As I went through file folder after file folder, I was not taken by the memories of seeing my old student’s photographs, poems and artwork but rather with the amount of material I had accumulated for the annual CMT review. I taught third grade at a very avant-garde school district. There was a curriculum guide to follow but no mandated resources to use. It was at the discretion of each teacher to pick and choose what he or she thought would work best for her teaching style, and the cumulative learning styles in the classroom. I remember using Marilyn Burns for math, Awakening the Heart for poetry, Mosaic of Thought and Junior Great Books for reading and a hodgepodge of materials for science and social studies. I taught cursive through copywork and we often had art projects intermixed in our daily learning. When I reflect back upon it, it was much like homeschooling, but with twenty children instead of two.
Somehow into this wonderful world of eclectic education, the CMT started to intrude. It came slowly to this district, who was known for high performing students and for whom the CMTs were never given much thought to, other than as a prep at the end of third grade so the children knew what the test looked like. It was the feeling at the time, that the new push for No Child Left Behind may raise up low performing schools, but it would also bring down high performing schools, where the uniqueness and creativity of the teachers would be traded for routine, mundane drills and skills teaching. It was at this time that I left teaching and came home to be with my daughter.
Today as I was sorting through the files, I quietly questioned if I had made the right choice by homeschooling. My children are not getting a drills and skills education. They are not doing monthly writing prompts scored by two teachers and logged for future reference. They are not doing DRP tests and meeting with tutors to work on higher ordered thinking questions. They are not chanting the song they learned last year called “test me, test me, I am ready!”. Instead they are learning about ancient history, chronicling their learning in a book of centuries and visiting museums with wonderful exhibits on Egypt. They are attending nature classes, studying at the Audubon centers, tagging horsehoe crabs and building salamander habitats. They are keeping nature journals recording their observations, noting the details of the weather and temperature of each outing. My girls are memorizing poems by noted poets such as Langston Hughes and Charlotte Zolotow. They are pursuing their passions in cooking and weather. They breathe fresh air daily and wake when their bodies are ready. They eat when they are hungry and rest when they are tired. It is a wonderful life.
Yet, as I poured through the CMT information a fear was gnawing inside of me. Will they be able to compete for scholarships to the schools they wish to attend without yearly testing? Will their homemade transcript and portfolio look as good next to a public school transcript? Will their experiences, so vastly different than those of their peers get them to Yale or Harvard or Juliard or The New York Culinary Institute or Parsons School of Design, if that is where they desperately want to study?
I believe it will. I believe that the very definition of education,the knowledge or skills obtained or developed by a learning process, are not by nature contained within the four walls of a classroom. The knowledge and skills my children are aquiring come from inside our home, as well as our surrounding community. The course of study may be different, the pedagogy of teaching may be different, the proof of learning certainly will be different but it will be as valid, even more so because they had a say in developing their course of study. Their interests, passions and talents are taken into consideration when I plan and develop our curriculum. They exhibit learning every single day.
I am glad I had the opportunity to sort through my old things. For they are old. They no longer represent who I am as an educator and as a learner. The pathway of education we have chosen may not be conventional, but it is natural. It may not be traditional, but it is holistic. It may not be standard, but it is transformational.
I am my children’s teacher.