Thursday, October 11, 2007

Playtime's over, folks

Today, for the first time this school year, I had the opportunity to play with my students.  Yes, that’s right.  I actually stopped teaching and we just had fun.  It was even sanctioned fun, so I couldn’t get in trouble for it!

The thing is, we’re an inner-city school, and more than that, we’re a Reading First inner-city school, which means that we got a big grant that requires a lot of hoop-jumping in an attempt to meet the combined requirements of the grant, the government and our school district.  The result this year has been an overscheduled nightmare of a day.

I can honestly say that the only time I see every single one of the 23 students who were assigned to my classroom is during the first 15 minutes of every school day.  From that moment on, small numbers of my students are being pulled from my classroom for reading interventions.
Despite their absence, I am expected to somehow manage to teach every child in my classroom the skills they need to arrive at grade-level outcomes by the end of the school year.  In order to accomplish this, every single moment spent in my classroom is accounted for.  There are no spare moments anywhere for frivolous activities that are not in some fashion attached to the achievement of a specific benchmark skill.

Remember those long-ago school days when a student came to school with cupcakes because it was their birthday?  Remember the building excitement as long-anticipated holiday celebrations approached?  Remember wearing costumes on Halloween?

Maybe celebrations still happen in more affluent neighborhoods.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that any children planning to bring a special birthday treat to my classroom had better plan on passing it out exactly one minute before the bells rings signaling the end of the day, because that’s the only minute I can give them.

We have standards to meet, people, benchmarks to teach, and children who must not be left behind. 

Oh yeah, and remember those days when we had a morning recess and an afternoon recess?  My god, we had no idea how lucky we were.  TWO recesses in ONE day?  UNHEARD OF!
In my world, students get 15 minutes to eat, during which time, they are encouraged NOT to talk.  They then get their one recess of the day.  It’s an awesome opportunity for them to relax and talk and run and play (unless it’s bad weather of course, then they have to sit still and watch a cartoon in a tiny resource room, but let’s not talk about that).

Anyway, they get this recess every single day (aren’t they lucky) and it’s lasts an ENTIRE fifteen minutes.  (In case you’re wondering, they really are lucky because last year they only got ten minutes.)

During these fifteen minutes, my students get their only real opportunity to play, to relax, to take a desperately needed brain break.  I should add they do get “special” time each day — 50 minutes of art, library, music, P.E. or technology.  I suppose these times might be considered a break, but I have serious doubts, given there are benchmarks to meet in each of these areas as well.

In any case, I was asked to cover recess duty today, and as a result, had the opportunity to play and interact with my students in a completely stress-free and relaxing fashion for the first time since school began back in August.

As I watched the children running and playing and laughing, I had to wonder:  by the time these first and second graders reach middle school, will they even remember how to do any of this, how to play, how to kick balls, how to chase and play tag and jump rope and laugh with abandon?
Or instead, by that time, will we have smothered the laughter right out of them in our crazed obsession with benchmarks and indicators?  Will we have leeched their joy away in our reckless zeal to achieve the desired outcomes within an acceptable time frame, no matter the child’s background, learning style or life circumstances that brought him or her to our classroom’s doorstep?

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