Why I No Longer Believe in Grade Levels
It's a new day, dear readers. Know that I embraced every moment of my 12 year career in public education, even when things took a turn for the "Nope, I'm not going back to this" time period. As a veteran educator certified in gifted education, general education, special education, and trained in the Orton-Gillingham approach, I write to you with vast experience and realism. I'm not only certified in each area; I have taught in each area: gifted classes, general education classes, collaborative classes, and small group special education classes. I've also taught in low income and high income counties.
For the past year, I have been teaching individual students and small groups of students online throughout America from my home in my own small company. I also teach children in China through a large company I deem brilliant, VIPKid. This company is so brilliant, in fact, I need to dedicate an entire blog to how well they support teachers through both pay and scheduling. That blog is for another day.
Today's blog is about the metamorphosis of my belief system. I pray to release this metamorphosis into the culture of America.
Children are children, whether they are Chinese kiddos, American kiddos, or kiddos from Timbuktu. Children are all uniquely and beautifully made. No two children are alike. Whether I'm teaching an eight year old child in China, and I know that she loves leading every lesson herself showing me the ropes of the curriculum or when I have a student of the exact same age in China who learns from me word by word, slowly stated and then slowly and nervously repeated, I smile. I teach these children differently because they need different experiences in the classroom.
When I taught seventh grade social studies in a suburban, collaborative environment filled with special needs learners, gifted learners, and learners all across the board, I remember. I knew when Johnny pretended to understand, and I remember working with him one on one to help him work through his struggles privately during his favorite class, gym. Sheesh, I hated then that you missed gym class, and I hate it now. I remember Monica, a bright, frustrated student needing and craving a rapid, enlightening, challenging, and gamified experience when her class would have been petrified. I remember.
I remember teaching gifted students together in a wealthy school system and having them collaborate and create brilliance beyond my imagination.
I remember teaching small group special education in an impoverished system and having my students shine with bliss when they started piecing together language and experiencing the joys of the emotional journeys of literature!
And now... now that I teach individual students and small groups of students in a customized, personalized, "I truly see the unique nuances of your very being" way online, I, as a teacher, have changed. I once thought I was a queen of differentiating instruction for my learners in a large, physical classroom, and I now believe that grade levels should be obliterated. I'm not the queen of differentiation, but I am fabulous for growing and changing. Don't they say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result?
Notice that I said grade levels and NOT ability levels.
Dominique's need for Orton-Gillingham Pre-Reader remediation as a 13 year old is beautiful. She has the right to shine and grow and love literature forever and ever!
Colin's need for algebraic introductions as a six year old is beautiful. He has the right to speed right into Calculus at age 13 and delve into problem solving beyond my interpretation.
All ages and all ability levels are beautiful, and when you focus on the child or teen as an individual with gifts and needs, you are able to embrace and cultivate a thriving adolescent.
When you decrease class sizes and group students according to their abilities and comfort levels, you open the doors of opportunity.
Attending college is fabulous. So is trade school.
When you're sitting in the back of the room pretending you understand the content and melting inside, my heart breaks. When you're jumping out of your seat in frustration seeking an increasingly challenging curriculum, my heart breaks.
Let's say no to grade level barriers and yes to meeting students where they are! Grace and growth, friends. Grace and growth. I pray that you seek grace and growth for your unique learner.
Mrs. Evelyn Educates