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Don’t Down Yourself

Yesterday was the final exam day…the final day of school.

It was also, coincidentally, the day FCAT scores were released to my school.

I could not get to my classroom fast enough to look at my students’ results, and I sucked in my breath as I came across each name on the list.

This, by far, was the most nervous I’d been all year.

Although our hope, as teachers, is that every child will pass, the reality is that many do not.

While we look for students to hit the “magic” number, we also check to see if students made learning gains.  It’s validation that your hard work had an tangible impact.

When students came into class, they presented the projects they had created.  This was how I administered the final exam for my classes.

After that, things got real…very real.

I began pulling students out of my room to give them their results privately.

I don’t think you’ll ever know, unless you are a teacher, what an emotional roller coaster I was on all day long as the process was repeated almost fifty times (I didn’t see one of my classes).

Each student walked out, scared of what he/she was about to hear.

I searched for the right words to deliver the news…good or bad.

The good was easy and was often met with looks of relief and even tears of joy.  I got a few hugs too.

One young lady’s response will forever be a highlight of my career.

She was freaked out about her results and was nearly sick waiting for me to share.

When I told her she passed, she busted out in tears and wrapped both arms around me…hugging me more ferociously than I’ve ever been hugged.

I told her, “You’re hugging me.”  Although she wasn’t looking at my face, I know she heard the smile in the comment.

You must understand something.  This sweet girl has always been very particular about personal space.  During our two years together, I was not allowed to pat her on the back, fist pump her, or give her a high five.  She wouldn’t even pinkie-five me.

I always respected her wishes, despite how impulsive I can be (remember when I hugged Dameyune Craig?).

As she cried, she told me, “Mrs. AuburnChick, now I’m going to visit you next year.”

I laughed and said, “You mean you weren’t if you didn’t pass?”

She said, “No, I was going to anyway, but now I’m really going to.”

Then there was the opposite experience.

The bad news was…well…just bad.

I looked for ways to soften the blow that was to come.  There’s no easy way to tell a child that he/she had fallen short of the state-mandated number.

There was such disappointment.

There were many, many tears.

Do you know how hard it is to watch fifteen and sixteen year old boys sobbing?

Sigh.

There was confusion.

There was frustration.

They just could not understand how, after a whole year’s worth of work and passing my very difficult classroom tests, they had not passed.

Most of these students made significant learning gains…anywhere from one to five years of learning gains…but they didn’t care one iota about that.

All they knew was that they felt like failures.

A few lashed out angrily, venting to one another.

Many consoled one another.

I let them have their moment and walked around whispering words of encouragement.

Once the dust had settled, we had more real talk.

I gave students their options and let them know what next year would encompass.  As upcoming eleventh graders, they will be able to take the FCAT retakes twice next year and the year after that.  They can also take the ACT.  A concordance score of 19 on the reading section will meet the state requirement for graduation.  The ACT is easier and given on paper, which will help many of my students.

I gave students practical things they could do to prepare…using sites such as Quizlet.com to study SAT words (notoriously difficult).

I showed them online ACT practice passages and questions and encouraged them to work through them fifteen minutes a day.

I did everything I could to make them feel as though they weren’t failures…that they made so much progress with me…that they had become book lovers, debaters, and writers…all things that will help them pass in the very near future.

My heart hurt so much for them, and I think they knew it.

They were quick to take ownership of their test results and repeatedly told me that it wasn’t my fault (I accept some of the responsibility though).

I could hear some of them making plans this summer to read more.

Once the shock wore off and the final bell for each class rang, they were able to hug me goodbye, many with tears in their eyes.

I went home exhausted and overwhelmed, my emotions like waves crashing on top of one another.

As a teacher, I wonder what i could have done differently…which skills I should have taught in new ways.  I’ll be crunching numbers over the next few days and looking for patterns to help me identify areas where more study is needed into better teaching practices.

While my students’ scores were actually very good, they need to be BETTER.

Feeling discouraged, I sat on the couch and zoned out last night.

And then I received the most amazing gift I’ve ever gotten from a student.

It was an email, sent from her school account to mine.

I clipped the main section of it for you to read…

Click to embiggen

God spoke to my heart through this young lady’s words.

He soothed my hurting soul.

This sweet child had become like a daughter to me after months of battling…me trying to get her to read…her not liking books.

I was touched by her concern for ME and how she felt as though SHE had let ME down.\

The part that made me cry the most, though, was about state officials not knowing my heart.

I think that I can come across as annoying because I am so excitable.

If I love something, I’m excited about it, be it knitting, eating healthy, or teaching.

My students often found me “too much.”  In fact, a student in a different class was fond of saying, “Mrs. AuburnChick, you’re too much.”

In the end, though, I think the kids recognized that I was a little crazy about reading and teaching because I genuinely cared for my students as individuals fully capable of mastering the skills needed to be successful in life.

My student used the words I had spoken to encourage me…

“Don’t let the test define you…don’t down yourself.”

It is a lesson I plan to take to heart…a lesson delivered by the one who had first received it.

My fourth year of teaching is over, and I am better because of students like my young lady above…like the ones I’ve often referred to over the last nine months.

I am humbled.

I am blessed beyond measure.

Lessons in Skipping

Praise the Lord, I am finished administering FCAT!  After eight long days, 1,120 minutes, and the best testing partners around, I am done!

FCAT time is stressful, let me tell you.

The kids are on edge, the teachers are nervous, and the class schedule is c-r-a-z-y.

It was in this spirit that I began teaching students how to skip.

WHAT????????????????????????

I know what you’re thinking.

How could I, a teacher, instruct my students in the way of cutting class.

Well, folks, that’s not the kind of skipping I’m talking about.

When I say that I taught students how to skip, I mean literally…as in the following…

Students are allowed to take bathroom breaks during testing.  We don’t stop the time, and we escort them.

As each student and I exited the test room, I casually asked, “Want to skip?”

It never failed.

I got the same reaction…

Every.

Time.

First, the look…

Then, the question…”Skip?”

To which I would answer, “You know…skipping.”

I continued by explaining that skipping would help get the blood flowing…get the student energized after sitting so long.

Students who were agreeable (albeit skeptical) would link arms with me, and down the hall we would go.

Some students were surprised to discover that though they had not skipped since their early youth, they quickly got the hang of it again.

One young man and I were very synchronized.

I have to admit that two young men outright refused to skip.

They were baseball players with reps to protect.

I understood, but I was still disappointed and made it very clear.

heehee

One young man made me chuckle the second day we skipped (testing was two days per group of students).  He even told me, when we got back to the room, “This was strange.”

I responded by telling him that I bet he felt better, and that he probably won’t ever forget his 9th grade FCAT.

He smiled as he nodded his assent.

One young lady returned to the classroom, took one look at my fellow proctor, a teacher friend, and said, “She’s crazy.”

My friend said, “I know.”

heehee

I genuinely hope the students who tested in my room didn’t feel too stressed.

I hope they knew they were cared for.

In the midst of all the pressure, I was happy to put a smile, when I could, on each face.

Ready As We’ll Ever Be

Dear Students,

Today marks the beginning of FCAT testing for most of you.

For the last nine months, we have been honing the skills that you will use to answer two-days worth of reading comprehension questions.

I have worked 60-80 hour weeks preparing lessons.

You have worked through each task I’ve placed before you…sometimes willingly…sometimes a bit hesitantly.

Throughout the year, I have watched you go from students who deplored silent reading time to students who beg me to give you more time.

You have become students who, at first, could not find a book to read to students who recommend books to each other AND me!  You’ve even teared up when you have finished reading your beloved books.

Those are the signs that you have become book lovers.  May this love for reading never leave you.

Fluency was once a chore, but thanks to the research I’ve thrown in, it’s been a fun exercise.  You’ve learned a lot of extra vocabulary and bits of random facts that you previously didn’t know.

We can now call that “prior knowledge.”  It will be a resource that will prove quite useful, I promise.

You’ve gone from being students who had never heard the word meta-cognition to students use that term in daily conversations.

This is another skill that will assist you over the next two weeks.

As the months have passed, you’ve evolved from being students who shrugged their shoulders when asked to justify answers to students who actively assist each other, explaining your selections before I even ask.

I rather doubt that there will be a lot of “guessing” on the BIG test.

I want you to know that I have been praying for you.

More than anything, I have prayed that you would walk into your respective testing rooms with confidence.

You ARE ready.

You WILL succeed.

You will prove to yourselves that you ARE gifted young men and women, able to master the challenges placed before you.

I’m very proud of you and BELIEVE in the success that you are about to experience.

Love,

Mrs. AuburnChick

FCAT Results – A Teacher’s Angst and Joy

Despite the fact that yesterday, Friday, was my first official day of summer vacation, I found myself at my school around 7:30am.

Why?

Well, the day before, the teachers at my school had been notified that the results from the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT) would be released the following morning at 6am.

The state assessment is the culminating event for students and teachers.  It plays a large role in the final performance rating that teachers receive.

Ultimately, it determines if students will need to be in Intensive Reading classes the following school year.

I walked into the Guidance office and simply held my hand out.

It was my indirect way of requesting THE LISTS…9th and 10th grade…of students’ scores.

Then I sat down at a conference table and began the tortuous process of going through each name, a sheet of paper and pen beside me.

As I encountered my students’ names, I wrote them down, along with their scores and their learning gains or losses.

On the other side of the cubicle sat my friend, Barb.  She’s my school’s literacy coach and in charge of the Reading Department.

She, too, was going through the lists.

I’d warned her early on not to tell me my students’ scores.  I needed to see them for myself.

She couldn’t help herself, though, and she hollered, “Nat, Nat.  Take a look at So-and-So’s name.  Oh, oh, oh.”

I skipped down to his name and screamed aloud when I saw his score.

He’d done well.  Actually, he’d done far, far better than “well.”

I jumped up and ran to the guidance counselors’ offices, following behind Barbara and proudly telling everyone that he was MY baby.

Oh word.

I’d taught that child two years in a row, so to see his success filled my heart with a joy that I cannot describe.

He’s a tenth grader.  His score fulfills the FCAT graduation requirement.

Yay!

I returned to my list.

My heart soared with each name that had passed; however, there was much sadness too.

I saw kids who I’d been sure would pass, only to have missed the “magic” number by one or two points.

Sigh.

I cannot tell you how heavy my heart felt.

Those are the absolute worse scores to read.

We’re talking one or two questions here.

Ugh.

The Mr. called to check on me during the three hours I sat in that office.  While I couldn’t share specifics, he astutely commented that he couldn’t tell if I was happy or not.

I’m still not sure.

Barb says that I did a good job with my kids.  Nearly three quarters showed significant learning gains.

I, however, am an all-or-nothing kind of gal.

It’s difficult to accept anything less than a passing number.

However, when it comes down to it, learning gains are important for a number of reasons.

Many students need help creating strong foundations that other teachers who follow can build upon.

Oftentimes, students are simply not mature enough to pass the test in the ninth or tenth grade.  Usually, they get serious around their eleventh and twelfth grade years, and they return to that foundation.

Still, I questioned myself.

I suspect that for many students, it came down to having a bad day.

I hate that.

One test.

One bad day.

Another entire year of Intensive Reading for those students.

As I continue to mull over my students’ scores, I thought about each student and the different circumstances that student had faced throughout the year, and I wondered what roles those circumstances played in each student’s scores.

Doesn’t the State of Florida understand this?

I think not.

I wondered what made the difference for the students who did pass?

Although I only spent three hours at the school, it was a very emotional block of time.

I experienced lows, that’s for sure, but I also flew high as the heavens as I called parents to share the good news of their children’s success.

Whew!

By the time I got home after lunch, I felt drained…so much so that I took a three-hour nap.

I’ll be doing a lot of reflecting this summer…looking over those scores and the breakdown of each question category.

I’ll consider strategies that I think worked and those that may not have.

While I don’t intend to reinvent the wheel, I am going to approach my plans for next school year with an open mind, knowing that I’ll get a new batch of students who need individualized attention to their strengths and weaknesses.

For now, though, I’m resting.

I’m pampering myself with lots of naps, knitting, and television.

A new school year will be here before I know it.

A Day in the Life of a Reading Teacher

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a reading teacher?

Keep on reading to become enlightened.

On Friday, the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test results were released to schools.

Teachers…namely reading teachers…held our breaths.

Principals printed long documents that listed individual students’ test scores and handed packets out to teachers.

I anxiously took mine from my friend, Barb, who is my school’s literacy coach.

Then, I sat in her office and read, name by name, looking for each of my students.

Let me explain what went through my mind as I searched.

First, I was nervous…almost to the point of being sick.

I had worked my tail off all year, as had my fellow teachers and the students in our classes.

I did not want the work to have been for naught.

I stopped at each name I recognized and looked across at the numbers.

I was thrilled to discover that several of my students had PASSED!

Not only did they pass, but one, in particular, had done so with flying colors.

One of the most important numbers listed beside each student’s name was in the learning gains column.

Nearly all of my students made learning gains…some by as much as three years’ worth!

Along with the joy came the sadness and frustration when I discovered that several I’d just known were going to pass missed the magic number…by one or two points.

It’s going to be difficult to share this news with those students.

By the end of the day, I was emotionally exhausted.

I was also incredibly proud…of the students as well as the five other reading teachers and our wonderful literacy coach.

Sure, we’re not solely responsible for preparing our students for FCAT.  Every single teacher joins together to help students succeed.

However, reading teachers are responsible for focusing on specific strategies…teaching our students why and how to use them to help with the difficult task of comprehending text.

I am so honored to be a part of something so important.  I feel like what I and my coworkers are doing IS making a difference.

I doubted myself before beginning this school year.

I wasn’t completely sure I was ready or would be able to teach reading successfully.

The Lord has shown me that while I wasn’t perfect at it, and that there are things I need to change next year, I am well-suited for it and have loads of potential.

The Lord also reminded me that He WILL equip those who trust in Him if they dedicate their lives to serving Him.

I certainly placed my trust in Him when I applied for and accepted this teaching job.

I am so glad I did and cannot wait for next year, when I can put into practice some of the lessons I learned this year along with the lessons I’m learning in my Reading Endorsement classes.

THAT is what it’s like in a day in the life of a reading teacher.

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