Teachers need to be able to build relationships with students and foster creativity, critical thinking, and a love of learning in order to ensure the success of their elementary students — but standardized testing is getting in the way. That’s what educators on a WNPR “Where We Live” panel last night on elementary education told host John Dankosky.
“I really want kids to play and be curious,” said Michelle McKnight, a math interventionist at Bennett Academy in Manchester. “Especially in elementary school, we are trying to grow brains and help them explore and love learning and life.”
McKnight added, “In order to be productive citizens, we have to teach our kids to think, and I’m not sure that that’s what standardized testing does.”
“You can’t test everything a kid needs to know,” said Douglas Kaufman, Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at UConn’s Neag School of Education. He added that standardized tests narrow children’s education. “When we create a place where kids have time to slow down, it’s counter-intuitive, but learning actually speeds up.”
Norma Ferguson, a fourth grade teacher at Metacomet Elementary School in Bloomfield, said that, in order to learn, children need an environment where they feel comfortable and safe, and know they can be themselves.
McKnight agreed, saying she works hard to build relationships with students. “We forget that kids are people who have a voice, and they want to be heard. I try to be that person who listens to them.”
Kaufman said that teachers also need to find their voices, which are unfortunately “often muffled by a lot of people on high.” When he goes into schools to lead professional development, Kaufman said he finds that a large portion of his job is cheerleading. “I look at the fantastic things going on in schools. We simply have to make them public,” he said.
Kaufman encouraged parents to go into schools, not just to volunteer, but to talk to educators and find out what’s going on. “Learn specifically what teachers are doing so you can speak to that when you go to Board of Education meetings or meet with a politician,” he said.
Ferguson said that educators need to make sure a negative political climate doesn’t deter them from their goals for their students. “This profession, it’s a calling,” she said. “You have to say to yourself, ‘I’m an educator and I’m going to educate these children to the best of my ability, and I’m going to do whatever I need to do to achieve that.'”
The “Where We Live” panel discussion was recorded, and an edited version will air on WNPR Monday, March 16, at 9 a.m. You can watch a video of the entire discussion here.