Dear Kennari-

Greetings once again from Sweet Meadow Acres for Retired Teachers. I only have a few minutes to write today, so let’s get right to it, shall we?

In your last letter, you mentioned that you’re overwhelmed with everything you need to do to prepare your students for next year. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this continues to be a problem in education—what with all of the ridiculous increase in the volume and speed of content nowadays. Just the fact that you mentioned that you have to follow a “pacing guide” reveals that too many people view schooling as a race…

This problem isn’t a new one. When I was teaching fourth grade (back when a gallon of gas was less than a dollar), I felt pressure about cursive writing. The third grade teachers were supposed to teach it and we were supposed to reinforce it, all because the fifth grade teachers wanted kids to do it. We all knew that the sixth grade teachers didn’t care about it and kids stopped writing in cursive as soon as they got there. Oh, the time wasted.

I’ve seen this phenomenon—where teachers teach things in service of future teachers—in education time and time again.

  • Third graders have to practice math facts because they need them in fourth grade.
  • Middle school kids get pounded with homework to “prepare” them for high school.
  • I’ve even heard of preschoolers practicing phonics and math skills through worksheets to get them ready for first grade. (Presumably, the first grade teachers are using worksheets to prepare kids for some other grade level. At what point do we realize that few people ever need to fill out worksheets as adults? But that’s a topic for another letter, I suppose.)

For cripes sake! What are we doing to kids? How are kids ever going to feel successful if they’re constantly engaged in work that’s developmentally beyond their reach? And how can we expect them to be joyfully engaged in learning if they never feel successful?

Do you remember how Yoda (a kindred spirit of mine if ever there was one) chastised Luke in The Empire Strikes Back? “This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph!”

studying & sleeping
Hmph indeed! Can you imagine how much more developmentally appropriate and respectful schools would be of we stopped trying to prepare kids for next year and focused on helping them be successful in this one? If you teach 8th grade, and the 9th grade teachers want to slam kids with ridiculous amounts of homework, that’s their problem…let them deal with it. There’s no need to make kids miserable now so they can be better prepared to be miserable next year.

So, I say, don’t worry so much about what next year’s teachers are looking for. Take a look at your kids and start refocusing on what they need (and are ready for) right now. We might find that kids are more relaxed, happy, and open to learning.

Well, as I said, I’m pressed for time. The staff got really upset during Tuesday Night Bingo when someone (who I refuse to rat out—even to you), broke wind when the room was nearly silent. Everyone (who was awake) started laughing, and the staff tried to flush the culprit. Since no one will admit to the crime, we all have to attend a mandatory meeting before lunch today to talk about our “politeness policy.” You’d think they’d know better by now not to punish us all like this. It just unites us against them. Sound familiar? But I guess that’s also topic for another letter…

Wish us luck…

Uncle Curmudgeon

Photo credit: mrehan via / CC BY-SA