It came back. The district-required “Intent to Return” form was sitting in my teacher mailbox. I placed it on my desk this week and stared at it during the few free moments I had. “List your top 3 choices for teaching positions,” it reads. “My top 3 choices…” I ponder. “What should I do?”
For those of you who don’t know my background, I’ve taught elementary grades for 19 years. This is my first year in middle school, teaching 6th grade English Language Arts and Social Studies. Do I enjoy it? Yes. Am I good at it? I thought so. Until recently…
Right before Winter Break my students completed their District Benchmark Assessments. Throughout the first semester, I had challenged them through differentiated literature studies, small group lessons with rigorous fluency and vocabulary interventions, and hands-on personalized learning projects. Yet their Reading Benchmark Assessment scores were so low that I felt the deep burn of shame and defeat. The majority of their scores didn’t even significantly improve from the Fall Benchmark Assessment scores. Why continue with small groups and differentiation if it doesn’t reflect in student achievement growth? Why spin my wheels in designing STEM projects that don’t even result in higher scores?
Still wrestling with the growing worry, “Am I a bad teacher?” I decided to continue the plan to teach the Elements of Literature through a class study of “A Wrinkle in Time.” The students are happily identifying foreshadowing techniques, various figures of speech, and the complex relationships between the characters of the book. Every time the chapter ends, they groan, “Why do we have to wait until next week?”
The most beneficial part of this book study is how it helped one of my students who is in a lot of emotional pain. He is dealing more in his personal life than any human should experience, and as we read about Meg’s despair and worry about her father’s disappearance, this boy broke down and wept. These tears seemed to help him move forward in a long road of healing, but they also allowed us to have a bonding moment. Today he felt confident enough to ask me for help during our chapter quiz, and of course I agreed, which seemed to surprise him. We sat together and hashed out most of the problems, and he wrote down the answers to the best of his ability. This was great improvement since his first week when he refused to lift his head or pick up a pencil. Sigh of relief for me! Happy smile of success for him!
During our Social Studies period, the students are currently writing Ancient Greek mythological plays. I found out- 6th graders love Greek myths! When I announced the assignment, a cheer of excitement broke out, and everyone clapped. I had to smile. Who knew? Then they realized that formulating an innovative Greek myth- with all the pertinent elements- was harder than it sounded. But the students applied growth mindsets and pushed through the pain of planning. (Fun fact, Nike is the goddess of victory. The girls are quite excited.) My principal popped in during their planning and prepping today. Kids were running around with sentence strip crowns, duct-tape forked spears, and Mason jars of water. She asked them, “What are you doing?” looking a little concerned. “Oh, just acting out our Greek mythological plays,” a student responded. I had to laugh. The classroom did seem a little loud and active when first entering, but listening to the students made my heart full. There was collaboration and communication between students who have never spent much time together all year, and relationships were forming. Shy students were coming out of their shells and finding their voices. Even my student with a troubled personal life was sitting at a table, figuring out a play about a high-jumping cat. At the end of the day, he looked up with a beautiful smile of pure joy and announced, “Today is a good day.”
At that point I went to my desk and completed the form.
1st choice- 6th grade
2nd choice- 6th grade
3rd choice- 6th grade
Yes, my benchmark assessment scores bombed. But they cannot and will not define me as a teacher. I helped one student have a good day. That’s more than a lot of people can say.
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