The author is a former preschool and kindergarten teacher with a master's degree in special education. She writes on early childhood issues.
Are You Worried That Your Child's Elementary School Teacher Is Overburdened?
- Does it seem your child's teacher knows all about her test scores but little else about her?
- Do you get frustrated when your child's teacher compares her to other students but fails to recognize her uniqueness?
- Do you get lost when your child's teacher communicates with you because she uses language you don't understand?
- Do you get concerned that one or two disruptive students are taking up too much of the teacher's time and energy?
If you're nodding your head, you're not alone. In this age of standardized testing, academic rigor, and "earlier is better," many parents worry about our one-size-fits-all education system and how the creativity and individuality of students is minimized. Elementary school teachers are facing huge demands to get results like never before in history. As a result, it's important that parents advocate for their kids, making sure they're not getting hurt by an education system that's becoming less child-centered.
In Today's School Climate, Parents Need to Speak Up
First, let me come clean; I'm both a teacher and a parent. I know the long hours educators put into their jobs without receiving the compensation and respect they deserve. With the rise of standardized testing, they're under tremendous pressure to prepare students for these high-stakes exams. Test preparation takes up a good deal of their teaching time, reducing their autonomy and creativity in the classroom.
Most tragically, teachers of young children are forced to instruct in ways that are developmentally inappropriate, neglecting the uniqueness of each student and downplaying the enormous value of play, exploration, and social interaction. Educators despise reducing children to test scores, but the current climate in our country often makes them do just that. With this in mind, parents need to be more vigilant than ever, speaking up and advocating for their youngsters.
As an education writer for the past twelve years and as a parent talking to other parents, I’ve seen how high-stakes standardized tests are stunting children’s spirits, adding stress to family life, demoralizing teachers, undermining schools, paralyzing the education debate, and gutting our country’s future competitiveness.
— Anya Kamenetz, author of "The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing"
Concern #1:Reducing Students to Test Scores
When I started teaching kindergarten 25 years ago, parent-teacher conferences focused on the whole child—body, mind, and spirit. We'd touch on a wide-range of topics: the child's ability to make friends and handle conflicts, her motivation to use class time productively, and her budding talents in art, math, science, and reading. Sadly, conferences today typically involve teachers explaining standardized test results and reviewing student assessments. Parents often walk away feeling unsatisfied and wondering if the teacher knows their youngster in any meaningful way.
These meetings, so limited in scope, indicate how deep learning is declining in our country. They reflect the need for parents to get more involved and to speak up about their concerns. Anya Kamenetz, who covers school issues for NPR, says that standardized testing has negatively impacted the entire educational landscape. She reports that children in grades three through 10 spend up to 25% of the year preparing for standardized tests. This greatly reduces the time for meaningful activities that promote critical and creative thinking and prepare youngsters for a future where those skills will be desperately needed.
What Should Parents Do?
When my son was in second grade, he was a smart and capable student but didn't interact with peers at recess. I became concerned about this so I arrived at his conference determined to discuss it. When his teacher wanted to stick to the script about test results, I pushed her to discuss the recess situation until we reached a solution. In my mind, what was happening outside with his classmates was just as important (if not more) than what was happening in the classroom.
Parents need to let teachers know that they want the scope of education to be broadened, not increasingly narrowed. If they don't let their voices be heard, educators will continue to focus solely on the cognitive development of their students and not the social, physical, and emotional.
Concern #2: Neglecting the Uniqueness of Each Child
Sadly, elementary school teachers today don't always do a good job of articulating (and celebrating) the individual differences among their students. Because of standardized testing and classroom assessments, they focus too much on comparing a child's progress to those of her peers and communicating that information to parents. Then, when moms and dads find out that their youngster is behind, they panic. They sign her up for after school tutoring, drill her with flashcards, torture her with long homework sessions, buy her workbooks, and send her to summer school. This results in a youngster who feels like a failure, is getting turned off to learning, and is gradually checking out of the academic world, believing it's not for her.
We need to respect children’s individual developmental timelines. The idea that 'earlier is better' for reading instruction is simply not supported by research evidence. Children’s long-term achievement and self-identities as readers and students can be damaged when they are introduced to reading and literacy too early.
— Dr. Jessica Smock, author and educator
What Should Parents Do?
Parents need to realize that children learn at different rates and times and the one-size-fit-all approach in education is unrealistic and harmful. Nowhere is this more evident than in today's kindergarten classrooms where teachers push for every child to read by the end of the school year. This goal, established by the Common Core standards, goes against overwhelming evidence that shows there's no benefit to early reading instruction.
Parents need to learn the facts and not just assume that earlier is better when, in fact, it can do a lot of damage. In their report "Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose," the authors warn: "When children have educational experiences that are not geared to their developmental level or in tune with their learning needs and cultures, it can cause them great harm, including feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and confusion."
Concern #3: Not Communicating Effectively With Parents
Like any profession, education has its own lingo with words going in and out of vogue. Some elementary school teachers, trying to sound impressive, use this specialized language when talking with parents and don't take the time to explain it. Some of today's buzz words include: mainstreaming, less restrictive environment, inclusion, phonological awareness, whole language, sight words, math manipulatives, cooperative learning, and best practices.
While most teachers are humble, down-to-earth people who enjoy interacting with parents, there are some who are quite patronizing. Having a son with autism opened my eyes to this problem. When teachers spoke with me about my boy, they didn't know I possessed both a teaching credential and a master's degree in special education. In a way, I was undercover and became thoroughly disheartened by some who talked to me in a high-and-mighty manner with no compassion for my situation.
These teachers acted as if I had a low high I.Q. because my son had special needs. They took the stance that they had all the answers, knew my child better than I did, and needed to "educate" me about the proper services for him. In her article "Talking to Parents: What Every Teacher Needs to Know," Amy Mascott addresses this problem, writing: "Speak kindly to parents without being condescending. Leave your 'kindergarten' voice in the classroom and use a different tone with adults than you may use when speaking to younger children."
What Should Parents Do?
When teachers toss about unfamiliar terms, parents should immediately stop them and ask for clarification. They should feel free to ask as many questions as necessary until they understand. They can also bring an advocate—someone who knows more about the topic than they do and who can help bring about clarity. Since teachers tend to talk rapidly at meetings, parents should ask them to slow down. Everyone is busy these days—both teachers and parents—so you want to make the most out of a meeting and ensure progress is being made for the child.
Concern #4: Letting One Student Take Up Too Much of Their Time and Energy
My biggest complaint as both a parent and an educator is when one or two disruptive students take up too much of the teacher's time and energy. Sadly, this happens far too often and parents, unless they volunteer in the classroom, have no idea how severe the problem is and how much class time it wastes.
Even with classroom management systems in place, a disruptive student can grind learning to a halt. Some elementary school teachers (especially rookies) are hesitant to ask for help from administrators, fearing they'll be negatively labeled as "someone who can't handle her class." Others simply know that administrators don't want to be bothered with discipline problems, expecting teachers to handle them on their own.
What Should Parents Do?
This is when parents should advocate for the teachers. They should go to the principal and state their concerns: “We think Mr. Jones is an outstanding educator and we're so thrilled our daughter is in his class. However, we see that one disruptive student is taking up too much of his time. What can be done so Mr. Jones gets the support he needs and deserves?” With enough pressure from parents, the principal will take the steps necessary to improve the situation. After all, that is his job!
What do you think?
© 2016 McKenna Meyers
McKenna Meyers (author) on April 15, 2017:
I agree that homeschooling is an excellent option these days. I know many parents who do it successfully, combining traditional learning with online resources. I wouldn't characterize them as helicopter moms and dads but involved parents who realize that schools often teach to the lowest common denominator. They saw that their kids weren't getting challenged and were in classrooms with students who were disruptive and unmotivated. This seems to be especially true in middle school when many students check out and it's cool not to try. Thanks for reading and commenting.
John on April 14, 2017:
It is easy to pontificate. If being involved in your child's education is so important consider homeschooling. It's a win win, the parent controls and is in charge and the teachers do what my taxpayer dollars are meant to do: educate children, not cater to helicopter adults.
McKenna Meyers (author) on September 26, 2016:
Yes. I hope parents will feel more empowered to get involved and speak up. In this climate of "rigorous learning" and standardized testing, teachers need support from parents. There's a lot of evidence out there that says young children learn best by playing/doing, but our country is moving in the opposite direction.
RTalloni on September 26, 2016:
Excellent! So surprised I'm the first commenter. Parents need more information like this and more encouragement to remember that they are the parent!