I can best describe the end of my school year as bittersweet. I went into the last week or so knowing that I had been excessed and would no longer call my school home. As a result–as with my last days in college–every moment felt like one of those “what-if-this-is-the-last-time?” moments. I said goodbye to students, to teachers and to the physical spaces in my school of which I have grown fond. I awkwardly bidded adieu to all of these people and places. I began packing up the classroom library (this was a project in its own right) and tearing down posters. Finally, by Tuesday afternoon, I looked around in my classroom and saw a barren, colorless rectangular prism, completely devoid of any and all evidence that I had been toiling all year as an educator of DC youth. At that point, I thought maybe “excess” was a euphemism for “erase”.
Of course, there was more to this bittersweet-ness than that. I was bitter about the actual way in which the year had ended. Earlier this month, a former student of mine was shot and killed (I also taught his girlfriend), another student was hospitalized after she confided in me her suicidal thoughts, the wheels on the attendance bus fell off completely, and, honestly, as a consequence of all these things and many more, my morale hit a low point. I began to feel much like one of those helium balloons that kids get at parties. Initially, they are filled with air and bounce toward the sky spontaneously. But, gradually, and imperceptibly, the air silently whooshes out and they begin to sag, eventually deflating entirely. The end of the year left me feeling emptier than I had ever felt. The excess letter, although initially a huge and shocking blow, almost served as a sign that maybe–just maybe–there was a better place for me somewhere else.
But don’t get me wrong–I feel that my year was, on the whole, very successful. I see myself, first and foremost, as a literacy teacher. And though my second semester data may not have been what I had hoped and expected, I have seen some tremendous changes in the way that some of my students have grown as literacy learners. I’d like to mention one student in particular. ES–one of the few students whom I was lucky enough to teach over both semesters—entered 10th grade English reading at a 6.3 grade level. At the end of the fall, she had progressed to 6.8. This was actually disappointing to me, since I knew she had been working so hard in class each day and should’ve been seeing bigger gains. However, at the end of our spring semester, she hit 9.4, representing 3.1 years of reading growth this year.
I was extremely nervous when I was grading ES’ test, because I knew that her end-of-year performance would serve as a test case for what can be possible in my classroom. ES, despite being many years behind academically, was a “model” student in all senses. She came on time, always spoke respectfully, did all her work, listened to everything I told her and read the independent reading books that I suggested to her. If she made significant gains this year, I thought, I had something realistic that I could strive to achieve with all of my students next year. Sure, I was only looking at one student; but I also know that it only takes one good counterexample to shatter any theory. She did it. She is almost on grade level now. I am proud of her.
ES knew I taught both 10th and 11th grade and told me that she was excited to take me for 11th grade English next year and, if possible, 12th grade as well. Only a few days later, I would break the news that I wouldn’t be coming back. She was disappointed. I was frustrated. But life went on.
I’ve learned a lot this year. I’ve encountered and overcome a lot of challenges. Throughout, I’ve felt like I was playing one of those carnival games where you have a mallet and must smack the weasels that pop out of the little holes, slowly at first, but eventually at a rapid pace. I can picture it now: each “challenge” pops up and I grip my club and smack it down with all my might. Initially, it’s easy. I smile. For better of for worse, I feel invincible. Life feels great and, as a bonus, I feel like I’m getting the exercise and stimulation I need and yearn for.
But then, as the weasels pop up more rapidly, as lactic acid builds up and as my muscles begin to fatigue, each successive raise of the arm becomes a strenuous task. The smiles begins to turn into a frown. The hammer becomes a burden. It almost seems time to lay down the weapon of war, to surrender and rest once and for all. Even if I don’t make it onto the high score list, I know I’ve tried my best, right?
At those moments, I see the glimmers of hope that have appeared throughout the year and that are, honestly, among the few things that keep me motivated–on point!–to work my ass off for my students. ES is one of those glimmers of hope. And that’s why I pick up the hammer and continue pounding weasels like it’s my job, since, really, it is my job.
Well, enough with the metaphors for one day. The end to this year was bittersweet. What lies ahead for me next school year will be the subject of a later post. You’ll find out very soon.
Let’s get back to reality. I haven’t written anything in over 2 weeks. Don’t worry–I’m not depressed. In fact, I’m as happy as ever (hint: it’s summer!). But there are legitimate reasons for my hiatus from the blogosphere. I have a half dozen posts that that I will get to in due time.
In the meantime, I’m going to put in a shameless plug for something that I’m involved in. I was recently invited by Education Sector, an education think tank, to participate in a panel discussion on, “Finding the Link: Teacher Evaluation and Professional Development“. I apparently represent the “teacher voice” and am going to be one of the teacher-bloggers (I guess this is my occupation now) who will be there to react to the discussion on the relationship between teacher evaluation (“how well am I doing?”) and professional development (“how can I improve?”).
I am looking forward to it, particularly because I am extremely passionate about these two very things. I believe the new IMPACT system–on principle–is the best thing to arrive in DCPS in a while; I also believe that taking professional development seriously is not only the only way to improve as a teacher, but the only way to even maintain the same level of effectiveness (think of the Red Queen’s race in Alice in Wonderland: “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”). I will have a more detailed follow-up later, both here and on Education Sector’s blog, The Quick and the Ed.
I’ll be at the panel tomorrow morning. Furthermore, I’ll be trying my best to figure out how to live-blog and/or live-Tweet. Unfortunately, despite my youth and general technological prowess, I am not so well-versed in this art of impulsiveness (why the heck is a hashtag called a hashtag?). At any rate, I will be tweeting with (on? using?) Education Sector’s hashtag, #esteach. Wish me luck!