To: Philip Kovacs
From: Fictional Kindergarten Teacher
Re: Very Real National Problems
Dear Dr. Kovacs,
It's nice to "meet" you! I cannot wait to have your son in my class this year. There is no need for you to apologize for being "that" parent. I will take an engaged, interested, hands-on parent over a "no show" any day.
Did you know that if more parents would take an interest in their child's education we'd have far fewer problems in our schools?
Don't get me wrong. I think there are larger, macro-economic realities that prevent some parents from participating, like the single mom who is working two jobs to be able to pay for her child to live in a zip code with schools that deliver the excellent education we provide here.
But I digress.
I do have to admit that when I first read your letter I was very frustrated, and I had to practice a skill I will be teaching your son this year. I put it down, walked away, and left it alone for a while so I could think about it in a calm manner. Then I pulled it out of the trash and read it again.
I now believe your heart is in the right place but that you are uninformed about what goes on in schools and classrooms, despite what your own experiences may have led you to believe.
That's okay though, I bet you are the type of person who likes to learn, so I thought I would take a minute to straighten some of your thinking up.
I did, in fact, know that no two kids are alike. It is one of the joys of being a teacher. While neuroscience might support it, experience teaches it, but I appreciate the reminder.
Despite the fact that no two brains are alike, I'm sure you would agree that there are things we want all children to learn. You listed a wonderful set of skills and capacities that are aligned with what we try to teach everyday. As for sight words, if you are reading to your son, he's learning them. Some boys and girls don't have the luxury of a parent reading to them. Sight words help.
Did you know that a great deal of what goes on in my classroom nowadays is outside of my control? It's one of the tougher parts of my work, and a lack of autonomy is one of the prime reasons I see so many colleagues leave year after year. If people trusted us to do our jobs, I bet we wouldn't be facing the teacher dropout crisis we now face.
And please don't talk to me about pay. It would be great to be paid more, but your own research shows that there is little correlation between pay and teacher satisfaction. (I took it upon myself to check out your CV).
There is, however, a strong link between the testing virus that the nation has contracted and both teacher and student happiness.
Did you know some teachers are under so much pressure to drive up test scores in math and reading that they have had to eliminate recess and free play...and art and geography and even science? Fortunately our district has not contracted the bug, and we provide ample time for kids to receive a well-rounded education.
FWIW, I'd list the amount of research linking play to healthy cognitive development here, but surely a man with your skill-set can find it on your own. And the people who really need to read it, the policy makers, well... well who knows what in the world they are reading!
It certainly isn't neuroscience.
You know Finland comes up again and again in discussions about education reform. They give teachers incredible autonomy and support, and that no doubt influences schools there. But something few people point out is the poverty rate in Finland. It's under 5%. Have you looked into our poverty rate? That impacts schools, as I'm sure you are aware.
Funny, by the way, that you would point to Finland's test scores in one paragraph and then run from standardized tests in another.
About those tests...
There aren't very many teachers out there who think they are a good idea. There is much research linking test scores to parent income and zip code, but very little linking test scores to success in college. In fact, it has been demonstrated repeatedly that tests such as the SAT are a worse predictor of classroom success than student GPA.
Funny that we would pour so much money into the very profitable but not-for-profit College Board, don't you think? Even funnier that the president of that organization admits it. Can you hear me laughing, Dr. Kovacs?
You know what would be great? Online, digital portfolios that paint a robust picture of what your child is doing in my classroom. That would save money and reduce the amount of time we waste on testing.
As for your son's drive and desire to learn, I will do my best to protect both. I've picked up a few things over the 20 years that I've been teaching, and I assure you he's in good hands.
Finally, about those worksheets... surely you hand your own students pieces of paper with information on them. Am I to understand that a piece of paper with information on it should be rejected carte blanche just because it is a piece of paper with information on it?
Let's make a deal, I will make sure that everything that goes into your son's hands, head, and heart is of the highest quality. I'll send him home with all of it, so you can see for yourself.
In exchange, you take your passion and your knowledge and work on the policy makers who have created all of the problems you outlined in the opening half of your somewhat problematic but heartfelt letter.
Said differently, you do your job so I can do mine.
Fictional, Non-Existent Kindergarten Teacher
Make Believe School
Make Believe District
Very Real National Problems