Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 25 2010

End of the Year

I figured this would happen but hoped it didn’t.  Once things got better I stopped writing.  I really wanted to continue to write because there are still teachers who are struggling, people who are interested in what is going on in our schools, and new CMs who are wondering what the world of teaching is like.  Hopefully I can redeem myself in one passage and inspire a new wave of people who read this.

(Bear with me becasue this may be long)

New York Trip Takeaways

Amazed.  That is the perfect word to drescribe my feelings when observing the schools in NYC.  We went to two different schools, KIPP and Achievement First.  Both schools were awe inspiring and it was amazing to see what they did with their students.

One of the first things we were supplied with when arriving at KIPP was an account of their student’s data (what else do you expect from a school founded by TFAers).  The school is 5-9 and the data that shocked me the most was the 5th grade math data.  These students are coming in years behind, just like the rest of us in inner city/rural areas, and by the end of the year on the Regents exam (the state test) 100% of the 5th graders were scoring 100%.  That is not real.  Or at least statisically speaking it seems like it cannot be.

The school is founded in high expectations, schoolwide rules and procedures, and instant gratification steeped in data.  Everyone knows what to expect and what is expected.  They are doing everything that TFA promotes and is founded on they use but they use all of it at the same time and as a collective.

The same goes for Achievement First.  They were a little more toward the free flowing, feelings side but they still achieved the same goals using the same types of strategies.

 Community.  We have to build strong communities.  Between teachers, students, and parents.  It is true that it takes a villiage to raise a child.  Too often we leave the burden all on teachers but it is all of our responsibilities including the students.  If everyone is working together to achieve a common goal there is little to no room for failure.

The school district is getting it right too.  Instead of arbitrarily grading teachers and schools upon a single standard the standard is to see how much movement you can make.  How much of a change will your students see in their progress from the beginig of the year to the end?  This way the schools who are behind can pull their children up without trying to compete with the schools who are already on grade level, and then push those students who are already achieving to a higher level than ever before.

FCAT Crunchtime (Post Winter Break)

After we got back from winter break we had 40 days until the FCAT (the Florida state test). This was an in the trenches, push, push, push time period for us teachers and the students.

My PD created math specific workshops every week for 6 weeks in the time leading up to the FCAT.  In this time we focused on one component at a time, independent practice, guided practice, assessments, tracking, and so on.  Each week we were pushed to meet criteria based on what we learned that week so our students could achieve their goals. 

I can tell you right now that my teaching and my classroom dramatically turned around.  The students were taking a quiz every third class period and were getting instant gratification on how they were doing on benchmarks.  We were pushing hard and having bell to bell instruction without stopping.  The students moved more in 40 days than they had in the entire first semester.

We still haven’t gotten our students FCAT scores back (next week!) but I know that majority of my student will do much better than they had expected and in years prior. 

4th Nine Weeks (Final Grading Period)

The fourth nine weeks is the toughest by far.  We have practically no breaks, the FCAT is over, and there are more events and PDs packed into the quarter than there should be.

I teach 8th grade as well.  Remember senioritis? Apparently there is 8th grade-itis at Allapattah Middle School.  This happens with teachers as well.  Once the state test is over they think that there is nothing more to learn about or study for.  This kind of makes me feel like I did a poor job as a teacher because I want my students to learn for the sake of learning and furthering their educations, not for a standardized test.

Teaching 8th grade also brings up things like the prom, 8th grade picnics, and the like.  With the transition to new state standards I even had to miss 3 whole days of school go go to workshops!  This has been difficult in keeping consistency and showing my kids that we still need to push and learn when their own teacher misses school for 3 days.

But I do keep pushing and I have not stopped.  I am actually amazed at myself at not giving up.  It is easy to look at 15 days of school and say, oh well!  Instead I learned a new behavior management system (Lee Canter’s, all you CMs will learn about this at institute!  All you old ones please look into it!) and I have created more inventive lessons and pushed my students to higher level thinking.  Even in the last days of school with students running around the halls, I know that I am in charge of what happens inside of my classroom and that everything else on the outside does not matter.  We tend to forget how much power we have in our own rooms and even if the community on the outside is giving up we can still let all that go.

Final Thoughts

I knew this year was going to be hard but I could not prepare myself for how difficult it would be.  I was pushed further in the past year than I ever thought I could be pushed.  I grew more in the past year than I ever thought I could grow.  I bloomed into the person I always knew I could be but was just not quite there.

Sometimes I feel like I learned more this year than my students did which makes me kind of sad.  I hope that I had the kind of impact on them that they had on me.  I hope I taught them not only the benchmark objectives but a few life lessons that they will carry with them.  I hope that I started a ripple effect that will continue and grow to change an entire community or even world.

I really look forward to the next year.  This year is coming to a close and although I am happy to have the break I know I could keep going, I wouldn’t need to stop.  I don’t want the energy I have now to stop before the next year.

I have so many ideas and goals for our entire school for the next year.  I actually had a meeting with our principal today to propose some of those ideas and he is on board with them.  We are going to created a strong community at Allapattah Middle School and continue and improve the amazing work we had started this year.

I also just recieved two positions as Transition Team Leader and SAT Pioneer so I can impact the students in different ways by supporting our new CMs and other teachers in general.  The impact is growing exponentially and if we continue to rally people to our cause eventually the need for the rally will be gone.  Our children will be offered equal eduation, our children will achieve, our future as a country will prosper.

If you can’t tell it’s been a big change from the begining of the year.  I am not sure that I will always be a teacher, even after next year, but I know that I want to continue to close the achievement gap and build communities.  This is my life mission.  I hope that you join.


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