For Sumter County Elementary School Teacher of the Year Crystal Lingefelt, the emphasis on teaching more things to students at an earlier age has had a significant unintended consequence. “There is less focus on teaching social interaction and more on academics. Therefore, students do not know how to interact anymore,” said Lingefelt, the media dpecialist at the elementary school. “We’ve also pushed most of our character education out of schools because we don’t have time to teach it. We tried to make more time for academics, but we’ve created people who don’t know how to wait their turn or how to accept failure.”
When she began her student teaching in Pre-K, she recalls that most of the state standards were about social skills and learning how to interact with other people in a group setting.
“Academics were not to be taught explicitly, only through exposure,” she said. “The main focus was on social development. But now, with the higher expectation on students to know more material in kindergarten and first grade, many Pre-K teachers are forced to teach ABC’s and one, two, threes.” Often the behavior problems that develop from students not having enough social education gets in the way of their getting from school what Lingefelt thinks to be the fundamental goal of education. “I believe teaching is all about proving how important and fun learning is to the children,” she said. “Once you prove it to them, you can teach them anything.”
The challenge of making learning fun in the results-oriented schools of today require her to step outside the box in her presentation of the lesson plan.
“You have to become a performance artist to keep lessons lively for the students to watch and engage in,” she said. “I’ve changed my voice, stood on desks, and dramatically over-reacted to events just to get the kids to remember something important. But I love doing it, and I know it is working because these kids go home and tell their parents how much they love school and want to come back again.”
Still, she believes the most important thing a teacher can do is support and affirm all the many personalities that come into her life.
“I also believe that every child needs to be told ‘I love you,’” said Lingefelt. “Some students ask for love in the wrong ways, like acting out or misbehaving. I make sure I tell each child I work with, no matter what their status, race, gender, disability, or personality is, I love them.”