.  The workload.  In years past, we were given packets on Monday and homework was turned in Friday.  You pace it out or procrastinate and do it Thursday...  Your call.  We now have math packets that are similar, but we're also getting pretty detailed reading comp assignments due the next day, plus spelling words, grammar study, and fact test studying.  Oh yeah, and fluency if your child failed the fluency screening at the beginning of the year.  Oh, and if they struggle academically, it is recommended that you find standardized test prep materials and add that onto their homework time.  No big deal.  Why would we want 8 and 9 year olds to have time to play outside, be well rounded by participating in activities and sports or sleep?

3.  The struggle.  In our case, we deal with additional challenges.  In the past they were passed off as "age appropriate," but that ship has sailed.  Upon his 8th birthday, what was age appropriate has become undiagnosed learning disorders.  While we go through the long and drawn out process of determining what is hindering his learning, he is still graded and worked as if his brain functions normally.  I realize we don't know what to do for sure until we know what we're working with, but how is it helping to write in bold marker the mediocre scores he's getting and the time it takes to complete his work?  FYI, we get it.  He's struggling.  But maybe it would behoove us to get thrown a lifeline or even a life jacket to stay afloat instead of a couple bricks to hold while trying to tread water.  Let's start finding positive proactive assistance instead of negative reactive grading procedures.

I am not blaming our school or our teacher specifically for the nightmare that makes me sick every time I unpack Will's backpack and makes him hate going to school everyday.  Its the system.  Its whoever decided that one test score determines your placement.  Its whoever decided a teacher's merit and pay is based on those scores.  Its whoever decided that we teach to pass tests now instead of teaching to educate our kids.  I blame those people.  And I hope they experience the sleepless nights of a worried parent, headaches and stomachaches of anxious kids and the high blood pressure of stressed out teachers that they've created.  I hope they feel it, and I hope it hurts, because their system is punishing the very kids they didn't want left behind.  Instead of leaving them, we're shoving them underwater and hoping they can hold their breath forever.  Here's a little tip from a former third grader who now parents one, its not going to work.  They'll gasp for breath and until you pull them back out of the water, they'll swallow water until they drown.  This is third grade, and its my nightmare.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Winners V Athletes

In my sports days, and now in my sons' sports, I've met a lot of coaches.  I've learned that there are two types of coaches in the world.  They may both love the game they are coaching, but they teach two totally different ways.  One creates winners.  The other creates athletes.

At first glance, you want the "winner." But, let me tell you about the winners.  They may learn the skills to play the game, but they won't learn the skills to participate in sports.  They're two different things.  Games have rules... you can't double dribble, you can't move before the center hikes the ball, three strikes and you're out.  The rules are the same for everyone and they're black and white.  You can do this, you can't do that.  Participating in sports is way bigger.  Sports is made up of teams, teammates, coaches, opponents, ethics and outcomes.  A winner may win the game, but they'll never show the sportsmanship, gracefulness, ethical play and lessons learned from losing.  A winner is the kind who teaches to play dirty.  He doesn't break the rules, but he'll devise a strategy to win that bends the rule as far as it can.  He'll justify playing only certain players, even if the league is a 5 and 6 year old learning league, because the chosen ones will win.  He'll ignore the positive aspects of playing sports and focus on only one thing... the win. 

The coach that creates athletes is the coach you want.  He is focused on fostering love of the game, the skills needed to play it and the respect to be a sportsman.  An athlete will show grace in defeat, humility in success, and respect for those involved.  Athletes don't fight the other players, use scapegoats for losses and badmouth.  Athletes play the game, but they're also learning about life.  That's the team that really wins.  The one that takes their lessons from the field into the world and runs with them.  "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."  Michael Jordan, athlete.

My kids may not be winners.  In fact, I hope they aren't.  My kids will be athletes, and with that, they'll kick the winners asses in real life.  Try to block that shot, Coach.