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Day 88 – Speaking Up

Day 88 of Year 5 of teaching started out with me looking like this…

Please remember that I must maintain “Basic” status by taking daily selfies.


About an hour and a half later, I looked like this…

I really wish I could do the pretty cry, but I cannot.

It’s a good thing we were in the middle of exams, and my planning period was extra long.

Why the sad face, you ask?

I’ll tell you the long non-sordid tale.

I’d run into my fabulous principal shortly after arriving to school, and because he is generally a very busy man, I pulled him aside to ask him a couple of questions.  One, in particular, had to do with an option that most teachers are being offered in lieu of enduring long, cumbersome observation requirements.

I had missed a faculty meeting during which the particulars of said option had been discussed.  I’d had a parent conference that morning.

So, when I asked Mr. Principal about it today, he said that I didn’t meet the requirements for the option.

To which I think I gave him this look…

We walked to his office, and he read from the official principal handbook (I’m kind of making this up…I don’t know if there is such a thing, but he did read something from a piece of paper).

I’d thought that because my overall VAM (Value Added Measure…the thing used to ultimately “grade” me as a teacher) had been Effective, that I would be allowed to take advantage of the option.

Unfortunately, teachers have to be Highly Effective/Effective in ALL areas of their VAM…including the Student Growth section.

Despite 92% of my Level 1 and nearly 70% of my Level 2 students scoring learning gains last year, the Student Growth portion came back as Needs Improvement…and this with three years of data being factored into the following formula…

My previous years of data were never below effective.

When my principal told me this, I started crying again…out of frustration.

Once again, my VAM score is screwing me over.

Pardon my Redneck.

While I’d normally have a simple walk-thru by my principal, now I have to do a lot of extra paperwork, we have to meet twice, and I have to spend many nerve-wracked hours prepping for something to “prove” that I am a decent teacher.

To his credit, Mr. Principal told me not to worry.  He values my work and knows the quality lesson plans my students work through.

We rehashed the unfairness of it, and then he made a suggestion that I speak at a legislative delegation meeting that was, coincidentally God-incidentally going to be held tonight.

The Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Don Gaetz, newly elected Jay Trumbull, and Brad Drake would be in attendance to listen to comments, compliments, and concerns.

I asked my principal if he thought it would make a difference…if people in Tallahassee would make new laws about education because of me speaking out.

He told me that my VAM story needed to be told, so I said I’d pray about it.

When I got home from school, I typed out what I wanted to say.

I tend to ramble.

Not that you would know anything about that.

:::insert rolled eyes:::

Then, I drove myself to the meeting.

I called Super Sis on the way and asked her to pray…to pray that God would be glorified…that I would not speak out of anger (I’ve had a nasty attitude the last few months)…that my words would not get jumbled.

She said she would pray as soon as we hung up.

I nervously signed in and filled out the card to be added to the agenda.

Then, I waited.

Don Gaetz facilitated the meeting, and he began by explaining the rules of order.

I was intimidated.  It was all so formal.

I sat in the back, read over my notes, and listened as others were called up to speak.

Twenty-four of us had requested an audience.

People were allowed to take a lot more than the originally allotted time of 2.5 minutes.

At one point, a teacher friend I’d worked with a few years got up to speak, touching on the subject of teacher evaluations but did not completely delve into it like I’d planned on doing.

Finally, my name was called.

I took a deep breath and walked to the podium.

My legs felt like jello.

I explained, in the microphone where my quivering voice was magnified, that I was nervous.

The representative laughed and said, “You’re a teacher!”

To which I responded that I was used to speaking to 9th and 10th graders…not adults!

I then began to share my story.

I admitted that prior to becoming a teacher, I’d lived in a bubble for a long time…raised children in the school system…children who always passed FCAT easily.  I’d always thought that kids should pass the FCAT by the 12th grade…especially after having three years to do so.

I had also agreed that teachers should be judged based on student performance.

I said my bubble burst when I started teaching…Intensive Reading to kids who struggled with learning disabilities, homelessness, and hunger.

I told those representatives that I’d always heard of these issues but never seen them up close.  Every single day of my four years of teaching reading has had me working with kids facing such issues.  The issues were suddenly real for me.

I shared a story of a student who told me that I needed to find food for her classmate…one I’d just been working with…because she had not eaten in two days because her mom had to give the only lunch money she had to her younger brother instead.

I broke down when I told that story then explained that if I cried, it was because I was so passionate.

God was so good as I spoke and helped me recover quickly, and I returned to my carefully prepared notes.

I told them that despite the challenges, my students had made learning gains, and I shared my stats.

Then, I told how I’d felt sucker-punched and betrayed when this year’s VAM came back, and Student Growth showed Needs Improvement when my kids had clearly improved.

I told them that God had called me to teach…that I absolutely adore my students…but that there were times that I questioned if I should stay in a profession where an impossible-to-understand formula determined my worth to the State.

I said that I was grateful for a principal who validated me…a wonderful staff I worked with…and amazing students.  I explained that I loved my school…that I was still wearing my shirt with the logo from my day at work…a day that had not begun with plans to speak at the meeting.

I asked the representatives to think of my story when they returned to Tallahassee to hash out education legislation.  I told them that my story was one among countless others, and I asked them to change a broken system before more teachers left.

I ended by sharing a line from an email I’d received from a student just before entering the meeting…”You are one of my main motivations for finishing school and going to college.”  This was written by a student I taught last year.  She’s at a different school this year and has had to overcome tremendous obstacles to stay in school.  Her words were so inspiring.

To their credit, the representatives did not stop me when I’m sure time ran out.  They allowed me to finish, only interrupting when they had comments to insert.

When I finished, the entire room erupted in applause.

I was thanked for my words.  Other things were said before I returned to my seat, but in all honesty, I can’t remember!!  All I know is that I breathed a huge sign of relief, to the laughter of a few in the audience, got a thumbs up from a School Board member sitting in the back, and gratefully sat down.

I shed a few silent tears, so thankful that God had given me strength to speak…so overcome with a mixture of emotions.

When the meeting ended, I had the opportunity to thank Jay Trumbull for listening.  I really did feel like he and the other representatives listened to me.

I met a number of teachers who’d sat in the audience.  They thanked me for being so genuine.

I saw one of my mentors…gave her a hug and thanked her for her influence in my life.

When I left, I called Super Sis and thanked her for praying.  I gave her the scoop on the meeting, and I could hear her smile in her response.

She told me that as she’d prayed, beautiful words came from her heart…words so eloquent that she knew God was in this…that I would be okay…that this was the right thing to do.

I give ALL of the glory for this experience to God alone.

He was in this.  He spoke through me.  He calmed my nerves.  He gave me a conviction that was not full of anger but of truth and justice.

Time will tell if my words will have any permanent impact.

Regardless, I stepped outside of my comfort zone tonight and spoke up.  I’ll leave the rest up to God.

4 Responses

  1. Oh wow… I hate to hear you had to go through all this. How frustrating 😦 But I’m so proud of you for taking a stand & voicing your thoughts on it all… I’ll pray your words set on some hearts & make a difference somewhere. I can’t imagine all the stupid things that teachers run up against… so messed up.

  2. Way to go! I hope things will be changed because of your great courage and willingness to be used.

  3. Way to be brave and stand up for what’s right! I too am going to have a major problem when my scores are factored into my evaluation. It just isn’t fair. (For the record, our entire staff has to do the paperwork you’re talking about!)

  4. Until more teachers like you break out of their comfort zones, nothing will change. Bravo for taking that giant step out in faith!

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