I feel like this entire week is triggered by this recent article in The Washington Post.
I think it was Tuesday at work. My lead needs to follow the ‘common core’, and she does so down to the letter. On this day, the kids were told to draw a flower on a pre-drawn stem, and then cut out the words FLOWER, STEM, LEAF, ROOTS, and glue them to the proper areas.
First, my kids have not seen the word FLOWER before. We’ve been using PETAL.
Second, they did this before, only they didn’t have to draw the flower first.
I have two ‘sessions’, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, 25 kids each, so 50 kids. I have to help 50 kids with this project, usually in groups of 4-5 depending on absences.
By the second group, no matter how I tried to help, there was nothing I could do to make this assignment (because projects should be fun) make sense to their little minds. We didn’t have a single poster or something else we had worked on that said FLOWER, everything said PETAL. Half these kids are still in a scribble/radial phase of drawing that ‘making a flower’ bottomed out their self esteem for the day because ‘You have to draw a flower. Common core says draw a flower.’ So, not only could they not match the words they needed to glue down (even if any of them were capable of pattern recognition, a prereading skill), they couldn’t ‘draw’, and then, to top it all off, I didn’t even have time to assist them with cutting, which believe it or not is a pretty hefty fine motor skill. Not only do you have to open and close a scissor, you need the correct pressure to push it along, THEN hold the paper in another hand, turn it if you need, AND have the hand-eye to move it on a line. It’s a lot of work! I have 10 minutes per group rotation. TEN. Five kids max. Two minutes per kid, right? Wrong. I’m also manning the snack center so I need to put out or refill empty containers, try to supplement kids who ‘don’t like this!’ (though I know damn well on party days they inhale these things with the speed of sound), and then once they are done eating, they get restless and silly because for eight more minutes they have to sit and do nothing and I have to go stop them from dumping juice/milk everywhere. Oh and we don’t have a container for water so those kids who only drink water I have to pour drinks for them, further limiting the time they can work on some fine motor skills and taking time away from me to help the other kids.
I snapped. I got cranky. I don’t care, cut out the words, glue them down SOMEWHERE, scribble a big black scribble and call it a fucking flower. We’ve done this already and you didn’t get it the first time, BUT WE’RE DOING IT AGAIN INSTEAD OF FOCUSING ON WHAT YOU REALLY NEED.
At the same time, my teacher is doing another set of ‘assessments’. This is the fourth or fifth one since I arrived in NOVEMBER.
Each year, I have been required to spend more time attending classes and workshops to learn about new academic demands that smack of 1st and 2nd grade, instead of kindergarten and PreK. I have needed to schedule and attend more and more meetings about increasingly extreme behaviors and emotional needs of children in my classroom; I recognize many of these behaviors as children shouting out to the adults in their world, “I can’t do this! Look at me! Know me! Help me! See me!” I have changed my practice over the years to allow the necessary time and focus for all the demands coming down from above. Each year there are more. Each year I have had less and less time to teach the children I love in the way I know best—and in the way child development experts recommend. I reached the place last year where I began to feel I was part of a broken system that was causing damage to those very children I was there to serve.
I have one little boy, D, who is 200% a little boy. He likes trucks and legos, running, jumping, being active. He has two little brothers. He’s always got a new bump or bruise. His mother is constantly worried about D because he can’t write his name yet and his cutting is wild. She forgets his backpack a lot. His homework is clearly done by mom, the cuts are neat, glue is not smeared across the page.
D loves to cut with me. I hold the paper and he says to me “I remember. It’s not a race.” He cuts along a line for a bit, but something grabs his eye and he skews off.
“D, you have to look at the paper when you cut.”
“Yup.” His cuts go wild, his focus is gone. The paper shreds. I hear him cringe because now his paper is ‘ruined’.
“No, no, it’s ok. Remember, it’s not a what?”
“It’s not a race.”
“Let’s keep going, D!”
He finishes his cut. It’s messy, but it’s a hell of an improvement. I spent two weeks holding his hand in mine, moving him through the motions. He still can’t make a semi-decent cut on his own, he needs help holding the paper, but he’s improving. I’ll be his third hand for a bit.
Then a bell will ring and he’ll hand over his paper, sad that he didn’t get to glue anything down, a single blue scribble etched across the page as his ‘flower’ because something was more interesting to him elsewhere and my tepid “D, don’t forget to draw a flower” reached him just enough to put his favorite color on paper. The four words that are cut into awkward rectangle like shapes are paper clipped to his paper for him to sit and try this tomorrow or the next day. He’s going to snack now, then a ‘pre-reading’ center that’s way too far above his current level of understanding so he’ll get bored and jump in his chair, then to a center to get ‘assessed’, and then to ‘housekeeping’ where the scene of a farm stand is forced on him. He’ll take out two dog toys and play with them until someone mentions there aren’t dogs in a farm stand and he’ll have to put them away.
I have squashed this kid. All day long, all he wants to do is act out a scene from the LEGO movie and maybe run around a bit, but I have squashed every hint of enjoyment out of these three hours. You can see it in his eyes, the way he sits, he’s trying to control his fidgets.
D’s mother, Your son is a normal kid. He will grow up to be a normal kid. From the last FOUR FUCKING ASSESSMENTS, he’s been steadily improving on his normal skill range. He can’t skip yet, but he can hop and jump and he runs with a normal stride. He’s got two baby brothers so he whines for attention a little, and that’s ok.
Yet I didn’t do any of these assessments, I barely am able to see the results of them, and I know this because I’ve spent time with the kid. I’ve gotten to know him. He trusts that when he needs help cutting, I’ll come be his third hand, and with that in mind, his cuts have gotten better.
I heard him crying out for that and I answered it, and I didn’t need anything else but my own two eyes and the pink slop I call a brain in my head. I didn’t need to test him. I observed him having trouble, I popped over.
I was miserable Wednesday. I was bitter and angry. The kids were restless on the rug during the hellish 45 mins of ‘circle time’. I didn’t enforce any of the rules given to me for the project. I just did them all. The kids could tell I wasn’t myself, they sat solemnly at snack while I ignored them and kept my eye on the XIV patch notes instead of their antics. One even offered me an animal cracker and instead of playfully pretending to chomp on a finger or launching into a scene with the vaguely animal shape, I denied the cookie.
Thursday, my lead was describing a project we have to do with the kids. It sounded boring and another case of I get to do all the work while the kids watch me. I broke.
“Can’t we ignore the book?”
No, I can’t ignore the book?
No, I, Meilin Motherfucking Kikkano can’t ignore the book?
What the hell?
WHAT THE HELL.
NOBODY FUCKING TELLS ME TO FOLLOW THE BOOK.
I have never in my life followed the book 100%.
I remember doing an essay assignment where my teacher had said ‘make a cover page, but you can’t put any pictures on it!’, trying to prepare us for high school. My essay was on Edgar Allen Poe. I put The Raven on my front cover, in the shape of a raven. I got extra points for being a smart ass.
I was an absolute nut from then on. We had to do a glue based project? Here’s what we have to do. If we don’t listen, I will paint your nose with glue and stick the paper to your face and send you home to mommy like that. Smiles all around. I took away the chairs because you have sat for 40+ minutes. STAND. Walk around. I was on my knees to be at their level. One kid came up and hugged me from behind. Why? Because it was fun.
This center was fun. He flexed his fine motor skills. We laughed. I may have snuck some of the crackers I was eating from my hoodie to some of them. I threatened to paint their noses with glue.
I am in my element surrounded by computers and games and, weirdly enough, kids.
Today I stayed home. I was just sick of being ‘spoken to’ about every little thing. I can’t discipline a kid because I’m not the lead teacher. Who, by the way, got distressed because some blue watercolor spilled on her sweater. No, you’re working with four year olds, you should want blue, purple, and orange on your sweater. Hell, you should want that sweater to be from Salvation Army so you don’t feel bad if it gets ruined. You shouldn’t be in heels. Why aren’t you on the floor with me? Why am I seen carrying a hurt, scared, or sick child when I can’t do anything because you’re the ‘lead’?
I got ready to shower, I got a towel and I went to the bathroom and I just hurled my breakfast all over.
My body needs a reset from all this bitter, angry, horrible, feelings and things I’ve got stockpiled up this week. It all came out in a violent, bathroom cleaning desire to stop being so fucking miserable.
Yesterday was a kids birthday. His mom brought him blue cupcakes with Sonic decals stuck in them. My boss told me to take them out because it isn’t fair to children who don’t get Sonic decals on their birthday.
Happy birthday you little shit. Take the decal out before you eat the cupcake.
I am done suffering. Monday, I will go into work with a smile. You want me to do another cut and glue project? Sure. This time it’s on my terms. I will precut the words. You cut out the picture. We’ll glue it onto a sheet of construction paper, we’ll play a guessing game for the part names. We will make elaborate stories about whatever you draw because I refuse to become a miserable husk of an educator.
Don’t lose your motherfucking way, Mei. Row, row, fight the power.
Because goddammit, I am pissed today. I am not going to let something I am good at get squashed by regulations. I will no longer let a book handed down by some shill in an offer dictate how to run MY classroom. I will throw myself into debt. I will go to school until they stop giving me student loans.
I will become a force of reason for fat, pudgy hands, bright eyes, and shitty asses. I will die underfoot size 12 children’s sneakers on a playground at age 120 because apparently the good early education folk absorb the souls of children and live forfuckingever.
Did you know that Mister Rogers took to television because he hated what he saw?
I wonder if I can get my mom to knit me a sweater that says “Fuck your common core” across the back of it?
It’s a new day in the neighborhood, motherfuckers. My day. I’ll see you Monday. Don’t forget your imagination.