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Monday, January 27, 2003

Kindergarten Khronicles

I need to take a break from something I'm working on, so here goes.

My wife, Mary, teaches kindergarten. At the end of every day I get pretty much the same report when I ask how things went: "They were SO BAD."

I chuckle. Five-year-olds. How bad can it be?

She claims it's very bad, and I supposed I believe it seeing as several of her students would qualify for membership in Future Criminals of America.

To keep order in the classroom, Mary and her colleagues rely on a Byzantine system of rewards and punishments. A behavior chart tracks each kid's offense. If you rack up enough bad behavior points, you can't get the "special reward" at the end of week. Rewards generally include sweets, watching a video or the right to select something from the Prize Box.

The system works...for the most part. I'm imagining little kids thinking to themselves, "I have an overwhelming urge to punch Johnny, but I'll refrain from doing so because I want a nut cluster on Friday."

Then there are the kids who don't want to participate in the system. They don't give a shit.

For example, there's one girl who has a history of punching others in the classroom. I asked my wife if she did this as part of a "posse." You see, true bullies always seem to require a group of followers to impress. They pick on the small, the weak, the weird or whatever, and their buddies chuckle.

Without a posse, a bully is generally just a misfit with poor impulse control, limited ability to communicate and great deal of improperly channeled frustration.

This girl has no posse. She punches other kids, who then avoid her, then she punches them because they avoid her.

She also pushes the "emergency" button in the classroom that sets off an alarm at the front offer. My wife had to tape a barrier over the button.

I'm concerned about that kid, and so is my wife, but there are something like 25 others in the class who also need attention.

One day she had to call social services regarding another kid whose teeth were in bad shape. I'm guessing they visited the parents.

Oh, and teaching methods have changed a bit since I was in school. It seems that there's always some New Thing the education system is experimenting with. In my day, it was New Math. I don't remember much about it except that it confused parents who tried to help their kids with their homework, and ultimately it went away.

Then there was phonics, which taught the importance of sounds in reading. That kind of made sense.

Now there's a method called "Direct Instruction," which I swear I DO NOT understand. What does that term mean? I've read Mary's graduate school papers about it, and I'm starting to believe it's a bullshit term like "paradigm shift" that describes an otherwise basic concept. Hey, let's rename it, repackage it and people will think it's new.

Among other things, Direct Instruction involves the teacher using hand signals to direct the class in activities. Much like dog training. Arf!

The new reading books don't use capital letters. They also use accent marks to guide pronounciation of words. Which is a good idea until you encounter the bizarre and contractory spellings and pronunciations regular English uses.

That's all for now. Everybody be good so you can get your cupcake at the end of the week. ;-)

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