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Embarrassing is the word that best summarizes my day yesterday. In the afternoon my students had math while I had my prep period. I spent my prep in the classroom listening to the math teacher constantly redirect my students. For 45 minutes straight they were rude and disrespectful. She was unable to even complete her lesson and instead assigned the day’s work as homework.

I’m frustrated that my students’ focus and behavior seems to fall apart when they’re not with me. But most of all I was embarrassed by their behavior and embarrassed on their behalf. I didn’t mind letting them know. Although I don’t know how well third-graders truly understand the concept of feeling embarrassed …

Later, I finally finished grading my students’ math baselines, and the results were equally embarrassing. But this time I didn’t feel embarrassed for my students. Rather I was embarrassed for myself and for our educational system.

My students averaged just over 30 percent on the baseline. The highest score was a 72 percent, but 20 of my 28 students scored less than 50 percent. I was embarrassed first that I had placed so much confidence in my “high students.” It was sad to realize how much the bar for excellence can shift in a classroom filled with low-performing students. I was also embarrassed for a system that could let down so many children by letting them reach the third grade without necessary basic skills.*

Of course, that is the reason why the use of data is so hot right now. For all the complaints (including my own) about data crowding out the magic of the classroom, data also serve a valuable purpose. With data there are no excuses and there is no relativity. Data strips me of my delusions and allows me to see my students’ true strengths and needs. Data also lays the failings of our system bare. Now that I’ve had an embarrassing (yet healthy) dose of reality, I have a true sense of the work that needs to be done.

*In fairness to “the system,” close to half of my students have been in the country for two years or less.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.