In part two I reflected on my first year teaching in DCPS (1993-94). My true success in those novice years came in the next two years whereupon my principal supported my desire to stay with the same group of kids for two years (looping).
Besides gaining their trust, which began about April of the first year, we began our 2 years with a goal to go to Montana, my home state. In those two years we raised money enough to pay for just about every part of that trip.
In the meantime, I had a supportive and enthusiastic principal who advocated using DC as the classroom. So much of what we studied, was followed with a meaningful field trip to enhance our studies.
In the culminating days as a two-year class, my students went to Montana by train. They kept journals on the land forms and states, towns and cities as we passed by. They went up in the highest building in the U.S. and picnicked by Lake Michigan between train changes. They rode horse-back up the Rocky Mountain Front.
They lay on pelts as they listened to a true mountain man and Lewis and Clark expert, in an outdoor classroom shared by students from the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation.
An individual from the State Human Rights Office (brown skinned himself) drove ninety miles to share his stories and slides about African American families who settled the west and particularly Montana.
Some of the students floated the Missouri River, others visited old forts, they climbed up to waterfalls, they got back on the horse they fell off and a few went fishing for the first time. One student in particular caught his first fish!
Michelle Rhee contended in her resume and appeal for the DC Chancellor position that she and her Baltimore teaching stint were featured in admiring profiles on TV’s Good Morning America – The Home Show, as well as in print in The Wall Street Journal and The Hartford Courant. G.F. Brandenburg, sheds some light on the real story of the admiring profiles as being either outright lies or grave exaggerations of the mention of her and her class.
This rings with irony for me, as around that time, reporting on education wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today. When the trip to Montana became a reality, my principal called The Washington Post to share what a wonderful thing one of her teachers was doing. The reply from the sardonic reporter she talked with was, “Did anyone die?” The Great Falls Tribune did however cover our visit with 4 articles and a column that still makes me teary when I read it. The column was written by my father who was retired from the newspaper at that time.
Oh, and by the way, I have the data. Although I would love to have the stats from their first year with me, I do have the CTBS data (standardized test of the time and the same of which Rhee’s students took). The scores in the included graphs are from the beginning of their second year to the end of their second year with me as their teacher. Although at the time I was just pleased to have that as one more marker of their growth, I would have thought it absurd that one day those results would be the greatest marker of my success.
Ironically, I am certain this is what secured my rehiring by DC schools. Even more ironically in those four years I felt stifled and unable to utilize my rich knowledge and teaching skills with regularity. Not to mention, feeling devalued as one of those older, not-to-be-trusted, perhaps even bad teachers that must be replaced in order to reform education.
No professional would claim to have brought 90 percent of their students from below the 20 percentile to above the 90th percentile, but given the results I am curious to see how they did the year previously.
I don’t mention or show these scores to brag or even give them anywhere near the credence a “reformer,” would. I show them because there was no teaching to the test, no test prep, no exact formulateaching that fits inside the rubric of the new teacher evaluations but there was trust by my superior in my abilities as a professional.
Some of my students had losses (according to the test), some had terrific gains, there were chronic absences or other obstacles and problems. Yes, there were and are problems that a teacher could not and cannot fix!
Of course I continued to acquire skills and knowledge, through varied professional development opportunities and my own studies. I know that good professional development helps tremendously. That is why we are doing what we are doing here in Peru.
No telling how well my students would have done with that greater experience. But there is really only so much a generic test can tell.
It is merely entertaining to go back and look at these scores in light of the last 4 years under the testing crazed Michelle Rhee regime. Under that regime, I wasranked Effective for the first two years and apparently Developing this final year, which, despite constant changes in roles and expectations and plans, the last was actually my most effective year of the past four. Every year the evaluation process was rife with discrepancies and inconsistencies.
I have caught up with students of that looped class and most seem to be well adjusted adults. I’d like to think I had a small part in their successes… and more importantly in how they deal with their challenges.
Kelly J. Dwyer is Executive Director of Teach a Teacher Nonprofit. A native of Montana. She has been an educator in the U.S. and internationally. We live and focus most of our work in the Ancash region of Peru.