Monday, April 7, 2014

"LAST DAY OF SCHOOL" is actually a Big Important Thing... and other lessons I learned in the public school system

As some of you know, I was home-schooled all of my life.

For those who don't know, let me put it this way: I received an education from textbooks, video courses, regular assessment tests, and this crazy thing most kids naturally have called "curiosity about life, and a desire for answers to things we observe, and we would ask our parents about it, and if they didn't know the answer they at least could point out where we could go to find the answer so we found it"; I entered college at the age of 18, and graduated with my Bachelor's in English three years later--

All together with my family, whether studying on my own, receiving instruction from my parents (incidentally in exactly the same way teachers do it at schools, she said with much authority and
Actually, I think the word you're looking for is "extreme"...
 conviction) or on my own with a textbook. At any rate, I learned in a "mixed group" of students, some of whom were less advanced, some who were more; I learned from people slightly older than I was, and I learned from people generations ahead of me. I participated in family vacations, mission trips, camping trips, special events, parties, holidays, and, from what I hear, I didn't "miss out" much on the "whole school experience."

Shortly after graduating, I landed a job as a district-wide, elementary-level, substitute paraeducator.

What's a Paraeducator? Basically, every school has, along with it's certified staff, a collection of classified "staff assistants" (as they're often called) who provide "interventional supplementary education" in the remedial subjects--most often reading--in addition to the regular studies a student receives in-class. The groups are smaller, and they occur in different mixes throughout the day (typically the lower grades first, such as first and second, then fourth and/or fifth grade sometimes combined, and third grade or kindergarten gets its own grouping) and the curriculum is pretty much the same.

It has now been about a year since my very first time entering a public school building on a regular basis, and I have picked up a few gems along the way.

What Public School Taught Me

-All growing up, I never had a "last day of school".... we always entered into vacations knowing that school would pick up and continue right where it left off as soon as the "break" was over. Yes, we took the month of December off, but through summer we still had to do basic things like handwriting and math. It wasn't till I started subbing in public school that I realized just how many holidays, breaks, and "early release" days there really were... and it's a lot. (SO STOP WHINING, OKAY??)

-No bathroom/drink breaks in the middle of class time (most kids are fine for the twenty-minute group times; this rule applies to the teachers too, only we might have longer to wait...)

-Things that do not make good snacks for the kids: raw (and dry!) cauliflower/broccoli, grapefruit wedges, or pomegranate wedges... seriously, who plans these things? Just stick with the known fruits and veggies; the kids who are hungry will appreciate it, and there will be less chance of a lot of "fresh" foods going to waste.

-On that subject, you would not believe the amount of stuff kids dump out uneaten, which they had to take because it was part of a "balanced diet." How does it contribute to the kid's health from the trash can?

-Keeping kids grouped by age/level makes it easier because you can teach a whole classroom out of one book--also more difficult because even kids the same age comprehend things differently (that's why I like the smaller-group setting of paraeducation; then, at least, you get kids that are just as slow as each other, and maybe one or two bright young things who catch on quick and can set the example for the rest of the class)

*You're; and, sorry, but what does insulting say about YOUR education?
-Repetition and calling on students to "regurgitate" in a class setting is not inherently a negative thing; even this homeschooler can tell you that when I repeat something myself, I remember it better, and I can apply the information in a different form than exactly how I learned it; from my experience as a teacher, if I get the kid to repeat my words exactly enough times, he's bound to remember at least part of it.

-Patience is key: kids behave differently for someone not related to them, and this may include not paying attention or acting out while you're trying to dispense instruction; the louder the kid gets, the quieter you get, and if he or she is a distraction, focus on the other kids, and the "disruptor" will either persist in disruption and face the consequences, or they'll see that their behavior is not receiving the desired result, and they'll quiet down.

-It comes down to trust; if the kid trusts that you won't lose your cool, that you'll follow and enforce the same rules as their teacher, and they can expect the same level of success if they show the same respect for the paraeducator as for the teacher, generally they will settle down quicker than the kid who still wonders if he'll get away with something; be consistent, and the kids will catch on.

-Most public schools have the same rules; that made it easy to be moving from school to school, since I knew that the rules I could enforce and the behavior expectations would be the same.

-Whaddaya know? Responses like "I don't know!" or "I forget" are all wholly negated when the kid--pressed for "just give it your best guess"--immediately follows with the correct answer. I'm telling you, guessing and getting it wrong is better than not guessing at all and functioning on a wrong premise.

-Kids believe what we tell them. One young first-grader had just joined my little reading group, and the first thing she says is, "I have trouble with reading." I told her she was in luck, because I was here to help her. She then proceeds to read most words correctly, with better diction than about half the class. That made me wonder: she's probably been lumped into the "intervention" group for so long that the teachers had just assumed the level of her capacity was low--or maybe she got a low score on the test because it was a stressful environment. She did demonstrate a higher level of competency than a lot of the other kids I tend to work with. All she needed was someone to actually tell her how well she was doing.

-Kids in public schools have the same social foibles as kids educated from home--the former group are just unexpectedly more comfortable with a broader age range (nary a recess without somebody in tears because there's a playground full of fifty-odd kids and there's "none of my friends to play with") and a lot more level-headed when it comes to emotionally charged arguments.

-social, n. : "living or disposed to live in companionship with others or in a communityrather than in isolation." (source: No, we are not nonsocial, not a bit!

-Kids in public school have proven extremely suggestible to definitive statements, no matter who is presenting them; it seemed as if every morning for an entire week, this one little girl would inform me that she was deeply offended because she'd overheard an ex-friend trying to "make her [a current friend] not be my friend anymore!" Current-friend, of course, had no intention of following through with the suggestions of the vindictive offender... but in a setting where kids are instructed to just do as they're told, and they depend so heavily on acceptance from their peers, perhaps it is the dimension and application of "common sense" and the encouragement to rationalize for ones self that a public school education lacks...

-Speaking of "common", I am well aware of the big upheaval surrounding the "terribleAwful wickedness" that is the Common Core curriculum. I don't pretend to know absolutely all the facts or be absolutely current on the situation (other than the rumor that "They're getting rid of [a lot of the standardized curricula that most all schools use]" with very little clarity on who "They" are and what--beyond the curriculum I am familiar with--the "common" curriculum is) but from my experience in the classrooms of at least half a dozen different schools in my local district...
I have yet to see math taught the way it is decried in the examples of the Common Core's odious nature; as far as I can tell, kids in schools are taught math and reading in pretty much the same way I was only with a bit more direct instruction. (And some of those I've seen "outraged" over the situation are not often the ones in any position to either benefit from getting rid of the curriculum, nor personally damaged in any way by it's continuation... just from what I have observed...)

-Handwriting is not as much of a concern now as it was when I was growing up; in an age where most every communication can be typed, the rule seems to be, "As long as it is legible, I don't care how you got it onto the paper." Example: I just spent a week one-on-one with a student who literally forms his letters upside down and backwards. (i.e., he starts at the bottom to form a letter, or with the serif/upstroke instead of the main body of the letter, etc.) And yet, I would contend that his handwriting is more legible than mine, so I don't protest; there aren't any handwriting curricula in schools anymore, that I've noticed.

-Most teachers I've chatted with have the same opinion about the state and nature of the kids' education as I--a product and advocate of homeschooling--agree with. Our mission is not to make all the kids the same, but to give them a solid foundation from which to launch a lifetime of learning. Yes, we agree that sometimes the textbook doesn't make sense... so we amend it, we "teach around it," or we mumble through it really fast and get to the part where the kids can really learn. Because at the end of the day, that's what it's about: learning.

To all you sarcastic anti-homeschool meme-makers out there...

Home-Educated.... Gets paid to teach public-school kids.

And loving every minute of it!