It was during my junior year of college that I began questioning the American education system. I was an okay student stuck with a terrible teacher in one class, a bunch of tests I could barely slide by on in another class, and a huge paper due in a format that was frowned upon despite the fact that the same format was drilled into my head since late elementary school all the way through high school. I found that I would rather read a book of my choice than read a book assigned to me and that I learned more by listening to music and watching YouTube videos sometimes than when sitting in a classroom listening to lectures, taking notes, taking tests, or giving presentations. When looking back at my education before I entered college, I can see that there were a lot of things wrong with it. There were a lot of terrible teachers and there were a lot of terrible rules and systems. I can honestly say that I have a lot of bad memories from school, especially in the later grades. It is not that I hate learning. I love learning. But as a kid/teenager I never seemed to understand that learning isn’t always in a classroom. Learning happens everyday and can’t be boxed up. I would constantly wonder why my shyness wasn’t going away because I could never seem to make a presentation without getting nervous. I would constantly wonder why I hated studying because my grades weren’t all too great. I consistently would feel bad about myself because I was being judged for my shortcomings. It was when I got to college that I learned I did love to learn, just not in the context our society prizes. I loved reading and hunting for themes in books like Harry Potter and I loved watching YouTube series like Crash Course and Blimey Cow - a channel that frequently critiques the American education system. College isn’t much different than high school though. Besides the obvious differences, I find that they are very much similar in teaching methods and beliefs. Both high school and college, in the end, fall into the category of a one size fits all system.
After I discovered my new found interesting in studying education, I decided to go online and find some further readings on the subject. The first book that came up on Amazon was titled The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch. My interests lay more in college critique but I figured why not give the book a shot and I bought it, unsure of when I would actually pick it up to read. A few semesters later, my friend began taking a class called Democracy and Education which was a class that specifically was meant for critiquing America’s education system. When it was my time to schedule, I immediately selected the class to take during my final semester as an undergrad college student. When the book list was posted, Diane Ravitch’s book was on there. I couldn’t have been happier to be able to read a book I actually wanted to read for class. I just finished the book yesterday after basically having to read it nonstop for the past week. It was a lot of work but the book was good and I can’t wait to review it. To give you a broad summary, the book is basically all about No Child Left Behind. It touches on the topic of accountability while also smaller issues such as classroom size. The book also offers answers to where our country has gone wrong with education reform. I was a child from the No Child Left Behind generation. I took all the tests and hated them as much as the next kid. It really hits you how pointless the tests are when you are in 11th grade and you have to take a test about agriculture even though you never studied it in science class. The only time I was recognized for being proficient was in 7th grade. Our school spelled it “profishent” to make it seem more fun and I ended up receiving a shirt with Nemo on the front from Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo. They did a good job with making me special for my job well done on my tests.
While I can’t offer a solution to education like Ravitch does in her book, I can attempt to contribute to the conversation. Despite my obvious dislike of our education system, there were a lot of things my school district did right with my class and I figured I would share my experiences on this blog. By looking back at my educational highs from kindergarten to 12th grade, I hope my experiences can be learning tools about what my teachers and my school district did right when educating us kids.
Kindergarten was my entrance into the world of elementary school. I went to a school called Oak Park. It was one of 13 elementary schools in the district and not one of the cleanest schools. I don’t remember this but my mom has told me about how one year our class caught a cockroach and kept him as a pet. My mom was not too pleased about that. But that says more about the school’s figure than how well it took care of us. Despite the occasional cockroach we saw once a year and the school that was older than some of the other elementary schools, I loved Oak Park. I loved the teachers and I loved my friends and I never wanted to go to any other school. I can’t say I can remember much from my first year. I know we had bus buddies, show and tell, and we watched Disney movies while waiting for our buses to arrive. My bus driver in the afternoon was Mrs. Wolfgang, bus 115. Mrs. Wolfgang was my bus driver for the entirety of my Oak Park career. She would always bring us goodies around the holidays and never yelled at us.
First grade I can recall a bit more. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Hamlet. I loved her so much. Reading was of great importance that year and I remember I read out loud a lot in her class. I remember we did a lot of arts and crafts too. The playground was my favorite spot because on the warm autumn days I would go on the swings and sing to myself. During the cold winter days my friends and I would hide under one of the play areas and pretend to make a fire with sticks to warm our hands and our beanie babys. The reason I used to sing so much on the swings was because of the Disney show our school held that year. Our music teacher designed a collaboration of Disney music for the 1st-3rd graders to sing in front of our families. It was a huge deal for me. I practiced all the time and performed the show multiple times in front of my parents and my grandparents. We even got to decorate our own shirts in class.
Second grade rolled around and was a big step for us because now that we were growing up, we had the possibility of switching to the other second grade teacher for math class. In math class I specifically remember learning about odd and even numbers. We even learned a song to help us remember them. Second grade was also the first year we were able to have penpals. That was a lot of fun…though my penpal moved before I could meet her so our special penpal day wasn’t very fun for me. One of our projects that year was to write a recipe and illustrate our recipe so that my teacher could put all the recipes in a book for us to keep. There was a special day set aside where some students actually cooked their recipes and brought them in for us to taste. That was the day I tried cheesecake for the first time and I have loved it ever since! Another fun thing about 2nd grade was when we were able to watch caterpillars grow into beautiful monarch butterflies! We made special butterfly shirts and had a day set aside to set the butterflies free! At the end of the year my teacher, Mrs. Kurnik, gave us a Cam Jansen book which I still have to this day!
Moving onto third grade…I can honestly say this was the best year of elementary school for me. To start off, I have to acknowledge my amazing teacher Mrs. Grabner who was always strict with us but made a point to also make us laugh and teach us that learning is fun. I will always remember her telling us a story about her daughter who played basketball and fell down during a game on her butt, thereafter claiming she broke her butt bone. In third grade we learned how to remember the points on a compass (Never Eat Soggy Wheaties -North East South West). Fractions was our main focus in math class which was very fun for me. We worked with frogs, crabs, and snails one month and the next month we learned about the Native Americans. One of our projects was to make a working light-bulb and a working fan during our electricity unit and I remember we had small dollhouses to personalize our project! Another project we did was using shoe boxes to make arctic dioramas. Mrs. Grabner read to us frequently. The books I remember the most were the Magic Tree House books and a series called My Father’s Dragon. As much as Mrs. Grabner pushed us to read, she also had us write too! Our writing assignments were graded by oreo cookies…double stuffed being the highest grade and crumbs being the lowest! We each had a “my thoughts journal” where we could write anything we wanted! Writing in my “my thoughts journal” is what inspired me to write my own stories!
As much as I want to continue this post, I have to stop here and make it a two part blog. It has been fun so far to write about my beginning years in education and I can’t wait to continue. I hope that through the little snippets of my experiences I just presented to you, you will be able to identify where my teachers went right with my education. I will finish off this post next Wednesday and also conclude the blog next Wednesday as well! Thanks for reading!