One of the challenges of afterschooling is helping kids understand why they have to learn what they consider to be extra math, writing, or any other subject on top of what they’re learning in school. I’ve been truthful with my children, telling them that the way their public school teaches math and writing will not prepare them well enough for high school and beyond.
I don’t want them to think that school performance is unimportant though. As much as administrators deny that there is tracking, teachers track all the time. It shows in the way they respond to individual students. Teachers of elementary-aged children have enormous influence in shaping students’ senses of their abilities and goals, certainly in the short term. An example is the gender gap in math. In spite of evidence that it has closed in performance on standardized math tests, only girls from select environments are participating and achieving in significant numbers in international math competitions.
In spite of all the platitudes about developing creative thinkers, students who think in ways outside of the methods prescribed by canned curricula present a time suck to teachers. Exceptional teachers are able to accommodate students who academically deviate by encouraging them to bring outside experience to their work. For some teachers, the demands of differentiated instruction are too great. For them, there’s mostly sticking to the script.
Part of making the choice to continue to send children to public school includes recognizing that as parents we have limited control over what kind of teachers they will have. It’s up to us to help them learn how to make the work they do outside of school enrich what they do in school. I compare the children’s challenge to the challenge of an artist not to think of himself as a wage slave. Etsy artist Summer Pierre’s book The Artist in the Office is about ways “to keep your mind fresh and to change your experience at work.” Her ideas about work life apply, perhaps even more deeply, to school life.