Kindergarten Teachers: Do You Need to Switch Grades?


I believe in self-reflection and self-evaluation.  Eighteen years of teaching kindergarten for me marks eighteen years of learning, practicing, making mistakes, tweaking, revamping, sharing, guiding, and learning some more.  Shifts and changes have been thrown into the mix as I’ve worked in different states and as I’ve fought for balance when what is mandated isn’t complimentary to what is developmentally appropriate for my students.  I’ve blogged for over seven years, followed other edu-bloggers, and reaped the benefits from having a perspective that stretches far past the walls of the building in which I teach.  There are a lot of teacher bloggers out there who discuss education policy, politics, classroom humor and inspiration, lesson plans, ideas, and many who hawk their teacher-created materials.  My favorite Sunday-reads are more obscure teacher bloggers, the ones who post questions, ideas, strategies, woes, and successes.  The ones who share their personal opinions about their jobs.  The ones who are blunt and occasionally raw, the ones who keep the fluff and cute fonts off of the monitor, the slam poets of our profession.

As for my students, many in my first group of Super Stars have married, started families, and have been gainfully employed for years now (I took two years off from teaching, so don’t worry about them being too young).  Several of them have become friends with their former kindergarten teacher.  Two have asked me kindergarten-specific questions as they anticipate the start of their childrens public school adventure.  One shared a story of how she recently overheard teachers talking at a restaurant, venting their frustrations about their students.

Both friends were discussing progress monitoring assessments that their kindergartners recently completed, and both were stressed because a fantastical jump in measurable growth hadn’t been recorded in the scores.  Both teachers appeared new to service, and as my former student continued to eavesdrop, she noted that neither of the teachers ever once cited test bias, lack of technology tool use schema, student indifference, an uncomfortable and/or confusing testing environment, or the inappropriateness of the activity itself as reasons for why the scores and subsequent proposed “instructional tips”  might be inaccurate, skewed, or frankly irrelevant when it came to reflecting upon their responsibility as teachers: providing a safe, student-paced, age-and-skill appropriate, and highly experiential learning environment for a very diverse group of young children.

Instead, the teachers put all of the blame on their students, and I cringed as I listened to the examples:

___________ drives me nuts!  Every time we test, he acts like he doesn’t care.

I haven’t been able to start our first grade sight word list!  We’re halfway through the year and my kids STILL haven’t mastered the pre-primer list!

The crazy weather doesn’t help, all my students want to do is play! I can’t keep them on track.  

My kids need to ace these assessments by the end of the year.  I don’t need to be screwed over on my teacher evaluation because of them.

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One might think that eighteen years of actual in-classroom teaching experience and the temperament that comes from being a forty-four year old mother of three would guarantee a calm response from me.

But no.

My Star asked me what I thought.  Possibly using a raised voice, I told her I thought the two teachers she overheard needed to 1) take classes on early childhood development, 2) study the standards/Common Core/curricular requirements, 3) find an experienced mentor who will play devil’s advocate, 4) develop a keen eye, observing and reflecting upon how their students behave in the learning environment provided to them, 5) learn about poverty, cultural and social issues, 6) turn a critical eye inward, 7) evaluate what they think their own responsibilities should truly be, and 8) if necessary, switch grades.

Admission:  I definitely used a raised voice, and I had to pause at the end to catch my breath.

In my opinion:

Kindergarten teachers who can’t stand the fact that their students aren’t completing first grade work… need to switch grades.

Kindergarten teachers who find themselves greatly annoyed by immature behavior, need to switch grades.

Kindergarten teachers who don’t understand that play IS how young children best learn and develop necessary skills, need to switch grades. 

Kindergarten teachers who believe their students are out to “screw” their teacher’s evaluation, need to switch grades.

Kindergarten teachers who believe today’s hype that says in order to help Little Janie or Jeffery become a neurosurgeon after college, we must put scalpels in their tiny fists prior to age four, need… to… switch… grades.  

That’s right, I went all Jeff Foxworthy over those two kindergarten teachers and the others that I know concur with them.  But I get it.  I was once a first-year teacher, a third-year teacher, a fifth-year teacher, a seventh-year teacher.  I remember listening politely during staff meetings as more experienced colleagues talked circles around me and over my head.  I too, remember when teaching kindergartners became so natural for me that the inevitable continuation of the rinse/repeat cycle of education-related acronyms and fads became more entertaining (some frightening) than inspiring.  I can recall the exact moment during a job interview when I knew that it was important for me to tell my potential employers that they did not want me in a sixth grade classroom, a fourth grade classroom, or a second grade classroom.  I was advocating for not only kindergarten students, but the children I would not have been a good match for, even though my honesty was not a surefire way to guarantee me a paycheck.

With experience and commitment, teachers often find their niche, be it a subject, grade level, or community.  For those newbie and not-so-newbie kindergarten teachers who find yourselves frustrated and angry, let me lay this nugget of truth on you:

It’s not the four, five, or six year olds’ fault. 

Let that sink in for a moment.

It’s not the four, five, or six year olds’ fault.

Your lack of experience (or overstayed welcome in the wrong grade) isn’t at fault either.  But I caution you to guard against allowing your frustrations to inspire you to think up consequences that you might purposely or inadvertently inflict upon young children.  They are not mutineers, and if you choose to not make your own professional plan for self-improvement, then it behooves you to step aside, find another grade (or profession), and let those of us who know, respect, understand, and work best with young children share our energy and skill with those who deserve it most.

Take a deep breath. Be honest.  Are you constantly angry at your students?  Do you truly believe that the group of people with the least amount of control and say inside a school system are the ones responsible for how you feel?  If so, this is your wake-up call.  Step back, reflect objectively, learn, and, if necessary, acknowledge that kindergarten might not be the place for you.  As long as it’s developmentally appropriate and respectful of its youngest learners first, it’s a wonderful place for children and the teachers who care for them to continue to learn and grow as they experience and share collaborative learning environments.

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You can read more about the debate regarding testing kindergartners here: “Is Kindergarten Too Young to Test?” by Holly Korbey

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