Author Archives: Shari Conditt

Smarter Balanced: Celebrating the Scores?

Like many parents across the nation, we received our children’s Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) results a few weeks ago.  The results, printed in color ink, did not largely surprise us. What did, however, was our children’s reaction.

My daughter is now a 6th grader.  She’s been taking this test for a few years, although science was a new component for her last year in 5th grade.  In the past, she’s been worried about the adaptive portion of the exam, nervous about whether she’s moving too slow or too fast and wondering if her screen should look alike or different from her peers.  One year, right before school let out for summer, we received notification that she was invited to attend a summer math program. This invitation was an opportunity for extended math instruction, which I was gladly willing to take her to.  I did, however, have no sense that she was struggling in math.  Her standards based report card always revealed that she was on target.  So when I dug around a bit more and contacted the building assessment coordinator, we discovered that she met standard and that the invitation was an accident.  However, the damage was done.  She was downtrodden about her math skills and entered into the 5th grade believing that her skills weren’t where they needed to be (whatever that means).  After receiving the official score report and looking at the data with her, I saw a noticeable difference in my child and how she thought of herself as a math student.  Even then, it took her months and at least a quarter in 5th grade math before she felt confident about her skills and abilities.  You’d think that I would have learned my lesson.

So this year when the assessment results arrived in the mail, I immediately opened them up. After reviewing the data, I decided to sit down with my children to discuss the results.  My daughter the now 6th grader, looked at her scores and said, “I guess this means I’m pretty smart.”  I was stunned.  I’m thankful that I had enough clarity of thought to respond with, “Uh, this test doesn’t measure whether you’re smart.  It tells you that you can answer specific questions related to certain skills and standards that the testing organization wants to measure. It certainly doesn’t address your ability to learn music.”  My husband, her father, is a middle school band teacher.  My daughter has been playing piano for five years (read:  I’ve been paying for piano lessons for five years.)  She nodded and walked away.  I then sat down with my son to review his first SBA results.  

But I wish I hadn’t.  In fact, I’m done sitting down with my children to talk about these scores. Sadly, I think they, like so many other children, adults, school districts, and states, are defining themselves in relation to a score.  My daughter’s self esteem as a math student was tied to that exam.  This year, she used the exam to confirm a sense of self.  

And that’s scary.

And unhealthy.

And it must stop.  

I want to be clear.  I’m not anti-test.  I’m not anti Common Core.  In fact, I embrace the Common Core, and I’d be happy to address that in another post.  However, I fear that we’re sending a dangerous message to our youth if we oversell the data learned from the test.  My school, like so many others, examined our scores in our back to school meeting.  Thankfully,  I didn’t get a sense that our students and our teachers were being overly celebrated or beat up due to assessment data. Our building elevates a variety of achievements, accomplishments, and talents. However, communities across the country put up gigantic signs on  schools when some percentage of students are meeting a standard.  This isn’t helping.  We award schools for these scores and for the most growth over a year.  I’m not saying it’s negative to give a hard working staff recognition for their efforts, but essentially aren’t we also celebrating the test score?  What false sense does that give us of who our students are and what our students know and can do?  

Do teachers walk around defining themselves by their evaluation score?  I sure hope not. This would be an unhealthy approach to the profession, one that isn’t sustainable, and does not encourage self reflection or growth.  So why do we do this with kids?

Let’s find other things to celebrate.  Shouldn’t we consider exalting our students and our schools as more?

What I’ve learned about the first day

Tuesday marked the beginning of my eighteenth year of teaching. While the school year is filled with a variety of excitement and wonder, the first day of school seems almost magical.  Yet, having done the “first day” eighteen times, I’ve started to develop some observations about this special day of school.  Some of these observations are more like advice while others are basically predictions.

1.No matter how many extra copies I think I’ve made I will inevitably be short by at least 1 copy.  I might count them ahead of time.  I may have made sure that I added together all of my students scheduled for 1st and 3rd period but nonetheless, I will be short on copies.

2.I have to retrain my stomach and my bladder.  No longer do I have free reign of when I can eat nor when I can leave my room.  Welcome to monitoring liquid intake over the next ten months.

3. The technology application I’ve practiced 10 times will not work or will crash when I need it. Naturally my lesson is based all around the use of this app. However, here’s the good news– because I’m a teacher, I know how to punt and create a workaround.

4. A senior who knows his/her way around our building (he/she’s been attending for years) will suddenly forget how to navigate the hallway and will be late to 2nd period.  Somehow they’ve figured out that we don’t count tardies on the first day of school.

5. The day is best spent getting to know your students instead of teaching content.  Save that content for the next 179 days of the year.  Building the foundation for a positive class climate will make teaching the content far more manageable and enjoyable.

6. Those heels I thought I could pull off- nope. One of these days running shoes will be fashionable with dresses.  I’m patiently waiting on this fashion trend.

7. No feeling can ever match how it feels to look out at your room right before the students walk in.  Teachers spend days, even weeks, preparing for the first day.  It’s exciting to think of all of the learning that is going to happen in our classroom over the next ten months.

8. Students want to feel successful from the very start.  The first day is the silver lined cloud. Our relationship with students helps determine how long that lining remains.

9.  I have a better afternoon when I’ve had lunch with my colleagues. Spending some time talking about topics unrelated to our work helps shift my brain and allows me the opportunity to have a break in my day.  I am more effective when I take a break in the middle of my day– even if it’s for just thirty minutes.

10. I can never have enough pens and pencils.  The 40 Ticonderogas I bought before school started and placed in the extra pencil cup will be gone within two weeks.

11. I have to retrain my hand on the size of an Expo versus a Sharpie. I am incredibly thankful for those newly formulated white board cleaners.

12. Meeting students at the door generates a sense of hospitality.  This is their classroom, not mine. I just happen to spend more time in it than they do.  

13. I create opportunities so students can laugh. This is a big one, folks.  If we can laugh on day one we’ve begun to build a positive environment where students can let down their guard. I know that my students see me as an expert.  I have degrees and awards on the wall.  They’ve heard stories about me.  But I also want them to see me as approachable.  We inherently feel more comfortable working with people with whom we can share a laugh or two (or many).

What observations have you made about the first day?

 

Share Your Stories

“Oh you’re a teacher!  You guys have it made.  Paid summers off where you sleep in every day–what a cushy life.”  These words, uttered by my dentist while his hands were in my mouth drilling a tooth, caused far more discomfort than the actual dental procedure.  So after he was done (and yes, the novocaine still had half of my face numb) I shared with him that I spent most of my summer at conferences and in classes. I also explained how the pay structure works.  And, as these conversations typically go, it ended up with, “I really had no idea.”  

A year ago I felt a fire light inside me. I can’t remember what started it all to build, but the result has been an overwhelming desire to advocate for the teaching profession.  Maybe it was the need to address the misconceptions that people have about this lifestyle (I consider teaching a lifestyle, it’s far too encompassing to just be a job) or perhaps it was the oversimplification of this work by the media, tv shows, and movies that show burned out teachers, but either way, that fire started and it keeps burning brighter.  

So last week, when the airplane pilot standing next to me on the shuttle to our plane started asking me questions about my work, I was happy to share the dynamic nature of teaching. I also made sure to note that I was flying back from a week long class on constitutional law.  The pilot didn’t realize that teachers participate in summer coursework to strengthen their knowledge and skills in the classroom.  He was curious about this and we had a great conversation (our shuttle was stuck on the tarmac for 30 minutes) about professional development for teachers and pilots, thus shedding light on both of our professions.

I have spent the past eight months talking to policymakers and stakeholders about the impact of legislation in the classroom.  While I go in with a game plan, inevitably the conversation always turns when I tell a story about my students, my colleagues, and my own children.  Last month I met with my US Congresswoman in Washington D.C., and while my ask was to retain Title II funding in the budget, my story was specific to how we use that funding in our schools.  This story provides insight into policy impact and also constituent needs. Her job is dynamic, too, and I do not expect my representative to be an expert in all facets of life.  So if I can be a resource and share my experience with her, then perhaps that experience can shape her thinking on an issue.

I’ve come to see these interactions as opportunities to educate and advocate for this work. We can control the narrative.  It’s easy to sell an anti-teacher message when the public doesn’t have a deep understanding of what our work looks like.  Worse, if people rely upon their varied past experiences as students without recognizing how that skews their vision of what schools look like today, the picture that’s created may likely be inconsistent in practice and unrecognizable to those of us who do teach.  So instead of dismissing ignorant remarks about our work,  it is imperative that we seize the moment as an opportunity to teach.  We must teach others about our work so that they can see the intricacies of this lifestyle.  We must share our stories, our experiences, our successes, and our struggles. Only then will the larger public begin to see who we really are.

Rethinking our Assessment System Statewide

On May 24th, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal outlined a series of phases that addressed his long term vision for K-12 education in the State of Washington.  Included in
that vision is a differentiated assessment model that allows students pathways to demonstrate proficiency and mastery.  The plan calls for an immediate suspension of all test based graduation requirements for the Classes of 2017, 2018, and 2019, a policy that some legislators can get behind.  (See the June 4, 2017
Seattle Times Op-Ed piece by Rep. Monica Stonier and Rep. Laurie Dolan)  This agenda item isn’t necessarily as visionary as others but is more triage in nature.  Asking for these assessments to be waived now is a pressing concern for our potential graduates waiting in the wings (including the 7 students at my high school who are hoping that the state legislature acts immediately since graduation is on Friday, June 9th).  However, other components of this assessment system provide more opportunity and greater steering towards a student’s plans for high school and beyond.

One of the key takeaways from this plan is the use of assessment data for high school planning.  Superintendent Reykdal proposes that the 8th grade assessment (assuming this will still be mandated by the U.S. Department of Education) be used to determine what courses and in what sequence students need to take.  A 10th grade assessment (the Standards Based Assessment, or SBA, also mandated by the U.S. Department of Education) would further clarify what students need in order to be career and college ready.  That exam, while not necessary as a graduation requirement, would be a baseline for which other decisions would be made. The assessment would help stakeholders update a student’s high school and beyond plan (commonly referred to as a HSBP), either demonstrating that is student is now proficient in the required basic knowledge and skills needed to earn a diploma or highlighting what specific skills students need to further develop in order to achieve proficiency.  The plan suggests that alternatives such as the SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement exams, International Baccalaureate exams, Running Start, College in the High School, and other options be used to demonstrate proficiency.  All students after 10th grade must work towards a pathway that includes immediate entrance into the workforce, technical college, community college, apprenticeships, four year colleges/university, or the military.

This new assessment system may just help us combat the apathy that emerges junior and senior year from students wondering why they are enrolled in certain courses that don’t remotely relate to their post secondary education plans.  Such a plan opens the door to exciting new classes tailored to meet the needs of the 21st century learner on whatever pathway he/she may be on.  High schools will be able to utilize the flexibility and creativity that this system promotes and adjust current course offerings, tapping into the talents and expertise of their staff.  The idea that students can select pathways and prepare for those future careers allows students more buy in on their secondary education, potentially impacting overall attendance, number of failed classes, and eventually graduation rates.  Specific training and coursework geared towards a pathway will indeed result in a better worker or stronger college student thus largely impacting the state’s post secondary education system and the local workforce.  Superintendent Reykdal’s proposal directly impacts students allowing them to tap into their talents and interests at an earlier age so that they may develop as stronger, more effective and more efficient contributors to our communities and overall economy.

My New Superheroes

 

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the first Washington Teacher’s Advisory Council (WATAC) Conference.  80 award winning teachers, principals, and classified staff attended the event.  Featured speakers included Washington State Superintendent Chris Reykdal and a panel comprised of Camille Jones, Teacher of the Year, Melanie Green, Classified Employee of the Year, Mia Williams, Principal of the Year, Noel Frame, Legislator from the 36th District, and Deb Merle, Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Governor.  It was an incredible opportunity to listen to a committed and passionate group of educational stakeholders who hold an encouraging vision for the future of our students.

But my biggest takeaway didn’t come from a specific message or a session.  Instead, my inspiration came from the 80 superheroes in the room. These outstanding educators gave up their weekend, set aside their papers, lesson planning, and data tracking to improve their advocacy skills.  Fellow CSTP blogger, Mark Gardner, and I led a session on how to increase your voice at the local level.  In our session we worked one on one with teachers to define, develop and practice their pitch to decision makers.  For example, one teacher felt a new intervention program targeting students with high rates of absenteeism was necessary at her school.  She worked on her pitch, mapped out her strategy, practiced her elevator speech, and worked on determining the concerns/needs of decision makers.  In another session, educators learned how to get involved in the work of the State Board of Education.  Still another session taught educators how to connect with their local legislators.  Watching these award winning teachers and classified staff working on these skills caused me such pride in my profession.  Knowing that colleagues from across our state wanted to elevate their voice in helping shape local, district, and statewide policy means that our children have champions in every corner of the Evergreen State.

All week, in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I’ve been shouting out on social media my student teachers, colleagues, and friends who work in education.  As I reflect on the week and the educators that have shaped my career, it’s equally important to recognize those whose work is often unseen and yet so often felt.  These superheroes advance our work in a way that creates more support and capacity for the profession.  Frankly, our schools need allies who will lift up our cause to legislators who make the decisions that directly impact our kids.  So, here’s my shout out to those teachers for taking the time to become active participants in local and state policymaking.  The rest of us are incredibly grateful.   #ThankATeacher

All Politics Are Local

Last week I had coffee with my local senator.  Okay, to be fair, I had water but nonetheless, we sat down and met for an extended time.  I walked away better understanding her position on issues of interest to me and I hope she felt the same.  

It all began with a fifteen minute meeting.  I scheduled a meeting with my senator in her office on Presidents Day. It was a busy day, lobbyists filled the hill, and sev
eral bills were being heard.  She squeezed me in at 8:45.  Our meeting was short but she offered to meet a few days later when she was in her home district.  I was grateful she was willing to extend her personal time and I took her up on that offer.

Five days later I was at her house talking one on one about everything from meeting the teaching shortage to TRI (time, responsibility, incentive) pay.  We even discussed the elephant in the room- education funding.  Here’s the thing- I felt heard.  I felt engaged.  I felt powerful.  I felt like I was able to share my experience as a teacher leader with my senator and I believe that she understood my work and passion.   Most importantly, I told her about my kids: 100 students and 2 biological.  We discussed assessment, CTE and Running Start, and the real trauma faced by students every day.  And when the meeting was over, I didn’t feel dismissed. Instead I felt like I’d built a bridge.

Being a teacher and a coach, I build infrastructure all day long.  I scaffold learning for my students.  I help teachers seek out new ideas and create new platforms so they can dive into deeper learning.  Yet, it didn’t occur to me until recently to build a bridge.  Perhaps that’s what my work is now.  I’m an engineer–creating bridges between my classroom and my state policymakers.

National Board Bonus and SB 5607

National Board Certification serves multiple purposes for teachers in Washington.  Like teachers in every state, the National Board Certification process provides a structure that teachers can use to analyze and reflect about their practice.  Unlike every state, in Washington, teachers can enroll and certify through the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards as a way to earn second tier certification, a requirement for thousands of teachers in our state.

The Washington State Senate just passed Senate Bill 5607 and this bill is now in the House. 5607 seeks to meet our state’s need to fully fund basic education.  Buried on page 51 and 52 of the bill is a provision that eliminates the state paid bonus and instead offers ,“ A school district board of directors may provide a bonus to a certificated instructional staff person who has attained certification from the national board for professional teaching standards.”   For the 6000 NBCTs in our state and the hundreds that are currently in process, this single sentence creates serious anxiety.  According to data provided by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, twenty four states do not offer any state level compensation for National Board Certification.  Of those twenty four states, fourteen have 1% or fewer NBCTs in their state.   For those states dedicating an annual bonus of $4000 or more, the percentage of NBCTs in the state rises dramatically.  In Washington, 15% of our teachers are NBCTs.  Two other states rival our percentage.  South Carolina offers a similar state wide bonus ($5000 per year) and 18% of their teachers are NBCTs.  North Carolina, 21% of their teachers are NBCTs, pairs National Board Certification with their state salary schedule. NBCTs receive 12% above base pay.   Simply put, states with higher stipends have a larger percentage of NBCTs.  

The removal of the state paid bonus will place pressure on local school districts to pay these stipends.  Yet, with lack of clarity around how schools will be funded, it becomes even more unclear how districts will be able to fund stipends.  Districts that allocate funds to replace the state stipend will inevitably find themselves with a larger proportion of NBCTs than districts that are unable.  This feature will create more inequality between districts, not less.  In areas with several school districts to choose from, NBCTs will likely consider whether they can afford to  remain in a district that cannot support a stipend.  Locally bargained stipends will create competition between districts for these accomplished teachers.  Simply put, the goal of lawmakers in our state should not be to create this level of competition between districts.

When I began my National Board journey in 2004, there was a small bonus associated with certification.  I was in my first five years of teaching and that bonus absolutely incentivized the large amount of work that the process presented.  When the bonus increased, more teachers sought certification.  These teachers have demonstrated that they:

  • Are committed to students and their learning
  • Know the subjects they teach and how to teach them to students
  • Are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning
  • Think systemically about their practice and learn from experience
  • Are members of learning communities*

These teachers ordered their financial lives around the promise that our lawmakers would honor their accomplishments.  If the goal is to retain quality teachers in the classroom, then perhaps the legislature should reconsider this provision in SB 5607.  

 

 

*The Five Core Propositions found at http://www.nbpts.org/five-core-propositions

HB 1319: National Board Certification and Washington State’s Comprehensive Evaluation System

What does accomplished teaching look like?  Does being accomplished mean that you are also distinguished? Are these terms synonymous with one another?

I will admit it- I don’t mind our new state teacher evaluation system TPEP.  In fact, I jumped on the TPEP bandwagon fairly early. Analyzing my teaching and reflecting upon my effectiveness has been a part of my practice for many years.  I certified as a National Board Certified Teacher in 2005 and renewed two years ago.  Having facilitated several cohorts of teachers through the process, I can attest to the planning, engagement, and reflection involved in seeking National Board Certification.  Those same skills and practices are echoed and assessed in the TPEP process.

With the amount of work and documentation involved in TPEP, it seems like a no brainier to support HB 1319, a bill, if enacted, would allow National Board Certified Teachers the ability to complete the comprehensive evaluation once every six years if the teacher received a rating of 3–Proficient on his/her last comprehensive evaluation, and once every eight years if the teacher received a rating of 4-Distinguished on his/her last comprehensive evaluation.  The time is right for this piece of legislation.  Now that the National Board Certification renewal process is every five years instead of ten, it strikes me that attainment of renewal will clearly demonstrate that the National Board Certified Teacher is, at the very least, proficient, if not distinguished.  Last year, a similar bill was introduced into the House and ended up in the “x” file.   I still can’t understand how this happened as the bill had no cost associated with it, but I am glad to see a similar version this year as it will balance the logistical challenges associated with the teacher evaluation system by supporting focused, more meaningful conversations on one area of teaching and learning versus eight.

When TPEP was rolled out to teachers and administrators, we all knew that the evaluation system was going to change.  What we didn’t know was just how much work it would be.  Again, I like TPEP.  I enjoy the conversations that I am having with my administrators about what teaching and learning looks like in my room.  I’ve been on the focused evaluation form for the past three years.  Admittedly, I enjoy the focused reflective and analytical conversations about what is going on in my room. I am thankful that the workload is reduced to evidencing one criterion and collecting evidence for one student growth goal (sub group or large group). When I was on the comprehensive form I needed 24 artifacts (eight criteria and a minimum of three artifacts per criteria) and had to write and collect evidence for two student growth goals. I work at a relatively small high school with a principal and an assistant principal.  We have around 40 teachers in our school, which means that each administrator is responsible for roughly 20 evaluations.  We embraced TPEP with a growth model mindset–teachers on Comprehensive meet every 2-3 weeks with our administrators to discuss artifacts and document evidence/progress towards the evaluations.  Teachers on Focused meet, at minimum, every 6-8 weeks to do the same.  These meetings take 30-50 minutes each time if both parties are well prepared.  While I know that not all schools and administrators use this model, I also see the value in this process.

For the past two years, I’ve also worked as a part time instructional coach–largely working collaboratively with teachers to provide evidence of the criterion and develop high quality, measurable student growth goals.  Now there are three of us (my principal, assistant principal, and me) doing routine observations, meeting with teachers to reflect, and working on evidencing the criterion.  My work as a coach has cut down on their work but admittedly, the position was created from a need of helping both teachers and administrators manage TPEP.  However, with more teachers on Focused, my coaching has been less about evidencing a TPEP criterion and more about analyzing and reflecting upon quality teaching and learning.  This is where I’ve seen leaps and bounds in our professional development as a staff.  Teachers on Focused are now visiting one another’s  classrooms both through the use of the Observe Me signs and through the use of a Pineapple Calendar (Pineapple Calendar’s are a way to invite colleagues into your room to observe a specific lesson).  With the vast majority of our staff on Focused, teachers are participating in book studies of choice, engaging in criterion centered PLCs, and spending lunch periods talking about teaching and learning.   Our culture grows organically because teachers have more agency in their evaluation system and can therefore dig deeper into areas of interest and need.

The passage of HB 1319 demonstrates continued support and value for second tier certifications such as National Board Certification.  National Board Certified Teachers have already demonstrated that they are accomplished, now let them engage in thoughtful, purposeful analysis centered on one area of teaching, instead of eight.  This bill helps administrators with the log jam that the comprehensive evaluation creates.  Washington currently has over 6000 NBCTs. Passage of this bill directly impacts how and when administrators schedule comprehensive evaluations.  HB 1319 allows administrators to spread out the number of comprehensive evaluations over a longer time period. I hear from other admin in neighboring districts that they simply don’t have the time to manage TPEP, all of its artifacts, and regularly scheduled face to face meetings with all of their teacher.  HB 1319’s commonsense approach offers an opportunity for teachers to deeply engage in the evaluation criterion while clearing up the evaluation congestion for administrators.

Advocating for Your Vocation: The Washington Teachers Advisory Council

 

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“I’m not vanilla.  I’m like the weird flavor that no one orders.”  Meet Liz Loftus.  She’s one of the eight 2017 Regional Teachers of the Year (ToY) from Washington.  Liz, Carol, Tim, Kendra, Alisa, Jose, John, and Camille are far from vanilla.  They are spunky, brilliant, and authentic.  And the best news–they elevate teaching and learning for our students in our state.  

These eight teachers are members of the Washington Teacher Advisory Council (WATAC). Along with a few Teacher of the Year Alumni (serving on the leadership team), these eight teachers are tasked with the responsibility of advocating for our students and our colleagues at a state wide level.  WATAC was the brainchild of Lyon Terry, the 2015 Washington State Teacher of the Year.  Lyon subscribes to an idea he heard at the National Teacher of the Year meeting: “Teachers should be at the table. Otherwise we’re just on the menu.”  With financial assistance from the Gates Foundation and administrative support from OSPI (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction) and CSTP, the goal of WATAC is to build advocacy and in doing so create additional partnerships with pro education organizations and extend opportunities for outreach.  

This work is important, meaningful, and necessary. In my conversations with pro education organizations I routinely hear that teacher voices are missing from education policy.  Lyon, as the  2016 State Teacher of the Year, asserts that this has been his experience, as well.  I don’t like to think of my work as taking place “in the trenches” but what I’ve learned is that those of us who work with kids are oftentimes left out of the policy decisions that impact those kids.  For two days the new Teachers of the Year and the alumni leadership team worked together to discuss messaging, initiatives, and advocacy.  We learned about how to craft a platform and how best to share it.  Jeff Wehr, a fellow WATAC leader, encouraged us to reach out to our legislators via email.  In a moment of inspiration, I emailed my local senator to invite her into my classroom and within minutes she responded.  I look forward to coordinating her visit soon.  Jeff’s presentation on how and when to reach out to legislators empowered me to make that contact.  My hope is that after my senator sees my students in action, she thinks of them and their needs when she’s drafting or passing the legislation that impacts them.

This is why advocacy matters.  Those in the classroom inherently know the direct impact of policies made by those at the state and federal level.  Yet, because the work is humbling, oftentimes all encompassing and consuming we are likely to rightfully prioritize our time with our kids instead of our legislators.  We must find time to learn the necessary skills and mechanisms so that we can advocate for our kids.  

These teachers are far from vanilla.  They will be advocating for causes that are near and dear to their heart and their work.  They will be lifting up the voices of students in their care and without a doubt their stewardship as a Teacher of the Year will long echo in the halls of the Capitol Building in Olympia. 

Post Election Perspective from the Classroom

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There are days in a teacher’s career where you question your value or whether or not you can continue to do your work. Today was not one of them.

Today reinforced why my work matters. Today reinforced how important my work is.

I teach American Government. Believe me, this work isn’t for the faint-hearted. My goals have always been to create an engaged citizen who values analysis and research and recognizes bias and perspective. In an election cycle, the significance of this work becomes immediately apparently.

So I did my work. We discussed the liberal media, the conservative media, the aggregate polls, the junk polls, PACs, SuperPACs, image and the political process. On Election Night, I was glued to the news and my fingers were attached to my phone, updating my twitter account and asking questions to my students using an advertised hashtag. Finally, the election arrived. For government teachers, the election is the political amalgamation of the Super Bowl and Olympics.

This isn’t my first election as a teacher. In fact, I began my teaching career in the fall of 2000. I vividly remember telling my students on Election Day 2000, “We should know the results late tonight.” Well, we all know how that turned out.

The 2004 election was a bit trickier. We were in a war and Americans were still reeling from the effects of 9/11. The 2008 and 2012 election drew youth to the polls. My students were excited to discuss those elections and the candidates. My students mobilized for these candidates.

This election was different. I know this isn’t news to anyone but as a government teacher, I didn’t find my students incredibly interested. We did begin our discussion a year earlier, tracking the primary candidates on the board. Several of my students attended the caucuses and asked questions. A few even went to local rallies. But when the dust settled after the primaries and convention, students didn’t ask many questions or offer many opinions unless I prompted them. However, when prompted, my students respectfully recognized that they held different opinions from one another. I held a debate viewing party at school and students showed up and engaged in conversation. I knew that my students held diverse perspectives on the candidates so I thought I was prepared for how to discuss the outcome of the election. I realized that I wasn’t.

I threw out my lesson plan as my students rolled into class today. I witnessed pleased students happy with the outcome walk in and sit down next to those who were crestfallen.  Regardless of their division, in front of me, they appeared united.  They wanted to know more and sought first to understand. I began our class with the conclusion of Lincoln’s First inaugural Address. My theme quickly emerged as “the Better Angels of our Nature.” I steered the class into a discussion regarding what we’ve learned about campaigns in the past and how the meshes with what we saw occur. My students shared civil discourse and even as we moved into “What questions do you have for our President-elect” I became acutely aware of how real the outcome felt for them. They asked questions about financial aid funding, free trade agreements, military spending, freedom of worship, and social welfare programs. They sought answers to questions that many adults hadn’t considered. The bell rang and class ended but my work did not. Throughout my day, students came to see me, wanting to know more, wanting to understand, and they sought both dialogue and an ear. I offered both.

As I think back about my day, I realize just how important teaching is. Our job allows us to develop students into adults that can engage in civil discourse. We can role model for our students how to accept diverse opinions without fear of jeopardizing one’s own beliefs. We can exhibit respect, acceptance, tolerance, truth, and compassion. If we can do this, our young adults will learn from us how to act and respond to one another.

Today, my work mattered.