The third question in the #kinderblog2012 challenge is to tell the group about your pet peeves. While I tend to have many (I'm looking at you people who refuse to move away from the eL doors when there is an abundance of room inside the cars), for this particular reflection I'll stick to some topics that have recently been bothering me in terms of education and schooling.
I have a huge problem with the word "cute". Not only do I find it disrespectful when used to describe a child, I also think that it's quite unhelpful in terms of feedback. By telling a child that they themselves are cute they are hearing that their physical attributes are something they should focus on. By telling a child that their work is cute they are hearing that all of their effort, dedication, problem solving was not important and that what matters in the end is a pleasing product. I also take issue with the way the word "cute" is thrown around when planning activities for children. When I ask a teacher that I am working with why they chose to have the children complete a particular activity (most often these end up being the cookie cutter art projects that end up looking the same for every child and match a holiday) and they tell me it's because the activity is cute I seriously question the validity of the activity. Choosing to do an activity because it is cute is not developmentally appropriate and focuses too much attention on the end product and not the process of getting there.
Along the same lines, I also am bothered by the abundance of false and meaningless praise. All too often I hear well meaning adults telling children "good job", "you're so smart", "that picture is beautiful" and it tends to grate on my nerves. "Good job" does not provide the child with any feedback on what skills they are using are actually successful or what it is about their work that was done in the correct manner. Telling a student "you're so smart" or "you're so artistic" treads on the dangerous territory of focusing on what may be perceived as innate traits rather than on the effort and determination used to reach a goal. As I have written in my posts about the mindsets of education, this can be quite detrimental to a child's willingness to try new things. Finally, praise such as "that picture is beautiful" not only draws attention away from the process of the child, but can also end up being counterproductive. Children are smart. They know when they have created something that is not necessarily beautiful and they are okay with that (in fact I've met children who use art as expression and quite purposely create art that is "ugly" or "angry" because that is how they are feeling, they most certainly don't want to hear that their picture is beautiful". Hearing an adult tell them that it is beautiful when it's not tells them that the adult isn't really looking at their product.
I hate flashcards and worksheets. This is probably abundantly clear to anyone who reads this blog or my tweets.
This one may cause a bit of discontent among my readers, but I'm going to list it anyway because as members of a professional learning community I feel that it's healthy and productive to disagree from time to time. I cannot stand factory created signs, borders, decorations, etc inside of classrooms. A classroom should reflect the community that resides in it and store bought decorations do not promote this. They are also too busy and primary colored for my educational beliefs. I want the children's learning space to be natural, encouraging curiosity, and representative of who we are. As such, the only things I believe belong on the classroom walls are the children's work, expectations that the children and teacher have come up with together, class and project work (for example chart papers with the recordings of a meeting discussion that the children and teachers refer to), a visual schedule created by the teacher using student's photos, and photos of the children and their families. I'm all for signs informing the parents and visitors about the learning taking place in each center, but signs created by the teachers.
I've recently began to hate the terms "academic preschool" or "academic kindergarten". To me, these terms not only devalue the other classrooms or programs without those titles by inferring that they are not as rigorous, but they also strongly disrespect play. Play is the academics of early childhood and we should defend that and shout it from the rooftops. Play is valuable and does not need to be minimized by saying that one room is academic and one room is play-based. In early childhood these are one and the same and the less time we spend trying to hide play and more time highlighting play the better.
Finally, I've lately been struggling with teachers who are anti-collaboration and have the "my room is my island" mentality and with teachers who have an unwillingness to try new methods or materials. As someone who is a teacher, a student, and a teacher mentor, these two things are very frustrating. But, as these are also two qualities that I know I will have to learn to work around and inspire change, I also know that I will have to not let them annoy me, but rather allow them to push me to be better and to share by example the wonders of collaboration and risk taking in learning among adults.