Monday, March 25, 2013

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The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

March 21, 2013

Criticized teacher ‘contemplating suicide’

Guest Column
TARBORO — Lately, I find myself contemplating suicide.  Don’t be alarmed…not physical suicide.  I’m talking about professional suicide.  I find myself on the ledge of a very tall skyscraper, and all I can think is “JUMP.”  Just do a swan dive off that ledge.  Watch a twenty year career splatter into bits and pieces on the sidewalk below.

You might wonder what’s pushed me to this despair.  Let me try to explain.  In high school, I was awarded a scholarship for perspective teachers.  I attended a prominent university, majored in education, and graduated determined to make a difference.  I began my career right here in Edgecombe County in the early 1990’s.  Since then, I have devoted my entire career to the students, families, and community that are Edgecombe County.  For more than twenty years, I’ve taught in our district, serving under various administrators and working alongside outstanding colleagues.  I’ve been recognized as a National Board Certified teacher and received other accolades as well.  I’ve formed deep, lasting relationships with my students, their families, and this community.  So, again, you might wonder what’s pushed me to this despair.

More and more, I find teachers being criticized for NOT making a difference.  The difference, in this case, is solely measured by standardized test scores.  As teachers, we are now evaluated and judged based on our students’ performance on end-of-year testing.  That seems fair, actually…As a teacher, it is my job to teach my students and grow them academically.  The problem, though, is the critics are not “judging” me by the growth or improvement of my students.  They are, instead, “judging” me by the overall proficiency rate.  They are “judging” me when they make blanket statements that are demeaning.  For example, one critic indicated that I must not be teaching the curriculum because less than 50% of my students were proficient.  After reviewing test scores from a formative assessment, one critic said that I could probably could have just stayed home and not taught at all, implying that the scores should have been better if I’d actually taught.  Finally, most recently, one critic indicated that based on recent testing results, I should be on an “action plan”.  Now, I do need to clarify.  Each time these comments were made, these critics weren’t directly referring to me; they were referring to teachers in this district in general.

Glancing at the data, each of these critics has a right to make these statements.  My students, as a group, did not score highly on the assessments they mentioned.  More than half my students were not proficient on these tests.  Furthermore, a majority of my students come to me having failed the standardized testing in previous years.  However, looking solely at proficiency does not give a true indication of their performance.  When academic improvement is considered, I AM making a difference.  Reviewing past years of data, my students are making expected growth, according to released analysis by NC’s Department of Public Instruction.  They are making gains and growing academically.  I can not imagine why these critics have made these blanket statements without apparently knowing the facts.  As they love to point out, the data speaks for itself.  The data says that I AM making a difference in the academic growth of my students.

Let’s move past the data.  They say that right before you die your life flashes before your eyes.  While I stand on the ledge, peering down at the sidewalk, considering professional suicide, my career flashes before my eyes.  I see the student who came to me briefly, before transferring to an alternative school, and immediately found a special place in my heart.  I see him and his sons at their first birthday party, a party which I was invited to attend. Even though nine years have passed since he was my student, he knows that I, as his teacher, did all I could and will continue to do anything to help him.  I AM making a difference.  I see the student who I drove on Saturdays to take the SAT or ACT so he could have a chance at college.  I AM making a difference.   I also see the student who finally got a pair of glasses because I took her to the eye doctor.  I AM making a difference.  I see the student I have this year who is so proud of himself because he hasn’t been suspended a single time this year.  I AM making a difference.  I see the student who asks me almost every day at lunch for more to eat after finishing her own lunch, while I try to find food that other students didn’t eat.  I AM making a difference.  I see the students whose eyes gleam when I show them the new books I purchased for our classroom.  I see them reading those books and enjoying them.  I AM making a difference.  The memories and moments continue to flash before my eyes….too many to list here.

Those moments and memories keep me from jumping off the ledge.  I AM still passionate about teaching.  I AM a teacher who loves her students more than anything.  I AM a teacher who will do anything within my power to help my students be successful.  Sadly, though, the moments and memories may not always be enough to keep me & other teachers balanced on that ledge.  Too many teachers are quitting the profession.  Too many positions are vacant in our district because teachers have quit during the year.  Too many students are suffering because quality teachers feel compelled to teach to a test, rather than to truly teach.  What is the solution?  I honestly do not know.  I wish I did.  So, for now at least, I have talked myself off the ledge.  I go into my classroom each day, knowing that I AM making a difference.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: While it is not the standard policy of the Daily Southerner to published unsigned submissions to the Opinion Page, we made an exception to that rule based on several factors. First, we know the author. Second, the author holds a genuine belief that if their identity were to be revealed, they would be subjected to possible retribution. Third, the author believes in their profession and what they and their fellow teachers are working to accomplish.)

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