Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Monday, March 28, 2011

We must not accept mediocrity!

A dear friend and substitute in my school building recently shared with me a series of emails she exchanged with the School Performance Director. This dialogue stemmed from a meeting she initiated about the lack of challenge and rigor present in her daughter's "Gifted and Talented" English class, which all eighth graders in her building now take. I think you will find the exchange enlightening and frustrating simultaneously.

Hi Kay,

I thought you might be interested in this correspondence. This is what we're up against! This is allegedly one of the best and brightest counties in the country. The mediocrity is painful.

Thank goodness your career path is taking you to administration. We need an infusion of bright creative young people so desperately. Watch out China..LOL.

Email 1 to School Performance Director:

As you may be aware, we had a meeting on February 25th, at [my child's school] with their administration and [my child's teacher] from your office. My husband and I are not satisfied with the response we received there. I am assuming that you have access to our past correspondence with the school, but if you don't, I'll be happy to forward all to you.

Our biggest concern is the lack of rigor in the 8th grade English curriculum being offered at the school. While we understand that the 'advanced' curriculum has been rolled at at all middle schools, there seems to be room for interpretation on its' implementation. [My child's teacher] stated "the curriculum is an inch deep and a mile wide".  Each school decides how it will be allocated, if you will. We looked at the two middle schools that feed to [my child's high school] with [my child's school] and found that they offered their students 'GT' english, while [my child's school] did not. This clearly puts our children at a  disadvantage.  

When they all meet at [my child's high school] next year, they will once again be placed in English classes which are appropriate to their reading levels. Why is this not happening at [my child's school]? The other middle schools have different expectations and rigor for their honors students, as it should be. Why is it okay to differentiate students based on math levels, but not on reading levels? Since when have the rules of the game changed?

According to everything we have learned this year, and the information we were given at the meeting, the decision on the implementation of the curriculum is up to the individual schools administration and resource team. If promoting critical thinking  is the goal, then the students need to be in an environment that stimulates their curiosity and challenges them. That is one of the main reasons for differentiation based on levels.  What can we do to effect change in their policy?

I will not bother you with the specifics of how this policy has negatively impacted our daughter; but simply ask that the policy be reviewed and revised. If and when the time comes that all middle schools adopt the same policy, then so should [my child's school]. [My child's school] boasts high test scores, but at what cost?

Email 2 from School Performance Director:

Let me begin by apologizing to you for taking a day to answer your email. I have been working in the schools for the past two days and wanted to have the time to give you a complete answer. I do applaud you for wanting to ensure that your daughter receives rigorous instruction that promotes the use of critical  thinking skills. These skills will be essential for our children as they prepare themselves for their future.

I can assure you that the new English curriculum is designed to interweave those critical challenges that will best prepare students for their high school work and, most especially, for their AP classes.  Presenting critical challenges is the very best way to differentiate instruction. It offers the challenges to all and can be accomplished in different ways by every child. Each child can think, imagine, and creatively solve those.

It is my job to monitor the achievement of student performance throughout all of our schools in our quad cluster. When I examine the performance data, as well as the enrollment data in honors classes and AP classes, I disaggregate it by subgroups and by feeder schools. This occurs from the high school straight down through the middle schools to the elementary schools. If I see a discrepancy anywhere along that articulation, Dr Kimball and I both work with the identified school to increase student achievement. I can unequivocally state that the students from Lakelands Middle School are as well prepared as Ridgeview students and often outperform them. This new English curriculum will replace the other in all of our middle schools.

Because of your concerns, I will  visit Lakelands and discuss them with Ms. Higdon. Additionally, we will do a walk-through of the English classes. Please know that I appreciate your advocacy for your daughter and have no doubt that with that kind of support, she will take full advantage of the accelerated courses available to her at the high school. Thank you so much for sharing this with me.

Email 3 from Parents:

Thank you so much for your prompt and thorough response. With all do respect, your reply still does not address the assimilation of on grade level and honors students into the same classes. If they are all being offered the same curriculum, then so be it. The students still should be placed according to level; not intergrated with no regard  to level. This differentiation begins in elementary school. At [one elementary] school, for example, the more advanced readers are offered the 'William and Mary' reading program. This clearly demonstrates the counties position on providing academic rigor to those students who are ready to excel. My children were both in [this school]; one was offered the program, and one was not.(as it should be). 

As far as I know, the county still places students in classes based on reading level; as determined by the MSA, and/or other standardized tests.  When did this change? Our concern is that the philosphy at [my daughter's school] is not in accordance with the rest of our consortium. How can this be?

Again, we appreciate your attention to this matter, and hope it can be resolved in a satisfactory way.

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