Put a Ding in the Universe!

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 09 2013

Summer Limbo

Summer vacation has begun and I find myself in a curious state of limbo.  A school year didsn’t come to a nice, tidy ending.  It kind of sputtered out toward the finish.  Towards the end, the kids were a little more feisty.  They knew we were out of disciplinary options.  There wasn’t Saturday School anymore.  In-school suspension was full and it turned away unruly kids, sending them back to class.  The only thing left to do was write a referral for serious offenses.  That wasn’t really a punishment because all it accomplished was giving the kid a head-start on his vacation.

I spent the last couple days of school giving anonymous surveys to assess my classroom culture to see if the kids thought I was fair.  I crunched numbers and conferred with each student individually to show them their progress and celebrate success.  This was kind of frustrating because we still hadn’t received the results of the end-of-year Gates reading test. That’s a shame, because it would show the kids in a very concrete way how much their efforts paid off.  Instead, I had to use other data that didn’t have as much impact.

The school counselor who had told me that the Gates data would be immediately available three weeks ago lived in a neighborhood that recently was damaged by the recent spate of tornadoes.  She has been without electricity for a while so she couldn’t post the scores and send them out.  Then the neighborhood by the school was hit by a tornado, too.  The school suffered some significant damage and, on the last day for teachers to be there, the power was out.  We had to do our final professional development day and finish our end-of-year checklists at a different school.  Thus, there wasn’t a feeling of closure at the end of the year.  Things just kind of unraveled and there are still threads dangling, untended.

A significant part of my heart and soul has been invested in improving my kids’ reading scores. Now, after having crossed the finish line, we don’t really know the results.  I can look at benchmark data dating from March and compare it to data earlier in the year, but that’s not the whole story.  My classes were semester-long courses, so in March, I had only had this last group of students for about nine weeks.  I feel strongly that they made significant progress at the end of the semester, but I have nothing to show for that except their performance on my own assessments.  Those results show progress, but they don’t give me a grade-level.  I want to be able to tell a kid in concrete terms, “You began the years as an 8th grader who read on a 4th grade level.  Now you read on a 6th, 7th, or hopefully 8th grade level.”  (Last summer at Institute, I had one kid increase an entire year’s worth of reading level in four weeks.)  I want to know how possible it is for me to attain my ambitious goals in the school where I am over the course of a whole semester.  We don’t get the state testing results until July, at the earliest–and school starts back the first week of August.  Getting that Gates reading test data would really help me out.

Next year, I’ll be teaching a different course.  In my time off so far, I’ve been doing the background reading for it and enjoying some time with Charles Dickens for my own enjoyment.  lI did my pre-reading for the next round of TFA meetings in July.  That makes three books completed in two weeks and one in progress.  Next week, I’m heading to Florida for a conference.  The week after that, it’s off to North Carolina for judo camp with my son.  I’m looking forward to that break.  Hopefully it will take my mind of the unfinished business from the end of this year.

For now, the end of the school year seems like having the lawn mower run out of gas with two more rows to cut.  I need to refill the gas tank and take care of the last bit of business and be done with it.  Then I can relax and prepare for round two next year.

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YOTFAO BACTAG = You only teach for America once, but always challenge the achievement gap.

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