Posted in education, know better do better, mindset, motivation, thoughtfulness

“But they need to be ready!”

I wrote over the weekend about K-12 school standards and their inappropriateness.

A loud argument in favor of the standards is “kids need to be ready!”

Ready for what?

Preschoolers need to learn their letters so they’re ready for kindergarten. But we decided that they need that for kindergarten.

It’s top-down. We want them to know xyz when they graduate, which means they need this in 11th grade, this in 10th, and on down. (This leaves, in some cases, parents going nuts about where their kid is going for preschool, because of the trajectory to college. Seriously???)

As I mentioned the other day, this top-down thinking doesn’t take cognitive or emotional readiness into account.

It also never leaves space for us to be present, if we’re always looking ahead to what’s next. What about what’s now? Can we learn something and just enjoy it now that we know it? Can we take time and learn things just for fun? Can we learn that learning is fun, so we continue to pursue it when we’re not obligated?

We’re still operating in the mindset that created public schools over 100 years ago. The world is different. Jobs are different. Societal survival skills are different. What we know about human development (physical, mental, emotional) is different. Schools need to be different.

We need kids who can work with one another. We need kids who are creative. We need kids who are willing to be vulnerable (because you can’t be creative without vulnerability).

But teamwork, creativity, and vulnerability aren’t measurable on multiple choice tests.

We’re applying assembly line thinking to an era of opportunities that aren’t assembly line.

Also in the mix: we need to recognize and celebrate growth. A third grader who reads at a first grade level is seen by many as a failure and is a ding against a school’s competence. But if that child started the year without knowledge of the alphabet, completing the year at a first grade level is fantastic!

Teachers already know this.

(There is a solid handful of legitimate reasons why or how a child could get to third grade without being literate.)

Taking a small tangent…

I see such a drastic disconnect between “they need to be ready!” in an academic sense versus every other sense.

We (as a society) don’t teach our kids how to interact in a healthy way with other people. (As a society, we’re not very good at it, so it’s not taught or modeled for many many kids…)

We don’t teach our kids how to manage money. How to budget. To save. To prioritize. To value quality. To delay gratification. (I’ve heard many people say this should be taught in school, and it could be, but what about parents?)

We don’t teach our kids good food habits. Good movement habits. Good screen habits.

Don’t they need all of those things to be ready? Why is only advanced math and interpreting classic literature considered “readiness”?

Let’s reconsider what we need out of kids when they’re done.

Let’s take it a step farther and consider what we need out of kids if they drop out. What if we get them for 8 or 9 years instead of 13?

What do you think kids need that is appropriate for schools to provide? What should schools add, and what should they subtract, in your opinion?

Posted in education, know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation, parenting, thoughtfulness

Standards and accountability and homework

One in three children in the US can’t read at grade level.

For many people, that means that schools aren’t doing their jobs and we need more accountability and more testing.

What if we redefined “at grade level”?

I got into this a bit the other day, but we have completely redefined “at grade level” since I was a kid.

My experience was different (I went to Catholic school for kindergarten), but my sister, two years younger, went to the public school where I went beginning in first grade.

She went to kindergarten for half days. In kindergarten, they learned the alphabet. I remember the rhyme for A. (I don’t know why I know that one at all, or why I don’t also know any others…)

A, A for Alligator Al

Apples, ants, and Africa

Acrobats and animals

A, A for Alligator Al

(I looked for it online but couldn’t find it. Is there something the internet can’t provide?!)

Reading was something we started in first grade. Kindergarten was for basics. (Kindergarten was also not for four-year-olds.)

There’s quite a bit of research that informs us that learning to read young isn’t useful. We can wait until 7 or 8 years old before starting, and the long-term result is better, because brains are more developed and are ready.

(This is not to say that there aren’t exceptions. Occasionally, kids read at 3 or 4 years old because they just pick it up or otherwise show readiness. But we shouldn’t base national standards on the outliers.)

It seems that we need to feel like we’re doing something instead of actually doing what’s best. Small kids need to play. They learn through play. Gross and fine motor skills are important.

What good is research if we’re going to ignore the results anyway?

Speaking of research…

Homework in elementary school isn’t useful.

Part of the homework problem right now ties right back in to the standards. Teachers are teaching content that isn’t appropriate for their kids (because they’re required to), so the kids need homework for reinforcement. Because it’s too hard. And because there’s too much of it.


Let’s dial back the standards to something developmentally-appropriate.

Before we even do that, let’s have a conversation about what school is for. What’s the goal? What do we want kids to be able to do when they leave the system? Then: what are ways we can achieve that? (Separate post on that another day.)

We haven’t overhauled the system in a long time, and the system is in need of an overhaul.

Let’s dial back the standards to be developmentally appropriate.

In that upheaval, kids are more likely to learn to read when they’re ready. Which means more kids will be literate. And also that reading won’t have such negative emotions connected to it for so many people. Which means overall literacy will be higher. More people will read for fun and will be able to read and understand contracts and the like. And the tide rises.

I can’t tell you how many people have mentioned in casual conversation that they’re not good at [reading/writing/math]. That’s because of how it’s structured in school. And because they have negative emotions connected to learning it.

It’s not the schools’ fault. Legislation dictates what be taught at what level. In Arizona (and probably many or most other states), we have mandates on how many minutes per week be spent on the core subject areas, and the state standards outline all of the content knowledge and skills that need to be taught in that time.

(It’s a lot. It’s too much.)

We need people to stand up against the testing movement (which is lining some folks’ pockets while stressing our kids and teachers and stealing time and money from schools). We need people to look at the research and say, “Hey! I want our schools to do what’s best for kids. And this isn’t it!”

Teachers have been saying it for a long time, but our voices have been discounted. It needs to come from parents, from community members, from businesses.

We can do better.

Posted in cancer, education, mental health, mindset


In my masters program, I had a class on group counseling. It was one of the most interesting classes I’ve ever taken.

A tiny slice that I remember: in talking about group therapy, you can put depressed people together and they don’t amplify each other’s depression. You can put anxious people together, and they don’t amplify each other’s anxiety. But if you put aggressive people together, they amplify each other’s aggression.

This is churning through my brain lately on several levels.


We have some aggressive kids at school. If there are, for example, five aggressive kids in 4th grade and there are three fourth grade homerooms, what do we do? We can’t separate them all. If these types of kids (people) don’t function in a therapeutic environment together, how can they function (or thrive) in an academic environment? How is a teacher, who is not a trained psychotherapist, supposed to manage them?


We have some aggressive people out and about. It’s more and more seemingly acceptable to be aggressive, and to meet aggression in kind. How are we supposed to make America great again [sic] if we’re just escalating the fighting? Compounded by aggression being considered valuable or desirable in many circles…

I tagged this post under cancer because aggression is spreading like one, and killing us like one as well…

Posted in about me, differences, education, mental health

The glory of having energy at the end of the work day

The last couple of years, most or all of my classes (as a whole—not every individual student) had self-control issues. Inability to stay quiet, to accept directions, to follow through on assignments, regardless of where the task fell on the fun meter. In extreme cases, yelling and swearing. Unrelenting back-talk. Things said to me that I wouldn’t have dared say when I was a kid, nor would I say now to anyone, much less someone with power.

(I teach 5th and 6th grade.)

At the end of the work day, even though I was part time, I was exhausted. The majority of my energy was going to classroom management, and a tiny slice was given to actually teaching. The groups as a whole didn’t play well, though there were individual students who did.

It was draining. It was demoralizing. It definitely did not make my life better.

This year, I have a couple of classes that act like normal classes, which is to say, we can get stuff done. Occasionally I need to redirect a couple of students. There’s always someone who asks a question that I just answered. But that’s all pretty standard.

I can teach and they can learn.

It’s glorious.

I come home from work and have energy left. Things get done around the house. Exercising is easier. I have more patience for The Kid. I have mental energy to think about different ways to teach. (It’s never the same twice, whether it’s tweaked or totally overhauled.)

Having a job that doesn’t suck me dry is a big deal.

Happy to have some of myself back.

Posted in education, mindset

I am a miracle worker, but…

I wrote Thursday about how some of the habits that made me a great student were actually reaction to trauma, and I wondered how my life would be different if any of my teachers saw red flags instead of the ideal.

I need to follow up with that today to clarify that I don’t blame my teachers, and I wouldn’t blame a teacher now for not seeing it.

You see, we’re trained to teach. Of course we know content, though that tends to be the easiest piece. We know how to deliver content in a myriad of ways. How to help kids who are struggling and kids who are flying at the same time. How to be engaging. Classroom management.

But we’re also expected to teach basic social skills. (Making eye contact when addressed. Saying please and thank you. Not talking over other people. Not calling names. Cleaning up after yourself. And on and on.) We’re expected to be social workers. (You can’t learn if basic physical and psychological needs aren’t met.) Parents. (see: social skills)

But we have boundaries set for us, and they’re in different places for different kids, parents, teachers themselves, principals, school districts. What one parent berates us for not doing another parent thinks is over the line.

We have classes with too many kids. Kids with mild behavior problems. Kids with major behavior problems. Kids with physical limitations. Kids with mental limitations. Kids with emotional limitations. Curricula that are not developmentally appropriate.

When I was in kindergarten, we learned letters, numbers, colors. We played games and sang songs, had snacks, played games, and, if we were there the whole day (which was atypical), we took naps.

Now, if you show up to kindergarten without knowledge of letters, numbers, and colors, you’re behind. And of course you’ll be there all day. How else will we have time to teach you everything you need to know to be ready for first grade?

Except that I learned to read and write and do math just fine, as did many of my contemporaries. We didn’t need to learn it a year earlier. (And I’m certain that the kids who struggled to learn it in first grade weren’t going to have a higher success rate a year earlier.)

There are other places in the world where children aren’t taught to read until they’re 8. And they’re still literate. And people enjoy reading more and are better at it.

There’s quite a bit of research about education, about ideal class sizes, about what is developmentally appropriate for each age, but we don’t use it. We have this unfounded notion that in order to do better, we have to do more and it has to be earlier.

It’s flat-out wrong.

Kids are stressed about school (and about high-stakes testing), and adults are so stressed themselves and don’t have enough emotional space to be empathetic (or thoughtfully critical), and kids are told that this is how life is …

But it doesn’t have to be. And especially for kids, it shouldn’t be.

If kids are stressed in the learning environment, they’re not going to become lifelong learners, because learning has become equated with stressful. But the work environment now requires lifelong learning and adaptability.

(How many people will tell you they’re not good at math because they had trouble with math in school 20, 30, 40 years ago? Or that they can’t sing because their elementary choir teacher told them so? Emotions connected with learning in school stick.)

We have an industrial mindset for a workplace and world that simply isn’t industrial any more. And the blowback is at the teachers.

Teaching is

  • powerful (ignorant people are much easier to manipulate)
  • female-dominated (female is still less-than in this country and most others)
  • an art (arts are culturally seen as frivolous; teaching is so much more than content knowledge)

I think if it mattered less and was more masculine (which would also, culturally, make it less artful), we’d be more inclined to follow the research and fix it.

So often, I hear teachers demonized for letting kids fall through the cracks. But honestly, how can they not? How can every teacher wear all of those hats all the time, teaching material that isn’t appropriate to such a variety of social-emotional starting places?

As I have been known to say: the miracles I work are only so big.