Opinion

‘New’ methods | Editorial

If I were a teacher, I think I would be a bit chagrined about the story published on Sunday in the Seattle Times about West Seattle Elementary School and its struggle to redeem itself in light of failing student performance. The story focused on a young teacher at the school brought in on a wave of federal grant money given to failing schools. She does all kinds of wonderful things to inspire her kids. She is warm and fuzzy, but tough at the same time. The story implies that these concepts are something new in the education field. They are not. Not at least here. Here teachers work daily to strike balance between nurturing students and challenging them to learn. They also talk about the future and encourage students to dream big and plan ahead.

Most might say it is easier here. On Mercer Island, parents and families want their children to succeed. It is expected. Yet any school counselor will tell you there are underlying issues here that hold students back whether it be family dynamics, learning differences or substance abuse. No, the issues here regarding student performance are somewhat different. But no less important.

There is an ever-expanding role that educators have had to take on — that of nurturer, friend, parent, coach, disciplinarian and cheerleader. Kids have to come to the classroom ready to learn, equipped with the self-esteem to tackle the unknown. The trick is to make it happen for dozens or even hundreds of kids in a short school day.

The grant money in West Seattle has likely added more support staff to the school — as playground monitors or tutors. Roles like these have been assumed by volunteers throughout the years both here and in Seattle. It is a seemingly small need but a crucial one where children are increasingly victimized by bullying. Here, elementary students have long had the help of a ‘duty,’ the person whose presence on the playground and in the lunchroom helps students navigate the day.

One item stood out from the Times story. The teacher showed her students how poorly their test scores compare with district and state averages. “The students were surprised the scores were so low. To them, school was good if they liked their teacher. They hadn’t realized they were so far behind.”

It seems we must tell even very young students that they don’t measure up. That takes a deft touch.

For the Times story go to http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2013366091_westseattlepilot07m.html.

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