On How We Should Close the Achievement Gap.

This is a tall order: closing the achievement gap.

You hear about it all the time, and it’s actually something I’m really interested in discussing with others. One of my education professors from UNC posted a Washington Post article about the topic (which I encourage you to read) and it got me thinking (and a little riled up).

Yes, it is vital to know how to read and do math to be successful in society, but what happens when there are other, more pertinent things, keeping a child from mastering content? Hunger? Exhaustion? Abusive family members? Students cannot be expected to learn and be deemed “proficient” on standardized assessments when we haven’t addressed these very serious, very real issues that students face every single day.

I teach eight-year-olds. Some of the eight-year-olds I’ve taught in the last two and a half years were homeless, came from single-parent homes (where that parent worked multiple jobs), took care of their younger siblings (yes, eight-year-olds caring for toddlers), watched their fathers get deported, lived in fear of immigration services taking them, lost parents to prison and death, and I even had a child this year get kidnapped by his own father and taken to Mexico.

That child didn’t even get to start the school year with us; his mom is still in court trying to find him and get him and his brother back to the States.

Do you think those kids have the capacity to learn how to multiply right now?

These kids don’t need more homework or another negative presence in their lives. These kids just need to be loved. We must meet students where they are and show compassion; teaching is a profession that must be rooted in love and trust. We must be champions for our students, advocating for them and showing them how to stand up for themselves. Their lives are important, and they’re the ones who will shape the future.

I promise that I understand the need to perform well on tests; I see that side of the argument. Students need to know how to decode words and add numbers, but don’t they need to know so much more?

To close the achievement gap, I think we need to take a step back and refocus our curriculum. Common Core has a lot of pros in my opinion, coming from an elementary perspective at least — the spiraling standards lend itself to strong vertical alignment, and I appreciate the depth of the standards. It’s a nice concept that there are College and Career Readiness standards, but I still think we need something more.

We need to teach kids how to be good, kind people, and there’s a lot of value in that! There needs to be a stronger character education piece in our curriculum, especially in elementary grades to lay a firm foundation of socialization and emotional understanding. We need to teach kids how to interact with others and how to be more than just book smart. I would much rather have a student be a caring member of our classroom community than be a master all of the Common Core reading standards by the end of third grade.

So I suppose the question remains: how do we close the achievement gap? Well, we should probably start focusing on the whole child and not just a smudged bubble sheet.

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Full-Swinging Summer.

Y’all, it is THE END OF JUNE. How did that happen?!

YIKES.

YIKES.

I knew my planner looked crazy busy for the month of June, but I didn’t expect it to fly by as quickly as it did.

My babies took their EOGs the first two days in June, and the end result was about 50% passing. We got the scores back the next day after all students finished taking their tests, and there were definitely some surprises on the score sheet. It’s a little disheartening looking at a paper with your kids’ names on it with numbers next to each name, trying to quantify the brilliance of each child.

How foolish.

Despite these subpar test scores, I could not be any more proud of my kids. They worked their little tails off this year, and they accepted the challenges that I strategically placed in front of them. They all didn’t pass their EOG tests, but you know what? Every kid made progress. This cohort is batting 1.000, and every child made progress from day one in third grade. Some kids didn’t make much growth, but a little can go a long way. Most of the kids I had grew at least a year’s worth, and I had a couple grow about two years’ worth.

I hold those flimsy test score sheets in my hand, and those numbers pale in comparison to the actual amount that my kids actually grew — as students, as learners, as little human beings.

After EOGs, it was time for the last week of school and for a handful of teachers to head east to Ocracoke for a little curricular research and development at NCCAT (if you read this regularly, you may recall that I was there in January presenting about early literacy practices and integrating content area into literacy instruction). Needless to say, the weather was beautiful and a lot got accomplished being away from the home base of FPG.

What a place for a sunset.

What a place for a sunset.

After a week at NCCAT, it was time not for summer break and sleeping in, but rather the beginning of my Kenan Fellowship with NC State.

In case I haven’t posted about this, my Kenan Fellowship is with the NC Science Festival and Morehead Planetarium. My first week was very different than the work I am used to — normally, I’m up running around entertaining and educating the young minds of America, but instead I spent full days in front of a computer screen.

My honest thoughts: If this is research, this SUCKS.

I’m very much a doer when it comes to learning things, and sitting at a computer for six to eight hours a day is NOT my style. Fortunately, I’m efficient, so I finished a lot of work my first week there. It feels good being productive and doing something to promote science education outside of a classroom.

As soon as that first week of externship greatness ended, it was time to head to Cullowhee, NC with my fellow Fellows for a week at NCCAT in the mountains. We had a packed schedule full of professional advancement sessions and white water rafting.

Yep, that’s right. I said it. White. Water. Rafting.

I’ve never been white water rafting before this trip, and my apprehensiveness only grew as I sat in the outdoor classroom, eyes glued to a television screen flashing images of people falling into the river.

As we drifted and paddled down the Nantahala, I thought of something one of my students said earlier this year. We were doing a little character study using some Kevin Henkes books and we had just finished reading Sheila Rae, the Brave when we had our discussion about what bravery actually means. Many students were using the term “brave” synonymously with “fearless,” but this intuitive child spoke up and stated that brave and fearless weren’t the same — being brave is when you do something you’re afraid of, but being fearless means you do something that is scary to others but you aren’t afraid of it.

How poignant and simple.

I thought that as we started our river journey, and I couldn’t be happier that I was brave that day. My crew made it down the river with no casualties (PRAISE), our guide was amazing and beyond knowledgable about our trek, and I set fear aside and jumped into the VERY cold Nantahala with a new VERY dear friend of mine.

That week at NCCAT I learned about technology tools to use in my classroom and how to apply those same tools, but the most rewarding thing about the week was the relationships I made. I met people who think the way I do, who are passionate the way I am, who want to inspire change not only for their students but for other educators in the state as well. How refreshing to not be seen as the super intense nerd who is obsessed with creating engaging activities for kids. It’s amazing what a group of zealous, like-minded educators can do when they’re all in the same room.

As soon as I returned from the mountains, it was time to shower and get ready for the FABULOUS wedding of one of my best friends, Carmen, to another dear friend, Michael (known affectionately as #CarMichaelBetts2014). It was an evening of tears, overflowing joy, and hardcore dance moves.

Oh, and I “caught” the bouquet. [Note: This is a loose term, as the bouquet ever so eloquently plopped RIGHT at my feet when Carmen tossed it back.]

I got back late and was happy to sleep in a real bed (because y’all let me tell you, those Western frat house beds were BRICKS covered in paper), and then wasted no time in preparing for the move to a new building, a new apartment, a new year of life with a sweet roommate, Aviv! I really hate packing and moving, and I openly admit that I did a VERY poor job prepping my stuff and organizing before moving on Sunday, and I’m kind of paying for it now.

I couldn’t have made this move possible without the help of my mom — SHE IS THE BEST. She came up and helped me clean and move the rest of my stuff while I was at work today, and for that I’m beyond thankful. This move also made possible by my fantastic dad and wonderfully strong brother — y’all are the best movers this side of the Mississippi, I’m certain of it!

Despite the hectic nature of moving and purging and organizing and living in boxes for a bit, I’m happy to be in my new place, and I can’t wait for Aviv to get back from Israel so I can share that space with her!

Basically, I feel so humbled to have the opportunity to work with such passionate, pleasant people, and I’m grateful for the relationships I am able to cultivate during the summer season. It’s nice having more free time during summer months, and I love taking any extra chance I get to build and grow in my relationships with people.

Now, here I sit at Caribou Coffee (my apartment is sans internet for the time being), watching the sun set and contemplating the infinite possibilities flight has to offer the world, all while listening to some electronic acoustica music.

It’s a beautiful life, friends. Look for more steady updates in the weeks ahead! Happy end of June — I pray the start to your July is absolutely sparkling.

How We’re Killing Our Kids.

I’m sitting at my kitchen table listening to Miles Davis and eating Cheerios from a box like a child. Some of the Cheerios miss my mouth as I’m shoveling them in since I’m busy devouring articles about education and teaching. Between my munches, my eyes stick to the screen and I feel for my cup of tea nearby so I can wash down the “wholesome goodness” I’ve just consumed.

I stumbled upon this article, in which a woman from Maryland PREACHES the truth about teaching in today’s society. All of a sudden (or maybe not so suddenly), we have become obsessed with data points and graphs and making education more like a business, cranking out products of “well-performing” students and throwing the duds to the curb.

Since when is this education? Since when is discarding a struggling student acceptable? Since when is teaching to the test something so highly regarded?

I don’t know about you, but I’m in the business of teaching, and I mean really teaching. At my school, I teach reading in English; I also teach people skills, kindness, empathy, passion, excitement, writing, NFL Panthers football, how to use an iPad, videography, saying thank you, how to be a die-hard UNC fan in any and every circumstance, and being responsible for your actions, just to name a few.

Despite this, I can only give students a grade in reading, and whether or not they are reading at a certain level by a certain period of time.

This is not education. This is a disservice.

When we teach to tests, we are slowly killing our kids, the future leaders of our nation and the world. We essentially end up teaching them to be unoriginal, even when we tell them to “think outside the box” (why is there even a box? Just stop and think!). When we begin to drill rote memorization into the minds of our children at age eight, what can we expect from them by the time they graduate high school?

One of my favorite things about teaching third graders is that, for the most part, they still have their creativity (and they still like to give their teacher hugs). Their minds haven’t been clouded with eraser dust from correcting misaligned bubble sheets, and their eyes still light up when you read a book to them. Third graders, in my experience of one and a half years in two districts, are fairly eager to please, and if you do it right, you can get them excited about almost anything. This, for me, is where magic can happen.

If you can catch kids in this state of interest and intrigue before they’re jaded by incessant amounts of testing and sitting silently at a desk in a row for hours on end, then real teaching and learning is possible.

Why are we afraid of this blissful state of education? It’s like if we can’t quantify it or put it in a graph to compare data, then it isn’t useful. How does that benefit anybody?

Here’s what I envision happening: if every teacher in the country taught to the test, drilled students with practice tests and made sure that bubbles were filled in perfectly and answer sheets were pristine, then what? We would have thousands of test-taking robots instead of human beings. Then, society would fail because no one would learn important things like how to talk accountably with others or how to work through disagreements in an appropriate manner.

School is more than just standards. It’s more than just learning to read or making a connection between fractions and division. School is supposed to prepare students for life and the future, but how could we as teachers possibly be doing that when we’re under so much pressure and scrutiny from administrators and higher ups everywhere? There are so many moments I wish I could just shut my door and live in my own little Room 40 world, but those above me always ask about things that I see as unimportant. People rarely ask about how well students are working in groups or how innovative a child’s way to solve a problem is; it’s always about whether they’re reading at level or if their answer is correct.

It’s been years since arts programs and extracurriculars have started getting cut from schools across the nation, and I find that so unfortunate. I read an article a while back called “Is Music the Key to Success?” in which the author points out how various successful people have once studied music in-depth, and continues to justify the importance of music (and the arts in general) through numerous examples.

We’ve been cutting arts programs because they’re fluffy; because they aren’t science or math or reading.

Or are they?

There is most certainly a science to music — if my guitar strings didn’t vibrate, how would I hear what I’m playing? I have to keep time in a rhythm when I play music, which is heavily mathematical. Reading music is like reading a language of its own — half notes, whole notes, quarter notes, rests, codas dotting the staves of sheet music are a foreign language to many.

Policy makers and legislators don’t see the benefits to something like arts education because they aren’t IN education. Even if you were in education 20 years ago, can you imagine how different children are today than in the ’90s? I was in third grade in 1998, and I can say with confidence that I am teaching VERY differently than my third grade teacher did. Students are changing as the times change and as technology advances, and I can list a slew of students I have or had last year who I know would benefit from some kind of arts education or after school program.

It breaks my heart to know that we’re killing our kids and their ingenuity, their independence. We’re also killing teachers in these same ways, too.

How can you expect me to be creative with my lessons when you’re requiring me to teach certain things a certain way? Where is the independence in my lesson planning and my PLC time when you’re monopolizing it for “district-mandated trainings” that really aren’t always the most helpful to me and my practice? I understand that there are times when these things can mean well, but why can’t we just cool it? When I took this job at my current school, I found out that there would be plenty of planning time during my days, and even some extended planning time once a month. I was really excited about this, because in my mind it meant that I wouldn’t have to spend so much time planning at home and on the weekends. Some weeks my planning time is better used than others, but many of the days for planning are consumed with meetings, and our monthly extended curriculum planning time got difficult when I became the lonely reading teacher with no integrated units to work from like my peers.

It’s kind of hard to be an independent, creative teacher when I’m spending time out of the classroom, doing icebreakers like lining up in birthday order without talking (I’m sorry, I’m an adult — if you want to train me or present something to me, please do it in a way suitable for professional adults). It’s also hard when another large portion of my time is spent testing. When is the teaching supposed to happen!? What am I even really getting paid to do?

This, my friends, is why I’m in the business of real teaching. Nothing makes me happier than to see my kids get excited about learning, and trust me, I plan on cultivating that until they leave me in June. I will jump up and down, read in accents, and talk about things my kids are interested in because that’s how you teach; that’s how they learn. If I wasn’t excited about teaching them things, how can I really expect them to be excited to learn? As an adult, learning happens because you’re curious about something, am I right? I find myself constantly Googling things or driving to the library to check out books so that I can learn something. If this is how we learn as adults, why shouldn’t this be an approach to teaching children (even if you’re standards-driven, this approach can be taken, so there are no excuses)?

I could honestly care less if my kids really know the difference between a myth and a fairytale by the end of third grade — honestly, what benefit is that to them? I care more about how my kids work collaboratively and how they treat each other, because that’s more of a life skill than filling out a Venn diagram (does anyone even use these in the real world? Serious question). I will not regret spending the first ten minutes of each of my classes doing our compliment circle, in which each child has the opportunity to give or receive a compliment. It is because of this activity that I have kids speaking in complete sentences, making eye contact while talking, and being kind to one another. Yeah, I know that isn’t on the End of Grade test, but those skills are embedded in them for life, which, I’d say is pretty important.

I hate knowing that when I return to school on Monday, the countdown to testing begins. I’m fortunate enough to have a principal who doesn’t believe in the “drill and kill” method of test preparation, but the air will loom heavily with whispers of data and Read to Achieve and mCLASS and all things test-related.

Even so, there are so many things I love about going back to school after Christmas to start a new year with my class. The kids are more mature (for the most part — there are always lapses, but hey, they’re kids and it happens to all of us, even when we’re 24), they start to become more independent, and they really start taking ownership of their learning. It’s amazing how much a child can grow in just four short months, and I’m so blessed to get to watch them grow day by day in my classroom, not just as learners and students but as young people who are forming opinions and sharing their ideas with the world.

I’m in the business of real teaching — care to join me in the quest for educational creativity and saving our kids from becoming bubble-coloring machines?

mCLASSy

I’m trying my best to maintain sanity amidst testing.

Yesterday was the first day I spent the whole day in my classroom in weeks. It was kind of a strange feeling knowing that I had been displaced due to testing. I had my observation with the principal first thing Tuesday morning, which I think went really well (yay!). My kiddos are working on this fantastic little reading project in which they are taking what they know about paraphrasing, summarizing, and retelling and applying it to a social justice article about Latino immigrants. First, the kids have to tell me what paraphrasing, summarizing, and retelling is, and then they need to tell me what those things are in relation to the article. The students are working in pairs to create scripts for what they’ll say, and then they’re filming one another with iPads. One of my professional learning goals this year is to integrate more technology, which will be even more important come Christmas when the third graders have one-to-one technology (fingers crossed!). These last two days have been great since I’ve had the in-class support of the technology specialist (who is just lovely), and I’m really seeing a ton of engagement with almost every child in all three of my classes.

However, here’s the thing: I’m seeing a ton of engagement with ALMOST every child in all three of my classes.

19 out of 20 students engaged is great, but 1 out of 20 students disengaged isn’t going to work. My job is to reach every child, and y’all, that is HARD. In just one of my classes, I have kids on reading levels ranging from RB (‘reading behaviors’ — essentially a pre-kindergarten/emerging kindergarten level) to >U (fifth grade and beyond). It’s basically like I’m teaching Pre-K to 5th grade reading AT ONE TIME.

I had a wide range of reading levels last year, but honestly the range was smaller; it started low, but not as low as RB, and it ended high (one student on U), but the majority of those higher level readers were reading on an end of third grade or fourth grade level (Q-S).

Differentiation is something I know I can work on in my teaching practice, but how exactly does a teacher teach effectively with such a range of reading abilities? I fully believe that reading is a continuum and that not every child learns to read the same way or at the same pace. So, with that being said, how does one spend time teaching children how to read but then also challenging children who already think school is too easy? All and any ideas or suggestions welcome!

See, I think there are a lot of people who have misconceptions about Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. I think there are a lot of people who think CHCCS is a district where kids don’t fail because the population is mostly white and these kids have parents who are doctors and lawyers and professors and its population is pretty well-educated. Well, let me disbar that myth for you: yes, there are students who have parents who are doctors and lawyers and professors, and yes, there are white kids in the district.

There are also kids who live in run-down trailers with their families of eight, whose parents work the night shift as janitors, and who are children of color. Proficient students aren’t just white or well-to-do. Proficient students don’t always come from the best home situations. I see this every single day — I watch kids fight their odds and overcome problems that I couldn’t have ever imagined as an eight-year-old (I mean honestly, how would you feel and what would be going through your head if your father was arrested and then deported?). I was blessed enough to have two parents at home regularly who supported my educational endeavors, both in and out of the classroom, but there are kids who don’t even have one parent at home for them regularly. Some of these kids are so motivated and want to learn and can clearly see that they want a better future for themselves and their families.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that CHCCS isn’t perfect, and no school district is or ever will be (especially at this rate). There are always students showing proficiency and there are always students performing below grade level. That’s real, that’s life, and this is what teachers deal with in their classrooms every single day. There are kids in high school who can’t read past a third grade reading level right now. How can we, as teachers and adults of this country, expect them to find success?

Cue core reading instruction.

I know I need to test so that I can give my kids the best instruction I possibly can, but it’s so hard with the mCLASS process being so slow. It’s time consuming to keep bumping students up or dropping them down over and over again. There’s also copious amounts of paper everywhere, all the time, scattered about my table, and I, as the neat freak I am, can hardly handle it by the end of the day. I had a meeting with the literacy coach today and we talked mCLASS testing logistics, and I openly admit to shedding a tear over it. I’m testing 60 kids by myself without much support (in regards to having another body in the classroom), and these tests are long! It’s just a tedious process that’s a necessary evil. Like I said, I need to know this information and ultimately want to know this information so that I can properly put students in strategy groups to help them become successful readers; however, the road to get to that point is a bumpy one.

Despite the testing annoyances (I promise I’m done complaining), there are glimmers of hope for the future where I won’t have to deal with iPad technical difficulties with the mCLASS app. I’ve been working on planning these really great read alouds with the literacy coach, and I literally could not be more excited to do them with my kids! I really enjoy having in-depth conversations with my kids about all sorts of things, and the topic we’re currently working through is culture and community. I have a series of books selected (two of the three are already completely planned!) that will surely spark amazing discussion in class. One of the read alouds had me in tears the first time I read through it — that’s the only book I haven’t planned for yet, and I have so many emotions just thinking about all the things I want to discuss with my classes after reading it!

Have I mentioned previously that I was initially apprehensive about this year, only teaching reading? I realize now that I had found a comfort zone in math and science, and this year thus far has truly opened my eyes to how beautiful it can be to educate a child through a literacy lens. The meetings I have with the literacy coach are not only productive, but often challenging, and I feel as though I’m growing weekly just meeting and talking with her. I’m so grateful for her compassion and patience, especially during this time of the year!

Though my heart is breaking each day that I have to spend in that blue plastic chair in the hallway, I know it’s for the better and I have to keep reminding myself that when I finish these, I can be a better teacher to every single one of those kids.

TGIFF.

Why yes, that is an extra F you see there. Thank God it’s FINALLY Friday.

This was a long week, my friends. Testing pressure is on and I didn’t meet my testing window, which closed today (though I still have to finish my tests). I’m testing as much as I possibly can, literally every moment there is another adult in my room, and I’m only about a fifth of the way done with all the tests. I’m mCLASSing (the verb I created to encompass the idea of doing reading tests with the mCLASS/DIBELS program) 60 kids, and that’s a lot of kids! Since the reading teacher has to test the kids, I’m stuck out of my classroom sitting in a plastic chair for five hours a day listening to kids read and asking them comprehension questions. Not the most authentic (or exciting) reading experience.

Aside from drowning in testing, I’ve had this pressing feeling as of late that people are pulling me in about a million different directions. This has been so difficult. I’m usually very good with prioritizing things I need to do considering the fact that I am a natural list-maker, but all of these things seem important and people are putting various weights on these various activities. I want so badly to do these really great, rigorous text discussions with my kids about intense topics like race and culture, but, like I stated earlier, I’m still testing. I’m being observed on Tuesday and I will be in my class for that hour or so, but I want to be in my class the whole day.

But I’m still testing.

I think it’s a good thing to see where my kids are with their reading — I mean, that’s the basis for my small group instruction for the whole year. Despite this, I hate that I’m not in the classroom teaching. I became a teacher to teach, not to endlessly test in a hallway. I miss my kids and I miss watching them learn. Period.

Aside from this past week’s testing bonanza, Friday was just the icing on the cake. The day was completely shot and I literally did no teaching (which, guess what? I HATED). I had a two hour meeting at the beginning of the day about balanced literacy, in which my TA stayed with my kids and followed the plans I left for her. I came back from the meeting and started to test and finished one test in its entirety. [Insert my head against a wall here] Then, the kids went to lunch and recess and came back ready to tour the school to look at various country displays around the grade levels. This whole month we’ve celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month, and our culminating events were Friday — during school hours, students had the opportunity to take their “passports” around to other “countries” and learn about said country (note: I was super stoked when third grade was assigned Spain since I studied abroad there, which you can read about on this blog!). This, in theory, is a lovely idea. This, in reality, was a complete mess.

My team didn’t realize the kids needed to present something on Friday until later Monday afternoon after a meeting. We scrambled to get things together, but we thought we had made it work. Our time slot, 1:00-2:00, was open for classes to come visit us and also for our class to visit others. I split the kids in half so that there weren’t as many kids in the classroom at the time and I wrote out a whole schedule for my TA for when she takes the kids touring. The first half hour was fairly successful, and I was impressed with my kids’ presentation. Flamenco music played in the background, pictures from my study abroad adventures in Sevilla flashed on a powerpoint behind them, and I was surprised they remembered so much about the photos from when I showed them to the kids that morning before starting class. I was pleased with the outcome thus far, and was so grateful to a teacher friend for crowd-controlling my class so I could try to do more tests. The problems came when the kids had to switch.

My disgruntled TA brought her group back to the classroom and complained that none of the classes they went to were open to tour. This surprised me since I had literally made the schedule during lunch and got it straight off of the document of times classrooms were open. We had a big rush of students coming to visit Spain in the last half hour or so, and my good friend in first grade told me a teacher called down to the lower grades saying Spain wouldn’t be ready to present until 1:45. At this point I also realized that the third classroom on our hall wasn’t opened to present information and hadn’t been open the whole hour. There were children everywhere, in my classroom, in the hallway, in the classroom next door, in the hallway around the corner completing comprehension sheets for their reading tests — sensory OVERLOAD.

Needless to say, Friday was just a big mess for me. I felt stressed and as though I was constantly running. I felt like that all week, honestly. It was rainy and messy and there were headaches.

After all of that chaos, I brought my kids to the carpet and introduced them to our new classroom Twitter. As we were tweeting things we’ve learned, one boy remarked, “Wow, we’ve learned a LOT!”

This made me smile.

After that brief introduction, we all sat in a circle on the carpet for a little team time. This is something a girl who I worked with last year did, and I loved the idea and decided to try it! Sitting in the circle on the perimeter of the carpet (this is how I talk every day, y’all — sorry ’bout it), I explained to them that everyone would go around and say whether they wanted to give a compliment, receive a compliment, or pass. Pretty simple directions.

The actions and words that followed were something magical.

Students were choosing to give compliments rather than receiving them. When a student wanted to receive a compliment, those kids had some of the sweetest things to say:

“I really like the way you did mirroring in music class today — it looked really good!”

“I thought it was cool the way you were able to get up on the monkey bars at recess!”

“I like that every day I come to class, you’re always kind to people.”

“Thanks for being a nice friend.”

Are you crying yet? Because I almost was.

These kids constantly impress me. They are bright and resourceful and deep-down caring. My heart is so full when I get to experience moments like this with them. It’s so incredible watching them become more mature and aware human beings with kind hearts.

The kids left that afternoon and returned a couple hours later for our Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration. Let me tell you, this celebration was AMAZING.

The support from families at this function was unbelievable. The weather wasn’t great and there were moments of pure misting, which is annoying, but those families came, stayed, and applauded their children.

fpg family support

It was awesome seeing Hispanic heritage represented that night, and what was more awesome was seeing my kids take pride in their learning and performing!

flamencoThird graders dancing flamenco

 

la bambaThird graders dancing “La Bamba” — they came up with the choreography!

 

One mom came up to me and was asking how her daughters were doing and just was letting me know that her kids were both really enjoying reading class this year. “S hasn’t ever been much of a reader, but I think you’re class has really changed that — you’ve really inspired her to read!

Cue my heart bursting with joy.

This mother was just beaming with appreciation when I told her how thrilled and honored I was to hear such heartwarming words. As a teacher, I always strive to inspire my kids to want to be better readers, better writers, and better people — I just never really heard anyone ever mention the impact I actually was having on the lives of these children.

Note to teachers: YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN SO MANY LIVES. Seriously, you are, whether you realize it or not. You aren’t told this enough, which is unfortunate, but know that someone will tell you one day; someone will tell you that you’re inspiring their child and explain to you how much their child is loving and learning in your classroom, and when they tell you these things you will feel warm all over and you’ll get butterflies in your stomach (it kind of feels like you’re on an airplane when it’s taking off or when you’re at the peak of a loop on a roller coaster). Keep on teaching and fighting the good fight, my friends — even when you’re tired and your week has been a wreck, know that you’re still changing the lives of children. They still love you, so you should cut yourself some slack on those rough days when you don’t feel like your best is enough.

Friday was crazy and last week felt a lot like a seven-week-slump, but I love knowing that Monday will come and everything is new again. I have new plans and a new outlook on the week. I also have those gem moments from every other week this year to keep me going and reminding me that what I do is important. So thankful for those moments and hoping to make more this week!

Epilogue: I need to write more. My apologies for not being as vigilant as usual with this — I promise I haven’t forgotten my love of writing to you all.

Reminders.

At this point in the year, I will be very honest: I’m struggling. My motivation isn’t very high and I’m getting a little worn down. We have been doing test prep at my school since spring break (which was about a month ago) and I’m getting bored with it. I’ve never really been a huge fan of direct instruction, and going through these test prep workbooks every single day is getting so monotonous.

Let’s be real here. If I’m bored with this test prep I’m teaching, I KNOW my students will be bored with the material, too. I feel like I’m almost stuck in some kind of bubble-sheet-number-two-pencil-EOG rut, and I’m trying my hardest to make class fun again; however, lately it has proven at times harder for me to remember what got me so passionate in the first place about this profession.

While I have been doing test prep, there has been a small team of resource teachers pulling third graders in the afternoons to conduct reading tests. We are blitz teaming these end of year tests so we don’t have to drill testing more than we already are, which I can appreciate.

The librarian is one of the teachers who is testing some of my kids, and she pulled one of my hardest working students yesterday for his test. This student moved from Honduras to the United States when he was in first grade, and entered third grade at a reading level K. For any non-teachers reading this, that puts the student at a first grade reading level. I watched this boy soar as the year progressed, and was thrilled when January came and he was reading on a level M (this is the level on which students should enter third grade) and I referred him for AIG math services. His hard work and dedication have been a breath of fresh air, and his love for learning has been so evident as we have maneuvered through the various learning targets and standards for each subject.

Yesterday, this child was pulled for his reading test. I have been excited (and honestly kind of nervous, too) to see how my students have progressed, but I was especially intrigued by this particular student. He was gone for a long portion of the afternoon and he returned to class saying that he “passed the P.” Now, what does this mean, you ask?

In short, it means that this child is on grade level. My sweet little Honduran nugget is a rockstar and he’s reading on a level Q, which is bordering above grade level reading.

Summary: he went from a level K to a level Q in a year. This is incredible.

When he told me about his final results, I teared up. He hugged me and I told him how proud I was of him and reminded him how hard he’s worked this year to get to where he is with his reading (and math, too!).

I pulled another one of my ELLs out into the hallway this morning before class started. I wanted to tell her that she passed both her reading and math practice EOGs and congratulate her on her hard work that is now so obviously paying off. When I told her, she started crying (which obviously then made me shed a tear or ten with her) and could only say, “I’m so happy, I’m so happy!” This girl has done extra work in workbooks at home, she’s one of the few who knows the majority of her multiplication facts by heart, and she’s always trying to push herself to learn more. She asked if I would write a note to her parents, and she said, “I can’t wait to tell my mom — she’s going to be so proud of me.”

(Insert a break here for a moment of tears — it’s okay, just let it all out right now.)

These anecdotes of achievement and hard work make my heart the happiest. I literally could not be prouder of these children. I am thrilled to see what their educational future holds, and I’m so honored to have gotten the opportunity to be part of their lifelong learning experience. When I think about Teacher Appreciation Week coming up next week, I can’t help but stop to wonder how appreciated teachers would feel if they’d focus on positives. I often think to myself, “Hey Allison, you work really hard and you spend hours outside of school working on lessons and other things for school — does anyone care or really even benefit from it?” Taking time to reflect on my year, especially in lieu of the progress that these students have made, it’s just so obvious to me how much it does matter and how much my students do benefit from it.

I find it imperative to be reflective in this profession. I truly don’t know what I would do without my amazing third grade team and all of the priceless friends and family I have who support me, and everyone’s encouraging words throughout this year have meant more to me than you’ll probably ever really know. It’s so easy to burn out, but if we take the time to remind ourselves of why we do what we do and how much even the smallest things impact our students, I think we’d all get a new perspective to see how much we make a difference every day.

It’s All About the Data.

At least that’s what it seems like.

I swear, I feel like my whole year has been centered more around data than around building relationships with my students. It’s all about how the district is doing and how the school is doing and how my class is doing.

I’ll be honest, statistically speaking my class isn’t doing so hot. Guess that means if I was being paid on merit I wouldn’t be making too much (or I’d probably be fired).

To me, this is absurd. Not because I would probably get fired if I was getting a merit-based paycheck, but because none of this focuses on the students, and they are the reason I chose this profession.

I didn’t want to be a teacher because of the bureaucratic politics or the disengaged (or overly-engaged) parents or the piles of paperwork. I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to inspire kids to become lifelong learners and to love every minute of it.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how inspiring I am when I have to give my third graders bubble sheets every nine weeks to test their “skills.” Multiple choice tests aren’t even developmentally appropriate for third graders if you asked me, and frankly I care more about whether or not my students fully understand a concept rather than if they can just pick a letter to color in on a scantron sheet.

I want my students to be able to explain to me how Roald Dahl develops his characters in his books, and then compare the characters to one another. I want my students to explain to me step-by-step how they were able to divide 13 brownies between 3 people so that each person gets an equal amount. I want my students to explain to me how the human body works interdependently.

Is any of that going to fit on a bubble sheet?

I just had my reading groups read through a recent TIME For Kids article called “The Future of Testing.” It discusses that their tests will one day be taken on tablets and computers, and not all of the questions will be multiple choice.

I suppose that could be seen as a step in the right direction, but why is everyone so focused on all of this data?!

Yes, data can guide instruction, and that’s great. I want to know what my kids are struggling with so I can create engaging lessons that will meet their needs, and I see how this data does that, but everyone just seems so concerned with data that they don’t care about progress.

For my class, progress is a pretty big deal. One-third of my students do not speak English as their first language, and all of those students came to me reading below grade level. Another one-third of my students come from difficult home situations and have outside hindrances affecting their education, and they came to me reading below grade level, too. The final one-third of my students came to me reading on or above grade level.

So what’s a teacher supposed to do? I work hard and I’m a good teacher, but my students aren’t performing. Am I supposed to work a miracle and take a child reading on a first grade reading level and get him on a fourth grade reading level by June? Is that even possible? No wonder teachers and administrators cheat! Look at Atlanta — how sad it is to hear about so many educators fudging numbers so they can look better. And how about the alleged test scandals during Rhee’s administration as chancellor of DC Public Schools?

I can personally say that this strong push with data has hurt my self-esteem as a new teacher. I look at my data and see red and orange and I see failure on my part as a teacher. I see that I’m not doing my job well enough to get these kids to where they need to be.

Is that what we want? Do we want to be so focused on merit-based pay and good numbers and more tests that we crush the spirits of bright-eyed new teachers and demean the job of educator to pencil sharpener and paper-passer-outer?

To be honest, I’m tired of hearing the word data — I want to hear people talking progress.

I have a student whose first year in the United States is this year. She came in speaking very little English and was only reading 13 words per minute with 65% accuracy. I progress monitored her last week, and now she’s reading 65 words per minute with 98% accuracy. How hard she’s worked and how far she’s come since September! Unfortunately, that doesn’t get to go on her report card.

All of my students have made some kind of progress since they came to me in August. Each one of my students is a higher reader now than they were at the beginning of the year. They can do multiplication and fractions and they know about plants and the human body — they’ve been incredible! It just breaks my heart that I have to quantify their achievements with a number that isn’t a true indicator of their progress as a learner.

As my first year of teaching begins to close and the End of Grade tests draw near, I can’t help but contemplate these things. My hope is that as teachers, we’re able to come together to encourage one another in our endeavors so that we do not become faint of heart — this is a battle worth fighting.