Their first teachers

Their first teachers

Parents are the first teachers of their children. I spent 18 years of my life saying these very words to parents nearly every day as part of my job with the Parents As Teachers program. Not only did I say them, I truly believed them. And I still believe them.

As a former first-grade teacher, I also believe that the relationship between a child, a teacher and the child's parent(s) is crucial to that child's success in school. Does a good relationship between these three mean that the child will get all A's in school? Absolutely not. But it does help that child learn the skills that they need to learn in school in the way that works best for them. This is not an easy working relationship. It takes time, effort and planning on the part of all involved.

Growing up in Hays, I believe I was fortunate enough to go through school in just such a way. My parents raised me and my six siblings to work hard and try harder. They questioned us and the teachers if our grades slipped to C's or lower. Then my parents, the teacher and my siblings and I worked to together to get through the difficulty and learn what we needed to learn.

When I began working in education, I realized just how important this relationship actually was. I taught 29 first-graders one year, then 25 the next who were at many different developmental and academic levels. Could I sort of group them according to academic skills they had? Yes, I could. Could I group them according to styles of teaching that worked best for them? Yep, again. But I could not and would not ever even think of grouping them as "This is first grade. This is what all first-graders should learn, and this is the way they should all learn it."

When I did my home visits with the families enrolled in Parents As Teachers, my eyes were opened in a whole new way. As a classroom teacher, I had seen what some of the children had already learned at home, and how it had helped them with what we were learning in school. In Parents as Teachers, I watched children from birth to age 5 grow and learn along with their parents, and shared in their excitement at watching their children grow and learn through play, love and nurturing. In my time with PAT, major developments occurred in medical and educational research. We learned so very much about brain development from conception through age 5, and I was able to share that information with parents and their children. The information was based on researched, empirical data that was proven and actually worked. And the best part was it could all be done, once again, through play, love and nurturing. Parents didn't have to go out and buy fancy toys or electronics to teach their children. In fact, many of the things we did at visits revolved around reading children's books and making toys out of junk from around the house.

As I did my job, I got to know quite a lot about the various school districts in which I worked. The parents would share with me how happy they were to have their children in schools where they had a close, personal relationship with the other children, with the teachers and with many of the administrators. I also have come to appreciate those same things in the Quinter schools where my children attend school. Small towns and rural environments are something I have grown to love and to appreciate. I also greatly appreciate and place a very high value on the fact that if I have, or any parent for that matter, has a concern about something in our schools, we can go to the school and talk about it with the people involved in the matter. We are not just a nameless face in a sea of people. We know each other -- children, teachers, administrators and school board members.

I am saying all of this, because I believe that this very relationship is in great peril.

At 10 a.m. Saturday, there will be a gathering of concerned Kansans in Quinter at the United Methodist Churc. A second gathering will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Hays at Hays Ambassador Hotel and Conference Center. I strongly urge all parents, grandparents, educators, daycare providers and anyone who loves children and is concerned for their welfare to attend this gathering. Four speakers will be informing all in attendance of how the College and Career Readiness Standards being implemented in nearly all schools across the nation will be bringing profound changes to our "local schools." These standards were "adopted" during a time when the Legislature was not in session during the summer. These standards have not been tested and proven to be effective. These standards were designed from the top, down. In other words, from high school down to kindergarten. Anyone with common sense who has worked with children for any length of time and knows child development, knows that learning is cumulative and happens developmentally in steps after a firm foundation for that learning has been built. Well, maybe some of the problem lies in the fact that not a single one of the designers of the standards was an Early Childhood teacher or specialist, nor were they a Kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, or 3rd grade teacher!

If we simply go along with these standards because we need the money for schools, we are condemning ourselves to having schools with zero local control. The money from the Race to the Top Grants that schools across the nation applied for was tied to the implementation of the standards. School administrators were not asked to study the standards before their adoption. Teachers were not asked to study them before their adoption. Local school boards were not even informed that these standards were even coming down the pike. Everything was done by "those who think they know what is best for us." And those people know nothing about our children, our families, our lives, our values or even how children truly learn for that matter.

I, as well as many people I know, have chosen to live in a rural area for many varying reasons. However, I think I speak for many when I say that one big perk about rural life is we feel a bit separated from the chaos that takes place in the metropolitan and urban areas. Does this mean we are not concerned about their problems? No it does not. It simply means that we choose to live where we live, because we feel that living here gives us more control and influence over our lives and the lives of our children. It is not up to some group, entity, corporation or person in a high-powered position to tell us how to properly educate our children. It is up to us to make those decisions.

Please be vigilant. Please read. Please do research on your own and with friends. Please educate and inform yourselves. Please attend the events that are taking place in Hays and Quinter. If we don't stand up and keep local control of our schools, we are going to lose the very thing that has made this country great -- freedom.

Teresa Selensky

Grainfield