Over the past year, I have had several opportunities to reflect on what makes me a good teacher. There are many factors, but the most important is that I feel empowered every day to make the decisions I know are best for my students. I know that I am an expert at what I do, so I have the confidence to try new lessons or projects with my students. If they don’t work out, we try again next time.
Too many teachers in today’s educational climate don’t feel empowered, and therefore live under enormous pressure to “get it right.” They are nervous to take risks or allow students to drive inquiry. As we rely on more standardized data, teachers may not be confident enough to trust their own authentic assessments to give them valuable feedback on student progress. Some may feel like they don’t have the freedom to create meaningful, engaging learning experiences for their students.
I don’t fault teachers for feeling this way. I blame the high-stakes testing culture that has been created by the educational climate in our state, which results in a narrowing of the curriculum, hyperfocus on test preparation, and loss of quality instructional time. This culture has led teachers to feel less empowered as educators.
As the 2017 IPS Teacher of the Year, I had several opportunities to express these beliefs to our state legislators, and it was one of the most discouraging points in my career. The legislators who agreed to meet with me were not open to hearing an educator’s point of view. They tried to convince me that their views should be adopted in education.
However, it is how we deal with disappointment that matters.
For me, I needed to have a lot of processing conversations with colleagues and mentors. I was motivated to speak out even more and to anyone who would listen. We have a legislative agenda that continues to elevate high-stakes standardized testing as a way to “monitor” schools. Now more than ever, teachers must have a voice in shaping the educational landscape of our community. Serving as Teacher of the Year has given me more of a platform to share my beliefs, for which I am grateful.
Being Teacher of the Year has also given me the chance to meet so many talented educators in our district. Through leading professional development, serving as a recruitment teacher leader, and as a member of our Building Leadership Team, I have been encouraged by the direction our district is headed. These are times of change for IPS, and I am excited to see how we can continue to shape our city.
As we get closer to the end of yet another school year and my tenure as 2017 IPS Teacher of the Year, I am reminded of a quote from Todd Whitaker, an American educator, writer and motivational speaker: “The best part about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest part about being a teacher is that it matters every day.”
We work with the most vulnerable population in our society: children.
Children, more specifically children in poverty, rarely have access to power. They are subject to the rules and regulations created by people who often know little about them, resulting in practices that are, in fact, detrimental to their well-being.
As teachers, we must be their advocates. We need to utilize our expertise regarding what is best for teaching and learning to insist on the best outcomes for our students. In our current political climate, we may feel like we have very little voice, but my goal today is to equip you with some resources to get started.
Get to Know Your Legislators
State legislators have the most impact on shaping education policy, which directly impacts you and your students. I encourage you to get to know and contact both the legislators that represent your home and your school. Send them an email or call their offices to let them know what you think. Invite them to your classroom. I did! Three of them responded, and even though our conversations were less than encouraging, it was a start. To find your legislators and access their contact information, visit the Indiana General Assembly website. You can also use Facebook’s new feature called Town Hall to look up your federal, state and local representatives. Remember to use your personal email address and your personal device.
Know What’s Being Discussed at the State Level
Even though the current legislative session is expected to close soon, you should know what education policy is being discussed at the Statehouse. There are several ways to do this. You can access the entire education legislative agenda via the Indiana General Assembly website. You can see which policies were authored by Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee. You can also review the proposed bills for both the House and Senate Education Committees here and here. Another great resource is the Indiana State Teachers Association website, which provides weekly legislative updates. The site’s blog page may be easier to follow. While finding and distilling this information can be a little time consuming and difficult to understand at times, the information and knowledge you’ll gain is beneficial.
Be Active in Your Community
There are many ways to be active in your local communities — attend a lecture at the Indianapolis Public Library, join a rally, or for more frequent updates, sign up to receive the IPS newsletter (The Achiever) or follow Chalkbeat and other local organizations that report on education issues. You can also get together with friends to take action. I recently learned about a group started by one of our community partners at Center for Inquiry (CFI) called the Fierce Four. These four women are hosting events to make taking action easier. The group’s most recent event was Understanding Islam: An Informational Evening, held to encourage “dialogue and create a better understanding in our community.” Through that event, they raised $360 for Exodus Refugee Immigration.
Educators are often made to feel unprofessional because consultants are hired to lead professional development instead of relying on the collective knowledge of teachers, and curriculum can be tightly controlled by those who work outside of classrooms. But it’s important that teachers feel and act as empowered experts. No one knows the needs of your students better than you do, so use that expertise to speak up for what is right for education.
Brandon Anderson, Band Director, Arsenal Technical High School
“Over spring break, I will be taking the Tech Titan Band to New York City for a cultural and historic tour. We are performing on the USS Intrepid, seeing a Broadway show, and going to many different historic sites. We have worked all year to go and the students are thrilled for this opportunity.”
Jessica Smith, Math Coach, Lew Wallace School 107
“Our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) have been going over data cycles and the results from an assessment our kids took at the end of January. My coach, Gabriel Surface, began these cycles and we have seen great success! Basically, teachers pick one
standard for remediation and fit in 5 to 10 minutes of daily remediation on that standard. After just one week, students took a similar quiz and our scores grew (exponentially)! Third-grade scores averaged 20 percent higher than what they started with, and fifth- and sixth-grade scores averaged more than 50 percent higher for each. Fourth-grade hasn’t received its results yet, but we have hope for great growth. Tracking this data is powerful because our teachers can see that what they are doing each day is making a difference.”
Billy Travis, Middle School Social Studies Teacher, Center for Inquiry 27
“I am currently excited about my seventh-graders, who decided to research the effects that religion has had on certain topics. One student researched religious artwork and its representation of violent events, while another student examined how Christianity has affected modern day Russia. I am also excited about my eighth-graders’ community projects about obesity, immigration and childhood illnesses. The students are eager to interview experts and take action to help their communities. Each eighth-grade CFI International Baccalaureate student completes a service project in their community to finish their Middle Years Programme (MYP) studies.”
Angel Jackson, Title 1 Interventionist, Eleanor Skillen School 34
“Professionally, I am most excited to be in the process of completing research for my Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program at Marian University. My research topic relates to ability grouping and academic achievement in both an urban and high, special education setting. I’m looking at the research to see if there is any significant impact of ability grouping amongst elementary school students within the aforementioned settings. I am looking forward to completing my thesis soon, with plans to graduate May 2017!”
I am always interested in learning about the instruction happening in classrooms throughout IPS — from the content to the varying teaching styles being used. This month, I have the pleasure of highlighting some of the amazing work happening around our district!
But instead of me talking about each of these teachers and their classrooms, I’m letting the educators speak for themselves. I hope you find inspiration as we make our way through the winter months and finish out the school year strong.
Jodi Morrow, math coach, Center for Inquiry School 84 and School 2
“Over the last several years, we have had many fourth- through sixth-grade IPS students participate in the Indiana M.A.T.H. Bowl. We just finished the IPS M.A.T.H. Bowl Invitational at CFI 84, where Lew Wallace School 107, SUPER School 19, CFI 2, CFI 84, along with several township school teams, engaged in the friendly competition,” said Morrow. “I have really enjoyed watching the students be enthusiastic and grow in math problem-solving skills, while having a lot of fun.” All teams will participate in the state competition on Feb. 23.
Megan Hoppe, ESL teacher, SUPER School 19
“Hailey Duffey and I love coaching M.A.T.H. Bowl because it is our only academic club for our high-achieving students! It encourages our fourth-grade students to push themselves and learn new math concepts that they haven’t experienced in their general math classes. It gives our fifth- and sixth-grade students a chance to be leaders and to apply some of the skills they have learned in math class in new, more complicated ways,” said Hoppe. “We love seeing our students get excited about math and the proud looks on their faces when they answer a question correctly!”
Jessica Jain, literacy coach, Center for Inquiry School 84
“During the last two weeks, I have been guest teaching in some of our K–5 classrooms so that teachers can have a full day to plan and prepare for our upcoming International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP) evaluation,” said Jain. “I’ve really enjoyed spending the entire day teaching across multiple grades, as well as team teaching with our principal and assistant principal. It has really given me an opportunity to reflect on my own practice, as well as learn new ideas and strategies from our teachers.
“Most recently, I guest taught a lesson about fairness in a second-grade class as part of a unit on rights. The teacher designed the lesson so there was a read-aloud and students discussed the idea of fairness based on details from the book. Later, students were given chopsticks to use to try to eat our school snack. But there was a catch — students could only use the chopsticks to eat the fruit! It was a great ‘hands-on’ opportunity for students to experience and use as part of an extended discussion about fairness.”
Allie Buchanan, third-grade teacher, George S. Buck School 94
“Data — the word makes us cringe, right? Even when it’s grueling, I have to say that the very high standard for data analysis in our school has been extremely beneficial for planning instruction. We have seen tremendous growth with our third-grade students in regard to IREAD and ISTEP preparation,” said Buchanan. “Being intentional with the conversations we are having has really set us up for success. Each week, I look forward to sharing my data and discussing ways I can improve my instruction.”
Laura Barber, literacy coach, Step Ahead Academy
“As a school, we encourage our students to take a foreign language. However, finding success using the online program was difficult for middle school students. Teachers, who were adamant that these students get the opportunity, developed a schedule that not only accommodated more students, but in smaller groups so they could get more individual attention. Students are excelling and earning high school credit!” said Barber.
It was great taking a “peek” inside our district classrooms. There are so many learning experiences worthy of attention, that I will continue this topic in my next blog post in March. I look forward to highlighting more exciting things happening in IPS.
If you would like to share something you’re proud of, something that is working well, or something new, please email me at email@example.com.