Have you ever experienced one of those times in your life when you knew it was all beyond your control; that everything was about to change and you knew it would never be the same? That was the end of my passion for public school teaching. It had been building over the years, but that inner love of learning just wouldn’t let go. Eventually, I had to jump ship to save myself even if it meant leaving it all behind.
Downsizing at my school happened and I moved from a culture of innovation, taking chances, and a principal who openly admitted he preferred “begging for forgiveness” instead of “asking for permission”. The man was a saint. He supported my dreams for a classroom and was a fantastic mediator to boot. We were always encouraged as teachers to hit goals and ask for help along the way if we needed it. We were also expected to fix any problems that we created. Being there in a supportive role for teachers was his job and we always knew he was on our side (even when county mandates seemed to indicate otherwise). Kind of like a parent supporting the teen making his way in the world, he supported us as we struggled through the myriad of nonsensical directives to the ultimate goal of genuine learning for our students.
But, just when you get comfortable, things change.
I kept in constant contact with my principal along the way having read the research into the new Common Core standards that were coming and wanted to plunge myself into it. I thought it was better to be prepared in advance than try to wing in the year of implementation with the numerous anticipated mandates. I researched extensively and grabbed every insight and lesson I found with this new conceptual approach to teaching. It came naturally to me (more naturally than the way I’d taught during the previous 20+ years) and seemed to be the key to filling the gaps in learning with many of my students. Though it was more labor intensive, the students responded positively and after some convincing, most parents were on board. I finished the year confiding in my principal that I was re-energized and couldn’t wait to find out more about the new initiative. This one actually looked promising.
Then, the test scores came in.
I scored a “1” on the state VAM growth and was met with conversations of concern and the directive to “fix it”. “1” meant the lowest growth of all. I was convinced I’d taught a “5” (the best), but the test won this round. Still supportive, but cautious, my principal reminded me to focus on the end goal while increasing the understanding of my students. It was a real juggling act. The Common Core was working, but it took so much longer and was a foreign concept to everyone involved. But, it felt right. I felt like I was giving my all on one hand and stabbing the kids in the back with the test with the other. I knew I had revisions to make in the coming school year and I was determined to figure it all out and do what was best for my students’ learning.
The following year was much of the same. There was much experimentation, tweaking, researching, and sharing of resources and new ideas with my grade level team. They weren’t as interested as I was, but no matter; my principal supported me while reminding me of the scoring goal on the TCAP while keeping the faith that I’d figure it all out. I decided to keep my focus on understanding, but also throw in more content; constantly reinforcing facts daily to remind my students to memorize the 8 phases of the moon, remind them to simplify math answers, and look for steps missing in calculations performed incorrectly by someone else. TCAP testing was a very different kind of format than my approach, so I had to make sure to backfill constantly. It worked, and in the end I felt much more confident that I had successfully taught with the best of both worlds.
I was back on track.
Several months before testing that year, it was announced that our school was downsizing and we had a meeting to ask for volunteers to transfer to a brand new school. Ours was in a more rural area, with older equipment, and more of a lower socioeconomic population. This new school and its rezoning, meant more of our upper socioeconomic students would also be transferring. It sounded great, but I knew there was no reason for me to leave. I was on the cusp of an education evolution and planned to follow it to the end of the rainbow. I loved my school and had never had such a supportive principal. I knew I was going nowhere-or so I thought.
We had recurring meetings begging for teachers to take a voluntary transfer. NO ONE wanted to go. That says a lot when you can offer a brand new building 15 minutes away and no one is interested in leaving. Brown recluse spiders or not- a move interested none of our staff.
That was when my score of a “1” came back to haunt me.
After numerous attempts at volunteers, we were informed that the next step would be involuntary transfers. No one still budged. My principal began to avoid me. It was really uncommon since my different approach usually meant I popped in to be sure of his support often. I took it as the end of the year overworkings and kept on; secure in the knowledge that I had support here and had no intention of leaving.
I was chosen. Sentenced felt more like it. Since we were a K-5 building and only 10 of of the teachers had TCAP scores, it meant that low scores became the consideration for now what was to become an involuntary transfer. My 1 was my ticket to hell. I was heartbroken. Watching my principal’s face when he told me let me know it wasn’t his choice either. Resistance was futile.
I began to pack that week. Little by little I poured my heart and soul into those boxes often crying in my classroom. My students read the distress in my eyes. I never blamed my principal, though I did often wonder if I’d still be there if I’d have chosen to play it safe and do less experimenting with my instruction. Because I chose to try to improve instead of playing it safe, I lost.
Close the chapter.
I tried to act upbeat even discovering that some of my current students would be joining me in the transfer due to zoning. We all left with a heavy heart, more than a few tears, and a look toward the future.
As a side note: As the year drew to a close, I discovered that the “1” that had been the impetus for my departure had changed to a “5” for the current closing school year. I was vindicated, but did it really matter?
Part 1 of 2.
Further unraveling of a dream to come…..