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No A’s for Effort

Last week my assistant principal drew my attention to a table of my grade’s recent practice English language arts scores compared with our fall simulation. Specifically she pointed out that my class was the only one which failed to show progress. Ouch.

Over the weekend I sent her an e-mail which essentially thanked her for her support, apologized for missing the mark, and outlined my plan to get my students moving. This of course violated two cardinal rules of public school politics: 1) Don’t admit fault and as a corollary 2) Don’t expect a pat on the back for doing so.

Two days later, I met with my AP to discuss why things aren’t working in my classroom. For some reason I expected a little positive reinforcement, then a discussion of next steps. Instead, after 40 minutes of grilling on differentiation, lesson planning, and guided reading I felt exhausted, frustrated, and humiliated.

Why was I expecting anything different? It occurs to me I’m trying to have it both ways. When I saw the scores a half-dozen excuses flew through my mind, but I brushed them aside. But, while embracing a “no excuses” attitude, I was unwilling to commit to what that really entailed. Just because I accepted responsibility for the data and used it to create a game plan doesn’t absolve me from failure. Student progress is what matters, not my attitude.

It’s tough, but it’s a realization that cuts to the core of what good teaching means. I know I’m dedicated. I know I’m passionate. I know I care about my kids. And for many people, for many years, these have been the acceptable criteria for being a good teacher. But that’s no longer the case.

It’s a difficult and painful shift in definition, especially when using it to assess my own practice. It’s hard to face the fact I might not be a good teacher. But it’s not the first time I’ve had to. An honest self-assessment though is, as they say, the first step. Having been given a sobering wake-up call, it’s time for me to stop looking for affirmation and start earning it by what matters most: helping my kids move.

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.

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