As I was driving on the highway to get from one school to another last week, I suddenly found tears streaming down my face. And then they wouldn't stop. I was shocked. Awed. A sense of urgency and desperation clenched up in my chest. I was overwhelmed by a feeling. And it took me a second to realize that the crazy feeling that was making me cry, cry and cry while driving really, really fast down Expressway 83 was an overwhelming sense of possibility.
After all this time of working in education and believing and needing and working toward making great changes happen with student learning, I was seeing it happen. On a big scale. With first year teachers. Among teachers who struggled dearly for the first semester. At schools with administrative hang-ups, and students three, four, five, eight years below grade levels and 80% LEP populations. At schools with 54% drop-out rates. It is possible.
And these were MY teachers, my wonderful first- and second-year teachers who spent sleepless nights and countless meetings with me on backwards design, unit planning, lesson planning and assessment writing. These are my teachers who in their first months of teaching revamped their behavior systems, and revamped it again a month later when it backfired on them. These are my teachers who struggled for months, but had the humility and relentlessness to recognize their own weaknesses, seek help, and work tirelessly to retool their plans and teaching so their students could be where they are now. It is possible.
And where are they today? Their kids are mastering the TAKS Social Studies exam at 82% averages with scores comparable to those of students in high-income communities. They are mastering 83% averages on highly rigorous 9th grade world geography exams. They are analyzing poetry, writing descriptive personal narratives and they are able to do these things consistently and masterfully. Students lives are changing because of the work these teachers do. It is possible.
Not all of my teachers make the same level of measurable gains. That doesn't mean they aren't making an incredible difference in the life paths of students. But seeing and feeling the kind of gains that are possible among first- and second-year teachers makes me realize that it is so very possible to help all my teachers get to that even higher place. It is possible and it is necessary.