Dear Bill and Melinda,
Katie and I thought we might ask you a question: Who is your pick for Teacher of the Year and WHY would you pick them? We’d like to talk about this with you and other teachers. Teachers, who would you pick and why? Will the answers be the same, we wonder?
Susan: Yesterday I attended our district’s annual School Improvement Plan meeting. All of the district’s Leadership Team members attend and begin the work of creating a living document to improve our schools.
Our assistant to the Department of Teaching and Learning talked to us about the district’s goals and alerted us to some of the changes coming: Common Core for Grades 3-5 [we’ve already started CCSS for Grades K-2], the CCSS testing, our new state evaluation system for teachers and principals, and more.
She warned us that teachers may say “We can’t handle one more thing…” and she gave us some words to use to communicate to teachers to stop this negative response to all of the initiatives and micromanaging that come with your corporate education reforms. She recommended that we tell them: “It’s nothing new. You’re already doing it. Just “weave it in” with what you already know and with what you are already doing.”
She went on to tell us about the increased workload being placed on teachers and principals, and ultimately on students. “Just weave it in” was repeated with each new item being presented.
Then she wrapped it up by asking our teachers to take a moment to share about one student who we had made the most positive impact on and what had been the cause of our positive effect. The room was abuzz with teachers telling personal stories of how we had created a positive change in our students.
One teacher talked about a student who became suicidal because they felt like a failure in school, and how he had taken this student under his wing, building a trusting relationship that provided support for the student and the family. The student began to thrive and feel successful and happy with their life. This teacher ended up giving the student an award at the end of the year and felt the incomprehensible weight lifted as they became an instrument in saving a child’s life through the trust of a teacher-child relationship.
Another teacher spoke about a student who transferred to her school after being suspended 22 times in the previous school year. She too developed a trusting relationship with the student. She developed a system that allowed the student to have a “walking pass” whenever the student felt a need to talk, giving the student an alternative to behaviors that would otherwise result in suspension. The student came to her many times to talk over strong emotions rather than acting out, and how much of a difference it made for that student to have only 1 suspension this year. She felt a great sense of pride in making such a remarkable difference in this child’s life.
Katie: Lysa is my pick for Teacher of the Year. I call her “the cultivator” because she grows both minds and gardens. Together with a 4th grade class, her students have turned our school’s front yard into a flower garden and serene outdoor classroom.
Lysa is a dynamic, hard-working special education teacher at a Title I public school in Brooklyn, NY. Her third graders are learning an enormous amount both academically and socially/emotionally. At 61, Lysa has more energy than my almost 4-year-old. She gardens with her students, takes them to Chinatown, runs laps around the school with them and teaches them high-level, content-related vocabulary through New York Times articles, among many other challenging and thought-provoking activities. Her lessons make connections, and are relevant and meaningful. In fact, the kids learned all about a bird called the common grackle because it was living in their a/c unit this year. They observed and fed the bird and wrote – in great detail – about it. When her students told me about this strange-named bird, I actually thought Lysa had made it up.
Few of the students in her class – if any- will receive a score of 3 (so-called grade level performance) on the Common Core state tests that were administered in New York in April. Looking at test scores alone, will these students be viewed as not having learned this year? Will their test scores reflect poorly on this singular teacher? She is the kind of instructor I aspire to be. What’s also remarkable about her is that she doesn’t allow the demands of the state tests, specifically the pressures to engage in mind numbing test prep, to rattle her or to affect her high quality of teaching.
Katie and Susan:
The stories shared around the room that day by teachers who made a great difference in the lives of their students and the story of Lysa’s teaching practice all have one thing in common: Their stories had NOTHING to do with CCSS, nothing to do with testing, nothing to do with standardization, and nothing to do with the things that are on our new state teacher evaluations.
These stories of greatness came from teachers who have woven a thread of themselves into the fabric of the lives of their students.
You see, Mr. and Mrs. Gates, teaching is about weaving and LIVES together and cultivating relationships of trust, NOT about weaving curriculum, testing, standardization, and other reforms together.
All of these teachers created amazing positive change through trusting relationships. All three of these teachers deserve to be nominated for Teacher of the Year.
Who is your pick for Teacher of the Year and WHY would you pick them?
Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates