Ms. Meyers is a mom, teacher, and author who writes about issues in early childhood education and parenting.
Teacher Shortages, Inexperienced Educators, Slashed Budgets: What a Parent Can Do to Help
Today, schools are political minefields where educators get attacked for uttering the word “gay” and are criticized for presenting lessons about our nation’s racist history. At the same time, they’re expected to do active shooter drills with their students and be prepared to dive seamlessly into online learning if the pandemic worsens or another one surfaces.
It’s no wonder a severe teacher shortage is looming.
This crisis has been brewing for decades as educators struggled to make ends meet, demands on them swelled, respect for their profession diminished, government interference increased, and their autonomy in the classroom dwindled.
As special education budgets got slashed, regular classrooms filled up with students who had profound cognitive, emotional, and/or behavioral issues. On top of that, teachers were under intense pressure brought on by high-stakes standardized testing and inappropriate Common Core standards, especially in the primary grades where little kids were no longer allowed to be little kids.
As a result of these factors and many more, fewer college students are choosing to pursue teaching as a career path and experienced educators are bailing.
During these trying times when teachers desperately need support from parents, they’re disheartened when extremists choose to focus their time and efforts on banning books rather than doing something that will actually help.
While moms and dads are accustomed to pitching in with fundraisers such as buying tubs of cookie dough and pledging money for walk-a-thons, they now need to step up and do more if they want to preserve our public school system.
With that in mind, below you will find 10 ways parents can get involved and make a meaningful difference as we face a severe teacher shortage and an influx of inexperienced educators: 5 things to do for parents of kindergartens, and 5 actions to take for elementary school parents.
5 Ways Parents Can Help: Kindergarten
Sadly, kindergarten has been destroyed by politicians who interfered and parents who turned a blind eye. This once-magical introduction to school taught us how to share, take turns, explore our environment, be curious, make friends, and develop a love of learning. There were no complaints about kindergarten—no demands from the public to change it—but politicians couldn’t leave well enough alone.
When they passed Common Core, they saddled kindergarten teachers with a frighteningly long list of standards. These resulted in kids sitting longer, writing more, memorizing too much, and liking school a whole lot less.
Here are five ways for parents to advocate for their little ones and get kindergarten back to what it once was and should be.
1. Advocate to make kindergarten exempt from Common Core standards
There were no K-3 educators on the team that wrote the standards for kindergarten. As a result, they’re highly inappropriate and don’t acknowledge a young child’s need to move, play, explore, and socialize. Instead, they put undue pressure on little kids to write, read, and do math.
When they get frustrated, they wrongly believe they’re dumb. The truly ignorant ones, though, are the adults who cruelly pushed academics on children who weren’t ready for them.
Call to action: Parents need to educate themselves about developmentally appropriate practices and start advocating for their kids. This is especially critical now as a teacher shortage looms and inexperienced folks with no background in early childhood learning will helm kindergarten classrooms.
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2. Write politicians to demand kindergarten be play-based
We have decades of research that support play-based kindergartens over academic ones.
Yet, we stupidly listened to politicians instead of experts in early childhood education, developmental psychologists, pediatricians, and kindergarten teachers.
Call to action: Parents need to stand up and advocate for their children’s right to play. They need to contact the president, the Secretary of Education, their senators, their representatives, and their superintendents and demand play-based learning for little kids. They need to organize and educate one another about the importance of play and why it's the most effective way for kids to learn.
3. Bring back play kitchens, blocks, and puppet theaters
One of the more sadistic moves we’ve made in education during the past 20 years is removing materials from kindergarten classrooms that allowed children to play. Gone now are play kitchens, dollhouses, puppet theaters, and blocks.
He found the decline of play in the U.S. over the past 60 years corresponds to the increase in anxiety, depression, obesity, and narcissism among kids and teens.
Call to action: Parents need to understand that play is essential to a child’s mental, emotional, social, and physical well-being. There's no activity in kindergarten—not reading groups, not handwriting lessons, not math stations—that is more essential than letting kids interact without adult interference.
4. Stop formal reading instruction
Because of Common Core standards, kindergarten teachers are now under enormous pressure to get little kids reading before the end of the school year. Yet, scholars in early childhood education argue that not all kids are developmentally ready to do so.
Moreover, they contend there’s no benefit to early reading. Research shows early readers will plateau and late readers will catch up with them by third grade.
Call to action: Parents need to educate themselves about the pitfalls of reading instruction in kindergarten. Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige argues there are many drawbacks to it. When kids struggle and get frustrated, they get the message they’re inadequate. They stop trying, feel helpless, and grow to dislike school.
5. Return the focus to big-picture skills
Instead of teaching narrow goals—how to recognize the beginning and ending sounds of words, how to count to 100, and how to write their names—kindergarten teachers should focus on big-picture goals that will benefit kids throughout their lives.
These should include: learning how to get along with others, working cooperatively on projects, becoming self-sufficient, developing their unique curiosities, and figuring out how to solve problems on their own.
Call to action: Parents need to volunteer in the classroom and demand that big-picture skills be the focus of kindergarten. Kindergarten is the perfect time for youngsters to learn about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). There’s no better way to accomplish this than them playing at the water table, building with blocks, and being in nature.
5 Ways Parents Can Help: Grades 1-5
1. Push to fund and staff special education classes
While low pay is no doubt the number one reason for the teacher shortage, inclusion is quite possibly number two. Special education budgets have been slashed and students with severe cognitive, emotional, and/or behavioral problems have been placed in regular classrooms.
Teachers are overwhelmed, scared, and drained. Can you imagine what it’s like for a new teacher to not only confront a classroom of 30 kids, each with their own unique personality and particular needs, plus one or two with severe psychological issues?
Teaching programs don’t prepare educators for this, and some administrators offer little or no support.
Call to action: Parents need to volunteer in classrooms so they can see firsthand how one or two disturbed children take up a disproportionate amount of a teacher’s time and energy. This is unfair to the teacher, the other students, and the kids who need specialized help. Therefore, moms and dads need to advocate for more special education teachers and classes.
2. Advocate for teaching the whole child: body, mind, and soul
Today, so many moms and dads come away from parent-teacher conferences thinking: I wonder if the teacher even knows my child?
Conferences now mostly involve a teacher going over the youngster’s standardized test scores. Parents leave the meeting feeling their child has been reduced to a number.
They question whether the teacher even sees their child for the unique being they are. After all, they want to know how their kid is socializing with classmates, whether they’re excited about learning, and if they can handle new challenges.
Call to action: Parents need to speak out and let teachers and administrators know they want more attention placed on the whole child–body, mind, and soul– and less emphasis placed on standardized test results.
3. Introduce a perceptual-motor program for grades 1-3
Because preschoolers today spend too much time with technology and not enough time outside playing, many start school with weak gross motor skills and poor coordination. By launching and running a perceptual-motor program for grades 1-3, parents can help kids learn how to move more efficiently, improve their balance, and build their confidence.
Call to action: Perceptual-motor programs were popular years ago but, sadly, fell to the wayside when not enough parents volunteered to run them. It’s time, though, for them to make a resurgence with the help of some take-charge moms and dads.
4. Return autonomy to teachers
Political agendas such as No Child Left Behind and Common Core, coupled with high-stakes standardized testing and ongoing assessments, have stripped teachers of their autonomy.
Educators aren’t allowed to be as creative as they once were, feeling the pressure to stuff their students with information for the next exam.
Today, the conversation centers around stripping more authority from teachers: not letting them say the word “gay,” not letting them discuss slavery and systemic racism, and not allowing them to explain how Native Americans were treated by white people.
What bright, enthusiastic young person would want to consider becoming a social studies teacher under these circumstances when they’d be forced to lie to their students outrightly or by omission?
Call to action: Parents need to back teachers and allow them to be authorities in their classrooms. In countries such as Finland that have top-notch schools, teachers have an incredible amount of power to make the decisions about curriculum, textbooks, and materials.
5. Give teachers the respect they’ve earned as professionals
Most folks look at a job such as brain surgery and think: Boy, I could never do that! Conversely, they look at a job such as teaching and think: Sure, I could do that! No problem!
The truth of the matter is most people can’t. While people love to compliment teachers for “all their patience,” it takes a whole lot more to be a competent educator.
Teachers have tremendous organizational skills, a deep knowledge of their subject matter, and a rare ability to motivate young people. Some of these talents come naturally while others are acquired through years of training and experience.
Call to action: Parents and society as a whole need to stop acting as though teaching is an easy job that anyone can do. They need to demand educators be paid more so we can keep experienced teachers and attract new ones.
Replacing Contempt With Respect
It’s no secret that teachers are some of the most educated but lowest-paid professionals in our nation. They’ve all earned college degrees. Many have attended a year of graduate school to obtain a teaching credential. Some have master's degrees. Many continually take “professional-growth” classes in order to renew their teaching licenses. Yet, teacher salaries are so meager that some must hold second jobs or have “side hustles” to just scrape by. A recent news headline told the tale of an experienced teacher who quit his job because he could make $12,000 more each year by working at Walmart.
When a high school teacher recently spoke to his students about choosing teaching as a career, they laughed. Although they were just 17, they knew how difficult (if not impossible) it would be for them to someday buy a home and start a family on a teacher’s paycheck.
Because Americans esteem those who make big bucks–professional athletes, celebrities, and tech CEOs– it’s not surprising that teachers are often disrespected by parents, students, and society as a whole.
This disdain will only worsen during a teacher shortage as less qualified, less experienced folks enter classrooms and will understandably struggle.
Unfortunately, school administrators can also be contemptuous of teachers. They don’t provide them with the support they need, especially when dealing with disruptive students and rude parents.
That’s why it’s crucial that moms and dads become involved in their children’s elementary schools and find ways to have an impact.
© 2022 McKenna Meyers