Thursday, July 27, 2006

Much Like That Stone Upon Which No Moss Will Grow [Part I]

Every year seems to bring with it a substantial change to our school that comes to define the time period, the challenges overcome, the progression toward reform.

4 years ago: New administration team, attempts at smoothing over previous year's bitterness, the uncomfortable novelty of meeting basic expectations of professional competency

3 years ago: Sixth graders remain at elementary feeders, school becomes 7-8, staff begins to develop coherence and common mission, extended day MOU is envisioned and fought for

2 years ago: Extended day and late-start collaboration model are implemented, charter school takes up residence, we become a school on the rise

last year: Last year was weird.

Last year was weird because we had just been vindicated. The reform model we implemented after overcoming many Indiana Jones style obstacles had been proven successful. Eighty-seven is a lot of API points to go up in a single year. Exceeding state averages in math proficiency is a big deal when three years previous only 10% of kids tested at that level. Seeing results in the way we schedule kids to provide targeted instruction appropriate for their language and academic needs is powerful, especially in an environment where some will so quickly label this model as "tracking." Reaching a point where student progress made the school one of the more successful in the district, when for so long it had been one of the worse, is a significant accomplishment.

I think it freaked everyone out.

I think many teachers had highly-controlled panic attacks centered around the fear of plateauing or sliding back from our newly acquired position as a mediocre place of learning. I include myself. You go around thinking, we're starting at the same place but now we have to climb much higher in the single to continue to demonstrate growth. You go around thinking, if I only turn in last year's Herculean efforts, we'll all fall short. It all resulted in extreme amounts of self-induced pressure to be student achievement machines, gap-closing experts, on-grade level facilitating aficionados. You want that in your teachers, you want that vision, but I think we, at times, crossed the line, moved away from a commitment to excellence and entered into the land of benevolent fanaticism. We missed some things along the way. We probably missed building relationships that ran as deep as those previous. We probably missed opportunities to promote learning in ways that were not purely or strictly academic.

We definitely missed the fact that our students had changed and our message needed to change. For a long time it was this Rocky-underdog mythos, the one about knowing you're better than the way others see you, about rejecting the labels of failure others will try to attach, about it being time to stand and deliver and prove them wrong. Worst to first. Great, and it worked, but the new kids didn't have that mythos. They didn't have the sense or the experience of trying to learn in a dysfunctioning middle school everyone thought was crap. We needed a message that matched their experience and it took most of the year to realize it and to stop blaming the 7th graders for "not getting it." It wasn't their fault; it was ours.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a 2006 TFA corps member and one who hopes to stay in education beyond the measly 2 years, I think you should know that your blog is incredibly inspiring to me. I hope that I can be as strong and motivated as you are when I get to that place. Thanks for sharing. :-)

10:47 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

No, thank you for sharing.

How was Institute?

3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Atlanta charter institute... basically a disaster. The FA's didn't know they were going to be FA's when hired to teach summer school and in some schools actually took their classrooms back. They had taught for a week before we got there. Plus, Georgia summer school students have to pass a high stakes test in order to advance to the next grade... so here were a bunch of TFA kids solely responsible for the advancement of our students to the next grade. No pressure or anything. I'm glad it is over.

11:46 PM  

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