I don’t believe in normal. This is coincidental because I work in public education. In America, the goal of public education is to “normalize” everything. Every test we take is scaled against the norm. Every score we give is normed. Our literal goal is to move kids who are functioning below the norm to functioning within the norm.
If I’m being totally honest, this is what appalls me the most about public education. We celebrate mediocrity. We work to fit every child from every circumstance into one neat, well-managed box. One little box where all students perform within the “norm” and learn within the “norm” and accel at the “normed” curriculum. It’s disgusting. We are boiling young human beings down to numbers and scores as early as age five. We give them the message that if they aren’t reading at five something is wrong with them.
We strip them of meaningful learning because everything is about data. Numbers. Budgets. Money rules us. We as teachers are reprimanded if our students don’t perform at or above a certain level on standardized tests. Tests that, here in Missouri, aren’t even developmentally appropriate for our children. Tests that are purposefully tricky and use misleading wording. If we are truly trying to assess what they’ve learned — why mislead them? Why try to trick them? These tests end up ruling our standards, thus ruling our curriculums, thus running our classrooms day-to-day. People want to know why behavior problems are more frequent and violent incidents are more common today in public schools? It’s simple. Our government, and in terms, our states, and our districts — have sucked all the joy from teaching and learning. Kids aren’t excited to learn anymore. They’re force fed information they’ll need for a test, if they don’t do well on that test the teacher might be reprimanded, or worse the teacher might treat them as less of a student because they aren’t good with analogies or the order of operations.
What is the absolute most heartbreaking part of this is that teachers, school staff, and administration are genuinely good people (for the most part) that really want the best for the kids they spend seven and a half hours with Monday through Friday. These are people who paid lots of money for one of the most undervalued, underappreciated jobs in the United States. These are people who set out to change the world, and end up getting “normed” themselves. Meet certain indicators or your job is on the line. A ten minute observation might be all an evaluator sees of your classroom for several months. If they didn’t like what they saw in those ten minutes, you’ll be reprimanded. Just like standardized tests for students, these standardized evaluations for teachers leave no room for creativity, passion, or fun. They don’t respect who we are as individuals; and more importantly novice teachers are expected to operate at the same level as a teacher who has a decade or more of experience.
I really do love my job; and in no capacity regret getting my degree in education or choosing to take this journey as a teacher. It is a job that teaches you as much as you teach your students. It is a powerful lesson in patience, understanding, and gratitude; all traits most people can stand to work on. But ultimately, I already know that I will not spend my entire career in the classroom. It is a noble and rewarding job, however, not an easy one — mentally or emotionally. I know eventually I will reach a point in my life when I need a change of scenery. It will be too exhausting.
Our system of education has become dehumanizing. It feels more like a chore than a privilege; from the top down, our education system needs to be restructured in a way that energizes the learning process. We need to focus on the children we serve, and not on their academic shortcomings. We need to celebrate individuality, creativity, and multiple intelligences. Just because a child isn’t “reading at grade level” doesn’t make them less. They are not lesser people because they don’t do well on a stupid test. But our system tells them they are lesser. More so, leading children to believe there is only one way to be “smart” is cruel. Billions of people have lived happy lives without taking or scoring well on standardized exams. Why do we place so much value on something so insignificant as test scores? Why is it considered prudent to learn algebra? Isn’t it more important for our students to understand our system of government? Should we be teaching them to fact check? To stand up for social justice?
Our education system will never be effective until we learn to honor the individual, and the individual’s desire to learn.