Standing on the shoulders of…

Emily Rooney’s Greater Boston panel discussed the connection between a teacher‘s despondency and suicide and a recent LA Times article which ranked teachers by name. One can argue the stupidity of people who don’t understand educational issues and all of the things that impact students. One can argue about the current need to equate education with business practice, i.e. “value added”. But what I really don’t get is how anyone can think testing in one grade level isn’t impacted by what has happened before.

Case in point: my current group of students includes 11 students reading at the first grade level. I teach third grade. I am not one of the two special education inclusion classes this year. This group of children is “regular” education, or as I prefer to say, my sped students haven’t yet been identified.

Where I will start teaching this year is not based on some immovable starting line. Where these students finish may not be at “grade” level.

Will they get better? Will they improve as readers and writers? You had better believe that they will. But I am not the second coming and it is statistically doubtful that we can close a gap of 2 years within the 10 months (or 6 until MCAS Reading) we are working together. In other words, my students’ learning and my ability to help them move along is based on what they have been able to do before they got to third grade.

The class dynamic is quite a challenge even for a teacher with 23+ years experience. Traumas, poverty (2 of my students are living in welfare hotels), custody battles, ELL challenges, indifferent parenting….  this particular group of students, and their classmates in other homerooms are impacted by it all.  I often hear people talking about “last year’s second grade”; they don’t look wistful in their reminiscence.

There’s a history here; there’s a dynamic with this group that has been present since they first arrived in the building. It spills over into the academics over and over throughout the day, impacting not only that one child’s learning, but the other children’s as well.

What I am trying to say is that no one teacher is responsible for a students’ progress. No teacher should be singled out by name in a newspaper article as ineffective. Education is a collaboration. It starts the minute a student steps in to a school. We are standing on the shoulders of what has happened before and we are reaching for the sky.

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