Learning License

When I was sixteen years old I wanted nothing more than to get my driver’s license.  My dad insisted that I needed to first learn how to drive a manual car.  If you grew up in the rural part of North Carolina as I did you called it a straight gear!   I remember practicing for hours in my high school parking lot, with my father in the passenger seat.  I would try to push the clutch in to start the car and let it out at just the right moment when you push the gas to make it go.  Up and down the street we would drive, and on and off the car would turn because I could never seem to find just the right balance between clutch and gas while trying to simultaneously shift the car in gear.  I am surprised that little car survived my education! Then, one day it happened.  I got it!  I experienced that feeling of exhilaration we feel when we find just the right balance.  I am not sure who was more excited me or my poor father, who I am sure probably had a concussion from the many times he hit his head during my volatile learning experience!  I didn’t have long to celebrate though, as my father insisted we had to now leave the parking lot. I had to prove that I could drive on the real road.  A one stoplight town comes in handy when you are learning to drive a manual car.  The only problem is when that one stoplight sits on a hill!  Thankfully, after a lot of practice I mastered that hill and my life as a licensed driver began.

I share this story with you because it reminds me of our students and their learning.  As adults, after we have mastered a skill we often think it should come easily after we give a simple explanation.  We can often get frustrated with that child when he doesn’t “get it” after one or two explanations.  In reflecting about my own driving experience, I believe it probably took me several hundred times to master driving a manual car.  Once I reached mastery I was then forced to take that learning to a new place (the real road) and apply my skills there as well.  I also had one other key ingredient to master this new skill; motivation.  I was highly motivated to drive a manual car because it meant I could get my license.  This makes me ask; do we allow our children patience, practice, time, and motivation when we are teaching them something new?

As spring approaches so does the “season” of end of grade testing.  As parents and teachers we can often become so worried for our children and how they will perform that we unintentionally pass on our fears and worries to them.  This stress can cause a child to shut down and spend less time practicing and more time fearing the unknown.  Our fear drives what we do which means we can often lose patience.  This is not at all helpful to the most important person in this scenario; the child.   The beauty of our school is that we get to see students grow from kindergarten through twelfth grade.  I have seen children who never passed an EOG when they were in elementary school soar by the time they are in middle school or high school.  I have seen these same fearful and insecure children grow into amazing high school seniors and they have been accepted into wonderful colleges.  Does that mean that we are doing something magical at the high school level that we don’t at the elementary level?  Indeed not!  It means that we have patience and are willing to allow our students to develop at the pace they are meant to develop.  We give them time to figure out what learning strategies work best for them and we let them practice these skills until they reach mastery; even if it takes a little longer than their peers.  We are patient with them when they make mistakes, because we know that mistakes are our very best teachers.  We are dedicated to teaching our children with a growth mindset that says they may not have it yet but they will get it eventually.  Finally, by high school these students who sometimes didn’t pass their EOG’s in elementary school, begin to figure out their passions and they become highly motivated in their learning because developmentally they are ready for these new challenges.  Many of our students at CSD are developmentally ready to face standardized tests in elementary school and they do well on them.  However, if your child struggles with this challenge, don’t worry!  The journey is just beginning and we have years to help them learn how to be successful. If you work together with us, we will get there.

As this new “testing season” approaches I ask that you keep in mind that this is one test on one day of your children’s life.  It does not make or break them as learners.  The information we get from these tests will help us as educators and parents know how to better prepare our children for the next step.  Once our children are there alone on that hill at the stoplight, we want to make sure they know how to find that perfect balance to move forward independently and with great confidence in their own abilities.

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Leslie Tomko

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