Last month, I posted an article describing the stand that kindergarten teachers in Brookline, Massachusetts, took in protesting the policies imposed upon them from above—the excessive testing, dreary drill, and lack of opportunity for playful, creative, joyful activities. The post went somewhat viral, quickly receiving over 200,000 views and more than 80 comments. Most of the comments were in support of the protesting teachers, and many added further confirmation that the child abuse occurring in Brookline kindergartens is occurring in kindergartens throughout the country.
The abuse is occurring not because kindergarten teachers are mean. Most of them are kindhearted people who love children; that’s why they chose the career that they did (though this may change over time as the loving ones quit). The abuse is occurring because the teachers are not being allowed to do what they believe and know is right. They are being required to follow policies imposed from above by people who know little about children and don’t have to see the anger, anxiety, and tears that the teachers see in the classrooms. If teachers are at fault, they are so primarily for lack of courage to resist the outrageous demands imposed on them and on the children in their classrooms.
In recent years, I've heard from many elementary school teachers who are quitting, or taking early retirement, because they are no longer willing to take part in an educational system that is harming children. I heard from a new set of them in the comments section of that post describing the Brookline protest. Here, below, are quotations from 16 of those comments. The first 14 are all from different kindergarten teachers, and the final two are from teachers of later grades, who describe the debilitating effects on children as they go beyond kindergarten.
Read them, weep, and then ask yourself what you can do to help remedy this damage created by politicians and narrow-minded educational policymakers who look at numbers and not children.
- “I had to retire in 2017 because I could not take the pressure of having to force my 5- and 6-year-old students to sit with books… no talking allowed. …. I taught for 18 years and in the last 3 years teaching this stuff to my sweet little kinders I heard students cry, talk about how they didn’t understand, say they hated reading time, and act out. We were basically regurgitating the curriculum script. It was awful. I hated going to work that last 2 years with all the stress of academic achievement expectations… All administrators want to hear is the exact same stuff from one room to another from school to school.
- “Teachers have been complaining about more testing every year. And every year we hear, ‘We’ll look into that,’ and every year someone higher up decides, ‘We need more data.’ That, in turn, means more testing, more seatwork, and less play. I personally couldn’t take it anymore and took early retirement.”
- “I worked part-time as an art teacher in a kindergarten class. The kindergarten teacher was a drill sergeant, moving the kids from one activity to the next in 15-minute segments. This was covering math, reading, printing letters, etc. Those kids were mostly wound up, usually not settling down. I eventually quit, because I couldn't stand to be around that barking teacher; I can only imagine how the kids felt.
- “I have taught kindergarten for nearly 40 years. Common Core expectations for kindergarten seem to have trickled down from the top, and the people who wrote it thought that they could legislate quicker child development… Kindergartners are expected to write sentences and stories, have math discourse, and take tests on the computer. Many of them can't even cross the midline and write an X yet… Schools are being driven by ‘data’; and kindergarten teachers are being asked to reduce their students to numbers. Please, let’s allow them to play!!”
- "I taught kindergarten for the last 18 years of my 35-year career. My classroom was play-centered and I think filled with very happy children. I retired 13 years ago, and I’m appalled when I speak to friends who are still teaching. Especially in kindergarten, but throughout school classrooms, there is much too much pressure put on children… Play and unstructured time allow children the chance to explore and find their path in the world.”
- “I’ve taught kindergarten for 25 years and I can tell you that this article is spot on. Last week I gave my 5-year-olds a reading assessment that required them to infer the meaning of ‘bifocals’ after hearing a 5-paragraph story about Ben Franklin (the story had no pictures). This is the kind of madness that permeates curriculum design for kindergarten. I’m retiring earlier than I had planned because I just can’t be a part of this any longer.”
- “This heartbroken kindergarten teacher just couldn’t teach ‘firstergarten’ anymore and retired early. I go back to help my teacher buddies who are still being forced to torture children every day with developmentally inappropriate schedules, expectations, and curriculum."
- “I wanted to be a developmental K teacher, but by the time I received my credential, things went from bad to worse in K classrooms across America. I foolishly thought I could sneak art and play in, but I was wrong. The Curriculum Cops showed up in the class I was doing my student teaching in, and that was the beginning of the end for me. Now I just sub and sneak in fun for the kids whenever I can. Teaching is dull, dry, and stressful when you have to force small children to do what they are not ready to do… The powers that be are getting away with this because teachers (myself included) don’t do anything except complain. When are we going to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough’?”
- “As a retired early childhood teacher and administrator, I am saddened by the focus and evaluative assessments used to measure growth embedded in public education at this time. Our state mandates assessment that is strictly academic for pre-K and K. Those scores are then 50 percent of the teacher evaluation. If you want to keep your job, you must place focus on academic learning instead of kinesthetic, developmentally appropriate brain, social, and emotional growth.”
- “I have been a teacher’s aide for 15 years... We are asking these 5- and 6-year-olds to do things that they are not emotionally able to do, and we are now seeing many young children with anxiety.”
- “Words that have come out of my mouth this fall: ‘We do NOT play in kindergarten. Do not do that again!’ (to a student building a very cool 3D scorpion with the math blocks instead of completing his assigned task to practice addition.) ‘No, I cannot read Pete the Cat to you. We have to do our reading’ (90 minutes of a scripted daily lesson). ‘Those clips (hanging from the ceiling) are for when we do art. No, we cannot do any art. We have to do our reading lesson’ (my kinders get to go to a 40-minute art class once a month). ‘No, you cannot look at the books/play with the toys’ (literacy toys and games). ‘No, we cannot do a science experiment. We have to do our reading.’ ‘No, we cannot color. We have to do our reading." … I hate my job. Love my kids—hate the curriculum. But I cannot afford to quit. Too close to retirement to start over.”
- “I’ve been teaching kindergarten for thirteen years. In my first year, kids were expected to read at A or B level by the end of the year. That’s a book that follows a pattern and changes one word and only requires the kid to show some reading behaviors and phonemic awareness… Now it’s D level. Those books include multiple lines of text on one page and do not follow a pattern. They include long vowels and digraphs. Kids have to know all 42 phonemic sounds and their variations in spelling, as well as numerous sight words that don’t follow phonics rules. Sure, some kids rise to the challenge. Their brains are ready and they’re eager to learn. Most, however, don’t…Pushing them to read causes stress. I’ve seen a rise in anxiety in my kids, avoidance of tasks that are 'too hard,' and some pretty impressive breakdowns or meltdowns. I’ve also seen a drop in executive function, imagination, and ability to sit and focus…. I have to give them about 13 different required formal tests throughout the year. Thirteen! I’m seeing assessment fatigue. Who knew five- and six-year-olds could burn out? They certainly can, and I worry about how they’ll continue through school for the 12 years after I have them.”
- “Kindergarten should be a transition—with plenty of play and student-centered learning—from nursery to first-grade academic curriculum, but instead children are forgoing that transition. They are being thrown into a structured environment that is requiring them to be mini robots. They have to sit for extended periods of time (even adults find that hard), they have to use ‘brain’ power without the aid of free movement to stave off boredom. They are not required to use their imaginations or ask questions that stimulate interaction with teachers and peers. … Kindergarten classrooms shouldn’t have desks and chairs; they should have centers, reading nooks, educational and fun games, and space to explore.”
- “I was horrified as a teacher as each school year brought new demands on our five-year-olds. Many of these children were not in preschool, so kindergarten was their first exposure to education. We were required to test them immediately for letter sounds, rhyming, counting, shapes, name writing, adding, and of course words. I was sickened by our practice. A few of the kindergarten teachers tried to fight the system. We presented common sense ideas for play and social skills. This was not embraced by our administration leaders. After many years in kindergarten, I chose to move to second grade. I can tell you the children are socially awkward as well as burnt out by 7 and 8. What the heck are we doing to our children? We are creating a society that will hate to be educated and have serious anxiety and social skill issues.”
- “I teach second grade. I see an ever-increasing gap in social-emotional skills and basics such as pencil grip and penmanship. Outbursts and attitudes of failure enter my room. My mission is to repair that, and then do my best to help them find time to find their passions and talents. The ‘must do’ rigor, drill and kill, and workbooks for all subjects without integration do not let me apply my talent to the craft of education.”
- “I have never been a Kindergarten teacher, but I have taught fourth- to eighth-grade students for 37 years… In 2006, I left the classroom to serve the school district in another capacity… I returned to the district as a substitute in 2015. When I subbed at the school where I had taught from 1997 to 2006, I was shocked to see the misery of the students. They now walked the hallways looking down at their feet. No more smiles, no more laughter from the classrooms. In 2017, I was asked to take over as a long-term sub for a [6th grade] teacher who retired… I had to use the lesson plans given to me… Students were supposed to read silently and answer questions about their reading every day… I spoke to the principal and the assistant principal about my concern that the students were not really learning and was told that instruction had to be done this way so students could cover the material they needed to cover to be ready for tests they had to take every three weeks. The students hated the tests, and so did I… Twelve-year-old students were expected to use a computer to take several parts of a timed test for up to three hours and 45 minutes per day… After I finished my five-month term in this position, I resigned from the school district because I no longer wanted any part of this type of education that I felt was detrimental to the wellbeing of young children.”
Wow. Did any of the commenters talk about schools they liked? Yes, four did, but none of those four were teaching in public or conventional private schools in the United States. Two, who talked about lots of play and happy kids, were teaching in Australia; another was teaching in a forest school; the fourth was involved in an early childhood center designed for play and self-directed education outside of the public school system. And then there was a mom who wrote: “My kids are 6, 4, and 2, and we left our well-ranked Boston suburban school district to move overseas. This was honestly one of the top 5 reasons we left the U.S. My kids are now in a play-based school with no national testing. It’s heaven, and we’re extremely lucky to have this option open to us.”
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