I found myself in tears several times this past week. Thankfully, each time involved tears of joy and of pride. Despite all of the turmoil in education today, I’m going to remain firm in my belief that the future is bright.
Monday afternoon brought the first round of tears as I sat in on a virtual book study of “Eyes are Never Quiet,” by Dr. Lori Desautels and Michael McKnight. The group of educators participating in this book study are demonstrating what it means to be life-long learners. The group is composed of veteran teachers, new teachers, para-educators, and instructional coaches. We are learning through reading this information-packed book, deep discussions, questions, and desire to know more and do better. This group is admitting mistakes, regretting past responses to our students, wishing more educators were on this journey with us, and reveling in successes with some of our most difficult students. Rachella Dravis, TLS coordinator, is leading the SEL (Social Emotional Learning) work in our district though a series of book studies among a myriad of other SEL initiatives. Rachella approaches this work with fervor and with compassion. She is the right person for the job.
Thursday morning brought another round of tears. I have been working with “JP,” a 7th grade student who came to us from Texas in January. JP has the brightest smile you’ve ever seen, impeccable manners (“Yes ma’am,” is a frequent refrain from his mouth), and a desire to learn. JP was able to read one word CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) word on a reading screener given to him in January. I began working with JP in late March. Each week, we progress monitor to… well, monitor his progress! On Thursday morning, JP was able to read 16 words per minute! This was tremendous growth. And that kid was proud. And this teacher was proud. We high-fived, laughed, and perhaps danced around a bit after JP graphed his progress. The kid is amazing!
The next round of tears came Thursday afternoon when our FMCSD mentees, first and second year teachers, shared reflections about their past school year. I walked out of that meeting walking on air. We are incredibly fortunate to have these people as part of the FMCSD family. They are nothing short of amazing. As each one shared, they put their vulnerability and hearts out for all in the room to see. They were simultaneously proud and exhausted. They had a helluva’ year. As one of them said, “I realized that if I can make it through this year, loaded with all that comes with being a new teacher and all that has come with a pandemic, I can handle anything.” Amen.
Some common themes arose among this fine groups of mentees. We heard about their struggles with and desire to improve classroom management. Management is a monster in and of itself, and has to be in place for true learning to occur. We heard about the importance of building relationships, and how much (despite the struggles) these new teachers truly enjoyed their students. We heard about the importance of communication with families. We heard that families are doing the very best that they can. We heard that it is important to reach out and ask for help. We heard that self-care is important. All of this wisdom from the “newbies” in the business.
Their learning = a barrage of quotes from some icons in the world of education:
Throughout the week, I have received texts and emails from teachers who shared stories and pictures of the growth their students have made. Each text and email was brimming with pride in their students and evidence of high levels of learning. Just when I think my heart is full, another story comes my way. Teachers: thank you for sharing. Thank you for doing the incredible work that you do. Our universal screener scores haven’t caught up with this work yet, but they will. More important, though, our students are cared for, are in good hands, and are learning at high levels.
The final round of tears for the week came on Friday. An incredible teacher who serves our special education students asked me to observe what one of her students is able to do now compared to the last time I observed him. Holy cow. “AG” was able to tap and blend (in layman’s terms: decode, or read) five or six CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. At my last observation, this child was still working on letter sounds and phonemic awareness – simply hearing and recognizing the sounds in words. To say that he has grown in leaps and bounds is an understatement. Fantastic work Liz and AG!!! You have demonstrated the power of perseverance.