By Robyn Brydalski
This was written by an upstate NY parent and teacher.
She doesn’t fit the mold.”
My soon to be six-year-old daughter is a vivacious ball of energy. In my eyes, she is my diva, and I say this with every ounce of love and adoration possible. She loves to color, draw, create, build, explore and wonder. Hiking, swimming and building fairy houses out of sticks and stones make her happy. Her favorite music is currently the “Hamilton’s America” soundtrack. She asks questions about each song, which character is singing and what is going on. She dresses up as one of the many Disney princesses and has tea parties with her little sister. She makes her own Barbie furniture out of empty shoe and tissue boxes and just created a bee killer out of an empty toilet paper roll. She writes and creates her own stories using invented spelling explaining how a mermaid gets her tail or her writing about her recent field trip to the farm with her class. Her sense of style is eclectic; she prefers to wear brightly colored knee high socks over an entirely different color pair of leggings. At night, after her father and I have read to her, she reads to her sister, with a flashlight in her hand and sings songs until they both fall asleep.
As I look at all that she does and the things that make her who she is, I am surrounded by an overwhelming feeling of guilt.
My daughter does not do well in school. Sure, she is kind to her friends, helpful to her teachers and has a generous, loving personality but she struggles in school. In Kindergarten, she could barely contain herself on the rug as she preferred to roll, fidget and bounce. She doesn’t focus during math lessons and her writing is all over the place. Now, another year deeper into Common Core and we are again getting the same reports. She lacks the stamina to focus for her 30 minutes of independent reading, she must sit with an adult during math to keep her focused and regularly falls off her chair. Even with the fabulous teachers she has been blessed with guiding her on her educational journey and despite coming from a middle-class home with two educated parents, a home with well over 200 books, writing, arts and craft supplies, she is reading below grade level.
Am I a horrible parent for starting my daughter too early? She is, after all, a young first grader, turning 6 in less than two weeks. Am I to be shamed for refusing to push practice work and additional reading when she is tired from a day that is goes too long and too late? Should I be sentenced to mommy jail for letting her color rather than write letters?
As a third-grade teacher with seventeen years of experience, in the same district, I refuse to respond with “Yes” for any of those questions that haunt me on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. If my husband and I could afford a private school for our daughter, so that she could thrive and grow without the constraints of the Common Core and its curriculum, we would. But we can’t. Like many families out there, we have put our faith and trust in public education but right now, the common core curriculum is stagnating the creativity, imagination and curiosity of many young children. I see in my third grade class a dozen students that are exactly like my daughter. As a teacher expected to comply to the local and state mandates, I struggle. I continue to find better ways to do things, despite losing precious planning and prep time due to an extended student day. I spend hours awake while my family sleeps redoing horrendous lessons that expect children to sit for absurd amounts of time because I think of my daughter and many other children out there who “don’t fit the mold”. I wonder when the call will come from the school psychologist requesting testing for ADHD/ADD. I think about the number of children I have taught who have had to be medicated because they lack stamina and the ability to meet the demands of the academic rigor they are faced with.
In my eyes, she doesn’t need to fit the mold.
This morning, as my daughter and I danced in our kitchen to Christina Perry’s “Thousand Years”, I held her tight and made her promise to always be true to herself and to not let anyone tell her how she should be. I whispered in her ear, “You are my dreamer, don’t ever stop dreaming.” She replied, “I won’t mommy, I promise.” I pray that she keeps this promise.