Posted by: Tracy Barsamian Ventola | May 21, 2014

Kindergarten Teacher’s Resignation

When we began homeschooling this fall, two other children from Keira’s Waldorf kindergarten class were also starting out on their homeschooling journeys.  One child went back to school in February and we just found out that the other little girl will return to school next year.  I wish these families well on their journeys, but it is unfortunate that Keira has to watch her friends leave homeschooling and go back to school.  And while I know in my heart that we are on the right path, I must admit that I, too, was a bit shaken.

Well…last week, I got my reassurance (loud and clear!) when I read about a veteran kindergarten teacher in Cambridge (MA) who very publicly resigned from her teaching position.  I wanted to share her heartbreaking letter (and experience) with you…

February 12, 2014

I am writing today to let you know that I am resigning my position as PreK and Kindergarten teacher in the Cambridge Public Schools.  It is with deep sadness that I have reached this decision, as I have loved my job, my school community, and the families and amazing and dedicated faculty I have been connected with throughout the district for the past eighteen years.  I have always seen myself as a public school teacher, and fully intended to work until retirement in the public school system.  Further, I am the product of public schools, and my son attended Cambridge Public Schools from PreK through Grade 12.  I am and always have been a firm believer in quality public education.

In this disturbing era of testing and data collection in the public schools, I have seen my career transformed into a job that no longer fits my understanding of how children learn and what a teacher ought to do in the classroom to build a healthy, safe, developmentally appropriate environment for learning for each of our children.  I have experienced, over the past few years, the same mandates that all teachers in the district have experienced.   I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them.  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 was trying to survive in a community of colleagues who were struggling to do the same:  to adapt and survive, to continue to hold onto what we could, and to affirm what we believe to be quality teaching for an early childhood classroom.  I began to feel a deep sense of loss of integrity.  I felt my spirit, my passion as a teacher, slip away.  I felt anger rise inside me.  I felt I needed to survive by looking elsewhere and leaving the community I love so dearly.  I did not feel I was leaving my job.  I felt then and feel now that my job left me.

It is with deep love and a broken heart that I write this letter.

Sincerely,

Suzi Sluyter

As I read the letter, I immediately thought of John Taylor Gatto.  “After being named New York City Teacher of the Year on three occasions, he <Gatto> quit teaching on the OP ED page of the Wall Street Journal in 1991 while still New York State Teacher of the Year, claiming that he was no longer willing to hurt children.”  Ms. Sluyter’s letter is essentially the early childhood equivalent of Mr. Gatto’s high school teacher letter of resignation, though Mr. Gatto resigned over 20 years ago.  Perhaps it took 20 years for the broken high school system to trickle down into early childhood programs?

After resigning, Ms. Sluyter followed up with the Washington Post, sharing more information about her experience as a kindergarten teacher in the Cambridge Public Schools.  She further stated,

“The negative impact of all of this <testing and data collection> on a classroom of young children (or children of any age) is substantial, and obvious to many classroom teachers.  Teachers everywhere are seeing an increase in behavior problems that make classrooms and schools feel less safe, and learning less able to take place.  Children are screaming out for help.  They are under too much pressure and it is just no longer possible to meet the social and emotional needs of our youngest children.  They are suffering because of this.

I have needed to schedule more SST (Student Support Team) meetings, to get help and support in addressing extreme behaviors in my 4, 5 and 6 year olds.  Behaviors I frequently witnessed included tantrums, screaming obscenities, throwing objects, flailing, self-injury, and sadness and listlessness.  Many of these behaviors, I believe, are at least in part due to the inappropriate and ill-informed pressures and expectations on our young children in our schools.

The overall effect of these federal and state sponsored programs is the corrosion of teacher moral, the demeaning of teacher authority, a move away from collaborating with teachers, and the creation of an overwhelming and developmentally inappropriate burden imposed on our children.”

Now these words ring of Kim John Payne (a therapist and Waldorf dad), the author of Simplicity Parenting.  As a very young man, fresh out of college, Payne worked in Asia with children living in refugee camps.  Years later, when working in England on an advanced degree (to become a therapist), he counseled children in very wealthy families.  And listen to what he found:  these rich, over-scheduled children were suffering from the same PTSD symptoms as the refugee children he worked with in Asia many years back!  The kids were stressed out by their incredibly busy, over-scheduled, over-structured lives!  AND he found that when parents slowed down their families’ lives, the kids healed.  They settled back into themselves.

All children (and adults) are on a continuum.  Some people are naturally louder and more energetic and outgoing.  Some are quieter and more reserved.  So when loud, outgoing children are incredibly stressed for a long period of time, they will swing towards the ADHD side of the pendulum.  But, when their lives are simplified, they move away from the ADHD extreme toward the middle of the spectrum to energetic kids in constant motion.  And the kids who were responding to the extreme stress by going totally inside themselves, move away from that opposite extreme and become more engaged, but still quiet and shy kids.

Suzi Sluyter and Kim John Payne are on the same page.  It’s the system that we impose upon our kids that makes them act out!  The systems, and more specifically the stress that those systems create, push our kids towards these extreme behaviors.  And then to suggest medication as a way to control the children’s extreme behavior?  Ritalin for the ADHD kids.  Anti-anxiety for the kids with selective mutism.  We are treating symptoms of the problem.  It’s like putting earplugs and sun glasses on a person and then forcing him to sit through a rock concert six hours a day, five days a week!  Children’s extreme behaviors are a cry for help, a strategy for survival, in the broken school system.

Somehow, Americans have come to believe it is our patriotic duty to send our children to school.  But, how can we support the schools that are pushing developmentally inappropriate curriculums on our children?  How can we support the schools that are stressing out our 4, 5, and 6 year olds – to the point that they are exhibiting extreme behaviors?  How can it be more important to support a system (a thing) than to support the health and happiness of our children (people)?

City Kids Homeschooling blog’s The Homeschool Choice post has some great suggestions for alternatives to compulsory education.  You can also read lots more about homeschooling on my education page.

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