Bryan Renschler » Fifth Grade Math

Fifth Grade Math

George Feeny Quote
Even though the quote above is from a TV show, I believe this to be true about education.  Education is not about all the little details and facts that we learn along the way.  It is not about the dates and places that we learn in history class. Surprisingly, it isn't even about the scores that you get on your math test in 5th grade. Education is about the consistent application of the mind to understand, think, reason, problem-solve, and persevere through challenge.  
One of the stories from my life that I inevitably tell students each year is about what I learned in kindergarten.  The only thing that I remember learning in kindergarten is how to properly write the letters in my first name.  It was a test, I assume, that our teacher gave us.  From my memory of nearly forty years ago, it seemed like this happened several days in a row, but it may have only been one afternoon.  The assignment was to write our name on a piece of lined paper that has the wide lines for primary students, with the dashed line through the middle that we all probably learned to write our letters on when we were younger.  The teacher said that if we get it correct, we can go play in the other part of the classroom with the toys. I thought this was going to be simple.
I wrote out the letters of my name on the paper, raised my hand to have the teacher check it, and was ready to go play.  To my astonishment, the teacher laid the paper back down on my desk with a big red circle around the "y" in the middle of my name.  I couldn't understand what I had done wrong.  To make things worse, my two best friends got their papers back with big red stars on them and were headed over to play with the dump trucks and blocks.  I sat for what seemed like hours, staring at my paper, trying to figure out what I had done wrong.  Had my teacher forgotten that I spell my first name, Bryan, with a "y" instead of an "i"?  It wasn't until my teacher talked to me about why she circled the "y" in my name that I understood that I was trying to write a capital "Y" as a lower case "y". 
Two points stand out for me from this story.  The first is the power of a teacher to shape the understanding of a child.  When she explained what I did wrong, I understood and have never written the letter y incorrectly since (well maybe... who knows).  The second, and more important, point is that this is literally my only memory of kindergarten. I can't even remember my teacher's name. Does that mean that this is the only thing that I learned in kindergarten? Of course not!  There were many foundational skills and ideas that I learned through that year of school that supported my learning as I got older.
Education is a system that builds on previous learning, ideas, and concepts to help a student become a young adult that is prepared for the challenges of life as they leave high school.  As a teacher within this system, I believe that it works very well when all participants (parents, teachers, and students) are working toward that goal.  I assure you that I work hard for you and your student.  My goal is to assist you as a parent/guardian to help your student be successful in 5th grade and their future.