Have you heard about Susan Sluyter, the veteran teacher who taught Kindergarten at Cambridge Public for nearly 20 years? Sluyter resigned from her position last year, citing that testing and data collection mandates are an imposition on teachers and limit how young children learn.
Susan Sluyter, you are my hero!
Here are some excerpts from Sluyter’s resignation letter that was printed on the Washington Post website:
“I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them.
Each year, I have been required to spend more time attending classes and workshops to learn about new academic demands that smack of 1st and 2nd grade, instead of kindergarten and PreK. I have needed to schedule and attend more and more meetings about increasingly extreme behaviors and emotional needs of children in my classroom; I recognize many of these behaviors as children shouting out to the adults in their world, “I can’t do this! Look at me! Know me! Help me! See me!” I have changed my practice over the years to allow the necessary time and focus for all the demands coming down from above. Each year there are more. Each year I have had less and less time to teach the children I love in the way I know best—and in the way child development experts recommend. I reached the place last year where I began to feel I was part of a broken system that was causing damage to those very children I was there to serve.”
My Daughter’s Stuggle
Maia is in kindergarten, and she doesn’t do well. School is extremely aggravating to her, a source of constant unhappiness, and there’s nothing I can do to make it easier on her. She is a slow learner. The school acts like she is learning disabled, but her own doctor disagrees. She simply doesn’t grasp things as quickly as other students can and do.
She’s the youngest in her class, but the school constantly overlooks this fact. She turned 5 a month before kindergarten started (in August.) Most of her classmates are already 6 years old, but she won’t be 6 until next August. Her age hardly seems to factor into discussions about her development. The school, including her teacher, only want to discuss development treatments.
Why the Invasive Focus on Testing and Behavior Therapy?
“Next came additional mandated assessments. Four and five year olds are screened regularly each year for glaring gaps in their development that would warrant a closer look and securing additional supports (such as O.T, P.T, and Speech Therapy) quickly. Teachers were already assessing each child three times a year to understand their individual literacy development and growth,” writes Sluyter.
I have told our school countless times that she doesn’t have ADHD, and if she did we would learn to deal with it naturally. If you ask me, teachers and counselors aren’t qualified to diagnose ADHD, but they don’t shy from sending home countless requests for testing and have gone as far as to send home a Connor’s Test diagnosing her with ADHD. At first, I allowed them to test her for everything, but when her results were all normal or almost normal, I opted out because they wanted to put a headset on her.
Our family doctor laughed and laughed at this because Maia is a sweet, gentle, not-at-all hyperactive kid. She has focus and attention issues, sure, but they will balance out in time. She takes daily vitamins, as well as fish oil, and eats a healthy diet…Sorry, Byron-Bergen Central School, I will not be placing my 5-year old daughter on Ritalin or any other drugs…. Nor will I allow her to be the only student in the classroom wearing a headset to “better understand her teacher.”
No More Recess For My Little Girl
“What about teaching children to write and read through the joy of experiencing a story together, or writing about their lives and what is most important to them,” asks Sluyter in her letter. “When adults muck about too much in the process of learning to read and write, adding additional challenge and pressure too soon, many children begin to feel incompetent and frustrated. They don’t understand. They feel stupid. Joy disappears.”
My daughter is read to almost every single night. This started when she was just a wee baby, just a couple days home from the hospital. You better believe I read to her…I’m a writer after all! I read to both of my girls, and my oldest struggled in kindergarten – third grade, but she’s an incredibly voracious reader now, at 12 years old. Some kids just grow into it later than others…But, the school acts like we don’t do anything to help her development. They act as if the only thing that can help her are drugs and therapy – their therapy.
When I told my daughter’s teacher that our family doctor would be handling all of her developmental issues from here on out, you should have heard the heavy silence on the phone! She was pissed! I couldn’t believe it. As if our family doctor isn’t qualified to handle our daughter’s developmental health.
Maia can sound out words, and she can count with help from me and her dad. She can do a lot of things, but the school never focuses on what she’s excelling at. They just criticize and criticize and now, if she doesn’t finish her work on time, she’s held back from recess as a punishment for not meeting the school’s rigidly high standards. What has happened to kindergarten?
And, yes, Sluyter is right, my daughter feels stupid. She is miserable. And, I am so sorry she has to experience such a different kindergarten than I knew. I hope more teachers see that they have a voice and begin to express how ridiculous they standards are, and how they’re ruining this generation of kids for their academic futures. Children learn through play! They learn through experience too! Stop diagnosing kids with ADHD and start teaching again.