I work in a school system as an occupational therapist which means that every day my job is to help all kids access their curriculum regardless of any disabilities including emotional disabilities. In years passed, I sat in the first day meeting of the brand new school year with the superintendent and listened to how we could all improve our test scores for our kids and that this was the primary focus of our job and the reason we came to work everyday. Every slide was about standardized testing and data and proving that our kids were learning by how they did answering questions generated by a bunch of people so far removed from the school they might as well be aliens. These kids took the tests no matter if they had any kind of disability, regardless of if they ate breakfast, lunch, or dinner, in spite of living in poverty or with violence or with illness. It didn’t matter in the end; their worth and their growth and we can even go so far as to say they as people were measured by how they performed on a series of tests and where they eventually went to college. I would sit in these meetings and cry inside because I could give a rat’s ass about any test scores. I wanted my child to be well-adjusted, to have friends, to be confident in herself, to be curious, to be happy, to be excited to enter the building everyday and see her teachers and peers. I didn’t care if she needed improvement on testing, I wanted her to live.
For a long time teachers have been fighting the good fight against what is coming down from the top and trying and pleading and begging with those dictating their jobs to back away from the testing and data and to let them actually teach instead. To inform, enlighten, create curiosity, develop passion in students, help strengthen thinking skills, to reach every child regardless of the odds they are fighting. And year after year officials have pushed the testing agenda and measured all of the success of schools and teachers by a number at the end of the year. Parents continue to push their kids into harder classes and impossible schedules all to get into a prestigious 4 year school. And all the while our kids have been suffering; some silent some outright. And year after year I would watch the kids I work with and my own child fall to pieces from the expectations and the pressure and the “rigor” of life. And in every meeting I would want to yell, HOW ARE WE GOING TO HELP THESE KIDS? And everyone pushed the files around and put their hands up not knowing how to proceed. It was just a matter of time before mental illness in teens became an epidemic we couldn’t ignore.
And now finally, FINALLY, I sat down at the new school year meeting and social emotional learning and support was the primary focus of the entire 2 days. Not once did I hear about test scores or data but instead heard words like listen, support, and provide tools. I could have cried for joy right then and there but to be honest I’m kinda tired. My own child is in a great place right now and it’s taken an effort that has taken its toll on me that I am just now fully realizing. So I sighed a little and looked around and thought, good, now we can all go back to doing our jobs: creating loving, secure, well-adjusted, confident, curious, compassionate young adults. To everyone out there who has kids, please know that your child is more than a test score. They are more than an A. They are more than an honors or AP class. They are more than a varsity player on a team. They are more than the president of the student body. They are so much more than where they get into college. They have the capability to change the world by growing into loving human beings. Personally this is what I choose to create for the world and I am hopeful for the first time in a while that the powers that be are finally looking and taking responsibility in this role as well. Have a wonderful weekend and as your kids go back to school know that their emotional intelligence is as, if not more important than their cognitive intelligence.