Thursday, August 28, 2008

Don’t Let Our Children Down

I recently saw this video Dalton Sherman which truly inspired and motivated me to be a better teacher. I hope you take the time to watch this 9 minute video if you haven’t seen it yet. The speaker is a fifth grader who is talking to an auditorium full of teachers explaining to them why he needs them.

Then I read this artlcle Little League Pitcher Banned from Playing Because He is Too Good after seeing this story on the Early Show. This boy is nine years old and his fastball can go as fast at 40 mph. When he took the mound the other week, the opposing team forfeited and left the game. The league told the coach that this boy could not pitch any more. Imagine not allowing a child to play a game because he is too good? That is what is wrong with America right now. We are holding back children who are too good in whatever they are good at but other countries are pushing their children to be the best at extremely young ages. Look at the controversy over the age of the Chinese gymnasts. They push their children at a very young age to pursue excellence. Yet, we tell this boy he can’t play with children his own age because he is too good. Then of course he can’t play with children who are older than him because he doesn’t meet the age requirements. What will happen to this boy? Do we let his talent fall to the wayside?

When my daughter was in fourth grade, I would have to drop her off early at school so I could get to my school early and prepare for teaching. She would go to the cafeteria where all early arrivals met and proceeded to keep herself occupied so she wouldn’t get in trouble. I didn’t know there was a problem until I was called for a conference at her school. Apparently at the end of each day, the teacher would put up the next day’s assignments while they waited for dismissal. My daughter would copy the assignments down and in the morning while she sat in the cafeteria for 30 minutes, she would complete all of the assignments. Then during class, she became disruptive because she had nothing to do and bothered other students while they completed the daily assignments. I asked how well the assignments were completed and was told that she made 100 on all of them. The teacher and administrator insisted that I make my daughter stop doing the assignments ahead of time so she wouldn’t be disruptive in class. My concern was that if she could make 100 on assignments without classroom instruction that maybe she wasn’t being challenged enough. Both refused to give her alternative assignments or look at any other alternatives. They refused to think about the gifted program because they felt she was a behavior problem. As a teacher, I tried to be sympathetic about the behavior problem and promised that we would address that at home but I was insistent that the academic problem was the school’s problem. Needless to say, we were at a standstill and the rest of the year was just miserable for all of us.

Here are two examples of how we hold our children back. Then we wonder why the rest of the world is forging ahead of us. After reading Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat, I am impressed at how India has looked at the needs of their country and tried to find ways to move forward quickly. I recently attended a forum on the need for finding alternative fuel sources and the research that is being done. In the future, who will be doing this research if we continue to hold back our children. If our message to them is to not be too good or try too hard, then we become a mediocre country with mediocre talents who only produce mediocre results, while the rest of the world passes us by.

How can we combat this pressure for mediocrity? I don’t know but I’m feeling very frustrated by it. I think one way would be to look at our students and make sure that we are challenging them to work to their full potential. If they are behavior problems, look beyond the behavior and see what the cause is. Let’s not treat the symptoms but find out why the child is behaving this way. Maybe the need more challenges or need to be pushed to fine tune their talents. We are the ones that can shape this child into someone who could change our world. Our children believe that we can help them and we can’t let them down. We need to believe that we have the power to help them find success.


Anonymous said...

Those anecdotes make me angry at the school your daughter attends. Who knows what really happens based on your brief one sides review, however, assuming it's exactly as you say, that school embarasses the whole group. Teachers are in a constant fight to be seen as professional and valuable. Having teachers ignore a good student who is willing to do extra work for goodness sakes is terrible. Can you imagine the results you could get if every student willingly invested another half hour or hour per day? It's ridiculous not to take advantage of that effort.

So tell us why you think those educators didn't go down that path? You expose a problem, but you're a teacher. What should be done in those situations, keeping in mind that your daughter's teacher probably doesn't want to invest another hour herself just for one student.

M-Dawg said...

First, the video of the 5th grader was so inspirational to me. That young man "gets it"! And, I hope all those educators in that auditorium "gets it" too!

Second, your daughter was robbed of a decent education that year in school. She could've been pushed further. And, those teachers made a bad choice to not help your daughter rise above her potential.

Why are we in education if we don't want our students to excel or succeed in life? YES - teaching is A LOT of work. But the end rewards are so rewarding. Let's never give up on our students or they will give up on us.

Anonymous said...

What an infectious young man! We sometimes forget as teachers that students yearn to learn from us. Thank you for sharing a tremendously inspirational video. I believe!

loonyhiker said...

TS: I kept telling them if she could do the work w/o assistance in 30 minutes and still make As, then she was not being challenged enough. They would not admit that and said it was more of an issue of following directions. I ended up finding stuff to challenge her at home.

I think if we use more universal design for learning, we could meet the needs of individual students. The only thing she learned during this time was that she hated school because she was always in trouble and it was boring. If the teacher took the time for a little extra work, it probably would have paid off in the long run for everyone's happiness. Instead it was a miserable year for us all.

loonyhiker said...

m-dawg: thanks for understanding!

loonyhiker said...

laura: Glad you enjoyed it!