A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Recommendation for Reappointment

Today, I met with Dr. P for my mid-year review. For a first time ever, I received a recommendation for reappointment.

By this time during my first year of teaching, in 2008, as a 3rd grade teacher in a Title 1 school, I was not considered effective and had already signed paperwork for a no fuss resignation. The Principal's son, who had made it to Broadway, was randomly murdered while in New York. Just awful!

The Reading Specialist, who had difficult task of pushing in to my class, and supporting me in developing Reading and Writing workshops, was dutifully reporting every faux pas I made to Administration. I tried following the first 30 days of Fountas and Pinell's Guided Reading, and tried to set up Reading and Writing workshop, but having rushed through a Career Switching Program, I had major growing pains. I had unfortunately not learned the art of making brief comments about student writings: not knowing the meaning of the expression, in praising a student's work, I used the expression: "slam, bam, thankyou mam." I was advised to remove that page from the student's writing journal, which I discreetly did.

That first year, one parent complained after I recommended that his son read Bud, Not Buddy, which I did not consider inappropriate. He was a Jehovah's Witness. Worse, he had never explained to his 3rd grader about racism. Bud, Not Buddy was not on the official approved list, but I had seen it on Frank Serafini's list of recommended books. What did I know? Knowing what I know now, I can see where the father was coming from.

In my first year of teaching, I was mentored by the Title I Math Specialist, who also was the school's Responsive Classroom Coach. Learning Responsive Classroom routines such as Morning Meetings and all the various greetings, as well as "discovery learning," was like learning a foreign language. I was far from fluent. Our relationship totally changed after her boss came to see her and she learned that he had been one of my references. My first long-term sub assignment was when I took over his role as Title I Math Coach for two weeks. I had lots of shortcomings, but somehow, with a lot of support, I used the knowledge that I was considered a failure to teach my heart out. My mentor from Old Dominion University recommended me for full licensure, as she had witnessed the good, not the ugly. Every student passed the state test in math, even a student who I caught licking the floor drain a week before the big test. I left with lost of things to reflect on and an expanded classroom library.

We did butterflies in Science, which led to fun writing experiences when we did our poetry unit. We also did Ancient Cultures in Social Studies, Egypt, China, and Ancient Greece, which became an excuse to extend Language Arts.

By this time during my second year of teaching, in 2010, in another Title I school, my classroom had been moved twice during construction. The father of one of my favorite students was the head of MS-13. I was supported by an ESOL specialist and a Reading Specialist. Both were amazing resources, and through their support, I learned how to manage Guided Reading Groups. I also managed to invite the scrutiny of my Principal. One day, I followed the recommendation of the Assistant Principal that I try yelling at my class -- she didn't think I would be such a rube that I would actually yell at the students out in the hall -- "you were supposed to close the door!" she told me. Yelling at students is rarely if ever effective, I have learned.

Teaching opportunities had dried up, other than long-term substitute positions. The Reading Specialist at a Title I School who coached me with Language Arts when I launched a Kindergarten class told me that no one would consider me for a position unless I earned a Master's degree. She recommended Marymount. After graduating from a 1-year Master's program from Marymount University, I suspected that my resume had been red-flagged by every HR department in the state, but never got confirmation of that until Dr. P confronted me this summer after I returned from San Francisco. When I tried to conference with the head of the PDS program (Professional Development School), she never replied. I got the feeling that maybe I had contracted leprosy. That's why I have still have never responded to any of Marymount's survey requests. After investing a year of my life and taken on so much debt, I would have appreciated at least a phone call.

After I returned from Boom Boom Tsuchitanisan's 100th birthday party in San Francisco, Dr. P looked me square in the eyes and demanded an explanation for why I had never mentioned my previous experiences with him. I replied, "you never asked." I had not realized that I was credited for a 93% pass rate -- all I was ever looking for was an opportunity, just a chance. Dr. P let me know that he had gone against HR's recommendation, and in my mind I made a promise that I would do everything I could to make him happy about his decision.

Today, Dr. P asked me about two things that I thought I was doing well and two areas where I felt I needed to grow. When I mentioned that I had developed positive relationships with parents, he mentioned that everyone had noticed how I had developed positive relationships with my students, and concluded: "that's 80% of the battle." The other thing I felt was going well was that I was doing a good job finding the right resources to teach. He agreed.

In discussing two areas of need, I had prepared an idea I had for retooling my remediation procedures. That proved to be a smart decision. In his classroom observations, Dr. P had noticed that in my current setting, with a different population, I was reaching some of my students but not reaching all of my students. I mentioned that my students were unable to do the weekly Warm-ups, and I was planning to use them in lieu of Top Score, a product recommended to me by the school's Instructional Coach.

Dr. P then described how he would use these "placemats" during the first 15 minutes of class as a daily routine: teach 2 squares a day, with students using white boards; quick assess for readiness, and have students who get it work problems on paper; reteach with students who were not getting it, then assess on paper after they get it. Over the course of the week, students would complete warm-ups and I would have an assessment for each standard being remediated. I mentioned to him that I needed to process what he had said, and would like to write up the plan had given me for his review. He offered to come observe when I set up the program, and concluded, "the beginning of the Second Semester is a perfect time to make such changes. He also let me know about his pet peeve, which goes back to Classroom Management 101, when students waste instructional time getting up to sharpen pencils. I hate these kinds of disruptions too, which is why I keep a supply of erasers and pencils on hand. With the opportunity to live and fight another day, I will do everything I can to tighten up my procedures so that I can be rated Effective on all seven Standards, not just Five.

Today, I managed to get all of my grades in on time, and do all of my IEP progress reports. No time to rest on my laurels. Still haven't got a translator to line up an IEP meeting on Tuesday. On Monday, I will run my first IEP. Tomorrow, I will support my Social Studies lead at an in-service to teach other teachers how to run Town Hall Meetings, which is by far the most effective practice I have ever seen in a Social Studies Class. The tool is so powerful, I've been asking him to consider doing podcasts for a brilliant student who happens to have a degenerative nerve disorder.

A little validation goes a long way.