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First Challenges


In a comment to a recent post, I was asked “What assumptions about how schools succeed made you believe that you could make a difference in a "failing" school? My answer is the same reply I a gave a very savvy third grade boy at my school who asked me, “Why are you at our school?” I told him I fell in love with your school when I first visited two years ago and I want to help your school be the very best it can be because you deserve the best. I believed my eighteen years of experience in an award winning Title I school along with two years of traveling across my state and our country visiting schools and meeting teachers had given me a wealth of knowledge I wanted to share. In addition, much to my surprise, I was able to bring to the school over $70,000 in programs and materials that I felt could improve instruction. Plus, my college, Samford University, had agreed to form a partnership with the school to aide and assist in a variety of ways. In essence, I thought I could bring help to this school.

The first week of school brought many surprises. In talking to the teachers, I was told they had tried to have a morning routine for starting the day, but it had never lasted. The teachers agreed they would like for a student to lead the pledge and they shared with me a Brighton Bear Code that had been written for the school. It was decided this would be done on the intercom every morning. Fourth grade students immediately began practicing since they would be the first to lead this morning exercise. I amazed how quickly our children learned all of words to the pledge and Bear Code. My former school had a very high tech television studio with an outstanding student led morning show. At Brighton, I hold the intercom button every morning while the students go though the program with hopes that someday we will have the technology to have a TV program. This morning ritual has become quite popular with the students and by the end of the year almost every child in the school will have the chance to lead this school exercise. The teachers also appear to really like this part of the day. After the first week, a teacher said to me, “This is like a real school.”

The other morning routine I had hoped to establish was improving our bus duty and starting school on time.This has not been so successful. In the past, students sat in the lunchroom after they ate breakfast. I was determined the students would read silently at this time. I brought in crates of books and assigned seats. One of the veteran teachers told me this would not work. She also told me starting school on time would not happen. After several weeks of fighting the noise of this crowded lunchroom, I went to this veteran teacher and I told her I was waving the white flag, she was right about reading in the lunchroom. With teacher input, a new schedule was made to have the students sit outside their rooms and the teacher on duty reads aloud to the children. I stay in the the lunchroom and handle breakfast duty. Currently, in the lunchroom we are working on our math facts and we watch Multiplication Rock every morning with multiplication fact cards covering the lunchroom walls. School is starting on time and I am learning many valuable lessons about teacher leadership.

I appreciate your comments and encourage your continued input and questions.


Dear Betsy,
It's heartening to read about the reintroduction of a morning routine at your school. It sounds like your help in getting it done is much appreciated. I'm also sure that the $70,000 is very helpful to the school. Also, I love your answer to the student about them deserving the best. It is very similar to the answer I give the students in my "failing school." When they tell me I'm great and ask me what I'm doing here, I tell them, "I feel lucky to have the chance to get to know them, and if I'm good then it's no more than any student deserves." I've been in my school for 20 years and in the NYC school system for 30. And I can tell you without hesitation that if you came to my school and I saw this blog in which you make yourself sound like a Deus ex machina, I would remain outwardly polite, as I am invariably, but inwardly I would hate your guts. Are you the best teacher in your school? Perhaps, after all you are the teacher of the year! But are none of the other teachers any good? Didn't a number of students leave the school, before you came, inspired by the wonderful men and women already there? Isn't part of what makes a teacher good the sense of mission, the desire to grow, the love of the students, the respect for the subject matter, the comfort with the setting, the understanding of the local culture, the vision of a better future for their kids that many of the teachers in your school had before you ever thought of going there? I see no evidence of such understanding on your part in the blog entries I have read. Your "let's whip this place into shape" attitude, along with your seemingly boundless energy (Still blogging at 1:22 A.M.!) will do much for your school. But beware of the damage your arrogance might be doing under the surface. Even in your "white flag" I detect a See,-I'm-big-enough-to-admit-I'm-wrong kind of swagger that raises my hackles. How is it that it doesn't raise yours?
Do your thing, Betsy, get into your classrooms and help your colleagues turn those kids into working scientists, poets, historians, mathematicians, etc. Share your brilliance with them and absorb as much of their brilliance as you can. But I strongly suggest that on this blog--open to all of them, and all the world--you talk a bit more about their brilliance.

Joe Bellacero, Evander Childs High School, the Bronx, New York

Dear Betsy,
Thank you for being a shining example to all of us. Your courage to tackle the difficult problems associated with equity, and your willingness to get in there and practice what you believe is an inspiration. I am currently a school improvement facilitator for an urban school that is doing okay. I am seriously considering a move to one of the more needy schools in our area, simply because I believe that I can have a greater impact in those schools. I look forward to hearing more about your challenges and your thoughts about this unique process.

As I read over your mission, I noticed we have some similar experiences..The experiences that say I want to do what is best for children. I faced a similar situation in regards to breakfast except only 200 of the 475 studetns that qualifeid were eating breakfsat. I reasearched into an alternative. We now have "Breakfast in a Bag". Breakfast is delivered at 8:30 every morning to our classrooms. We now have 430 student out of 510 eating breakfast daily! The students begin their day 25 minutes earlier. They each have a classroom routine that they accomplish during those first few mintues of the day. My teachers are supportive because they know what it is doing for the children. The school day begins on peaceful note with those who are hungry eating a well-balanced meal to start their day.

Theresa Kiger

Easy Joe. Betsy is going in with a good heart and a desire to help. And yes, she has much still to learn. We all do.

I volunteer at a failing school in washington dc in a very bad neighborhood. Is the school that you are teaching at a predominantly black school. How much does the surrounding neighborhood of a school influence the success or failure of that school.
thank you

I was wondering what the educators logging onto this site think about merit pay for teachers.


I enjoy your honesty. I will pray for you.God Bless

I think it is wonderful that you were able to establish a routine for the morning at your school. I think students do better when they have a set routine which they engage in each day. It helps to get them focused and ready to learn for the day. They know what to expect during each part of the day which helps to build a more stable learning environment.

I am sending this response to the recorded voice message you left on my answering service regarding Governor Riley's proposed budget. Are you sure you teach in Alabama? Has becoming Teacher of the Year removed you so far from the reality that Alabama is almost at the bottom of the list of states for teacher pay?(Where would we be without Mississippi?)Are you sure we need to sacrifice the ETF for the diversion of funds that the General Fund cannot secure? Have you walked through all of the schools across the state and seen how many are in dire need of repair? Have you heard that many students are in crowded classrooms or portables? How can you record a message and send it without doing your homework?

Hey Rebecca all states have unique problems in special ways. North Caolina just slipped again in the amount spent per capita from 39th to 43rd.
Teacher leaders and administrators accross the country are putting increasing value on connectedness of the relationships. The culture and climate will only be better with having necessary routines, doing away with unnessary structur. It is obvious that personal relationships can expand now through this and other technological means. The relationships are the key.

i think your site is a daube....

I am enjoying your comments and experience. I think more teachers need to have such an experience. My question is this, do you think you could of become teacher of the year if you had been always assigned to low achieving schools? I am working on a second certification in special education right now but my experiences have taken me to several schools in a large urban school district. I think the teachers that get recommended for rewards are so many times helped by the students they teach and the enviroment they are in. If you had been some of the teachers at your new school who had been in that enviroment for so many years, how well could you have developed into an "outstanding "teacher? So many times I see schools of excellence being the ones with the selected students and the excellent teachers coming from a school where the students and parents help make the job easy enought to be able to shine, is this fair to all the teachers who struggle each day to do the best they can with what they have been given to work with? Thank you for your comments.


I commend your school for its "collaborative effort to focus on a need" and the success of that effort. Look forward to sharing your journey!


Linda asked if Dr. Rogers could have become Teacher of the Year had her whole career been spent in low achieving schools.

The end of Middlemarch, by George Eliot, seems most appropriate:

"for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."

I submit that great men and women are great in their circumstances long before recognition comes - and long after recognition fades.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Ezra Adams: Linda asked if Dr. Rogers could have become Teacher of read more
  • Nancy W. Manuel (Ph.D.): Betsy, I commend your school for its "collaborative effort to read more
  • linda: I am enjoying your comments and experience. I think more read more
  • adrivine: i think your site is a daube.... read more
  • John A. Cook: Hey Rebecca all states have unique problems in special ways. read more



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