One of my favorite fellow Teach For Us bloggers, Wess, left me a nice comment on my last, bitter post to the universe. It started with a question, “Are you sleeping?”
Yes. Yes, I am sleeping. Enough? Probably not. Way more than last year? YES. Yes. I am sleeping. I am eating so much better, even cooking dinners at my house for myself and my closest TFA friends every other Thursday. I am going out on weekends, taking full days off from working. I am coming home and able to read my book (two weeks ago: The Help, currently: The Hunger Games). I am so much healthier than I was last year.
This also means I’m slightly more empowered, slightly more bitter, slightly more confident, and a whooooole lot happier! Last year, when October ended and the worst-month-of-my-entire-life-November started up, I was filled with gratitude at the tiniest things. A student telling me she was disappointed in her classmates’ behavior. My secretary asking me how I’m holding up. My favorite custodian and friend taking care of the brakes on my car.
I still love these things, they still fill me with joy. But I am no longer satisfied by them.
Last year, toward the end of second semester, one of my students whined without prompting, “Ms. L, you treat us like BABIES!” I probably laughed and said, “Because you act like babies!” Or spit out that retort with a bite to it. But the sentence resonated. I realized that student was right. Last year, I didn’t trust my students. Last year, I underestimated their responsibility, their drive, their want to learn, their aptitude for success.
This year, I’m not doing that.
It comes largely from the experience of seeing what eleven-year-olds are capable of, something I didn’t have last year, but they are basically little adults, and I’ve decided that’s how I’ll treat them. Before I ever taught anyone I was asking CMs if they talked about the achievement gap with their kids. Most, if not all, said no. I decided then that I would. How could I not? Did I last year? No. But this year, I showed them the average percent of 6th graders that passed the state test (Benchmark) in 2011: 71%. And the expected AYP (annual yearly progress) that our school needs to meet for 6th grade literacy this year: 83%. And the percent of sixth graders that passed last year, in my district: 53%.
Staggering. One girl raised her hand, “Ms. L, don’t you think that’s a lot of pressure to put on a bunch of sixth graders?”
YES. YES I DO. But do I have a choice? No.
Last year I wanted my students to be able to write, speak, listen and act like junior high students. I wanted them to focus on graduating three times: elementary school, high school, and college. Could any of them articulate what that actually meant day to day? No. My PD (excuse me, MTLD: Manager of Teacher Learning and Development) has already observed me three times (WOW!) and this last time, on Thursday, she asked one of my lower students what we do in class and why. From her observation feedback, this is what he said:
Well, we gotta know how to write good paragraphs so we cango to college, b/c in college you have to write a lot of stuff. That’s why Ms.Lampinen is helping us learn how to edit. We’re also trying to go up 5 pointsin our writing, and to pass 6th grade, do some other stuff (J), and go tocollege. She tells us what good colleges would be for us – I wanna go toFlorida because they have good football scholarships. Our other goals are toget 5 points on our Do Now and to get class points so we can get a pizza orice cream party.