On June 1st I was hired to a new job at a bilingual French/English private school as a third grade teacher. Although I was happy at the charter school where I was working and proud of the work that I did this past school year, the fact that I was only a long term sub for the school meant that I needed to find more permanent work. A few dozen applications later, I found a place that was nearly perfect for me: a school about fifteen minutes away from my house that taught classes mainly in French, my second language as a child. Getting teaching jobs has not been easy since 2009, so I feel extremely lucky.
In a way, my departure from the public schools means a departure from the goal that I had upon entering TFA, which was to work towards providing excellent education for students in low income communities. The students at my new private school will undoubtedly receive quality educations regardless of whether I work there or not. After years of trying to fight against educational inequality, a part of me cannot help but feel that I’ve abandoned that fight early.
This is the wrong way, however, to look at my new path. Inspiring students to love learning is enormously rewarding in any school, and there is no guarantee that this will happen in private schools. Part of the data driven approach of the reform movement has left me with the false notion that the primary goal of a teacher is to raise test scores. Even though I’ve spent a number of blog posts complaining about the reform movement, I’ve still internalized their assumption that my main role is to raise scores, and that unquantifiable measures of success are not valid. Although the leaders of my charter school stood against the overtesting of students, the fact that we worked at a public charter meant that we were accountable to those tests, and I was never able to shake the sense that the majority of my value as a teacher rested on the students’ scores. Even as a long term sub, I became stressed over this every time I gave a benchmark assessment. For students already producing high test scores, such as the majority that I will work with at my new school, I fear that this has left me feeling that there isn’t much work left to be done. This is as true for my new school as it is for the many advanced students with whom I have worked in the past, whether as a first-year TFA corps member or as a substitute and student teacher. Although raising scores is important, I agree with the sentiment expressed by 2012 CM John Choi and reposted today by Gary Rubinstein on his blog: “At the end of the year it doesn’t matter what their scores are—but if I can see passion in the subject I would have succeeded in the classroom.” When I first began entertaining the notion of becoming a teacher, I also objected to the value of education being defined by narrow metrics, but I soon grew to accept it as the nature of the profession.
Even though I’ll be working with students who already produce, on average, high test scores, I have a lot of work to do to make sure that they take away a lifelong love of learning from my lessons. It’s a challenge that won’t be easy, but it’s one that I’m excited to take on.