Two years of teaching are in the bag. I cleaned out my classroom this afternoon, gave and got a lot of hugs, and drove away. It felt a lot like when I packed up my stuff and left for college; I was leaving home.
Skyline High School has been my home for two years. For much of my second year, I’ve been leaving my house at 6AM and arriving by 6:30, working in my classroom until 8AM when students arrive (or sometime before then, when they barge in to get extra help, chat, or annoy someone other than their parents). After school, I often stayed until 5:30, 6, or even later. I ate breakfast and lunch in my classroom. I worked in my classroom, taught and tutored in my classroom, played music in my classroom, talked on the phone in my classroom, and made plans for life outside my classroom . . . from my classroom. Until today, I maintained two homes – one with a bed and a dresser, and one with 35 desks and a whiteboard.
When I signed on as a Teach For America corps member two years ago, my objective was student achievement. The primary problem was that my students were low-achieving, and the solution would be to invest them in rigorous academic instruction to give them the tools to succeed in math classes, on tests like the SAT, in college, and in life. Here I am, two years later, unsure of how much I’ve actually accomplished on that front. Frankly, if you look at the scores of my students on the district exams, it looks like I failed. The reality of my entering student demographic in both years was that a few were high achievers, and the rest of my students were spread evenly across the spectrum of middle to low achievement. Today, my entering high achievers are all still high achievers. My entering middle achievers have mostly remained middle achievers, with a few moving up and a few dropping the ball and becoming low achievers. A couple of low achievers have made great progress (and those are incredible stories for another day), but most are still low achievers. I know some of the reasons I failed, and plenty of them were in my control (to name a few, improvements I just never made in investment, classroom management, and rigor). Others, mostly out of my control, I can guess at. I’ll reflect on those bigger achievement gap questions on another day.
Today, the only thing on my mind is relationships. With students, with teachers, with coaches and administrators, and even with our support staff, I’ve built relationships. I’ve worked with an amazing team for the last two years at Skyline, teachers that I’ve leaned on for support and advice and with whom I’ve lived every day of the academic experience of our kids. I’ve spent hundreds of hours with my students, learning all of their quirks and building a mutual understanding that my first priority was their learning and future wellbeing.
I will miss my kids every day at my new job, partially just because I liked being around them. The world through the eyes of a 9th grader is a funny place. People treat you like an adult because you’re starting to look like one, but you still don’t really know anything, despite your own conviction that you know absolutely everything. Two weeks ago, a student walked into my classroom at lunch and said, “Did you know that Jamaica is not in Africa? I was so mad when I found that out.” Comedy like that only happens in 9th grade classrooms in Oakland. (Afterward, I confessed to her that, at her age, I thought Chicago was a state. She laughed, felt better, and then said, “Well, they hella black, right?” I thought about explaining the history of the Caribbean slave trade, but then the bell rang.)
I know where I’m going from here, but at once I’m not entirely sure where I go from here. The inspiration I’ve drawn from these relationships is to work in whatever capacity I can to fix educational inequity for my kids in Oakland and with the amazing educators that I’ve worked with in Oakland. I’m not a teacher anymore, but I still have a big mouth and some insider knowledge of the mechanics of the achievement gap. That’s got to be worth something.