When I moved back to Kentucky after five years of successful teaching in Virginia I found myself basically unemployable by every school I applied to. I am not sure if it was my lack of going through the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program, a license that seemed to take forever to get accepted by Kentucky, or my lack of inside connections in any school system but I literally only got one interview and job offer that summer that I quickly accepted. By all accounts the school I was hired at would be labeled a “failing school” by our current legislature but I loved it. I was excited about the opportunity to help the students that needed me most and can honestly say I gave those kids everything I had for 177 days, and then at the end of the year like so many teachers in these “failing schools” I left.
I have felt like a sell out since the day I walked out of that school and into a school that would be labeled as a “distinguished school” by our current standards. My plight has supposedly always been to teach the most struggling learners however when presented with the opportunity I fled. Today each time I turn on the news or open the paper I am bombarded with thoughts on Governor Bevin’s plan to begin charter schools in our state to fix Kentucky’s “failing school problem” and I can’t help but think we are missing the boat. I felt like it was time to share my story as the teacher that sold out on the dream of teaching in a failing school and what is keeping me from going back.
My Own Reasons for Leaving
You’ll hear many people point to behavior issues as the reason teachers flee these failing schools. I can tell you that wasn’t even on the radar for me. I loved those kids. I taught five classes a day and four of them were amongst the “lowest level” math classes in the building but those kids learned EVERY DAY. They wanted to learn, they wanted to participate, and they wanted to be loved and cared for. I am telling you right now you put a loving, energetic and positive teacher in those rooms and those kids will learn. I guarantee it.
Did they do their homework? Rarely.
Were they angels every day? Not even close.
Was it exhausting? Beyond it.
Did they learn? Absolutely.
I remember when K-Prep test scores came out the following year I was desperate to find out how my kids did. Finally when the scores became public I got the validation I needed. Those lowest four classes had knocked their previous scores out of the park. Were they the highest in the state? Hardly, but those kids GREW and in my mind it was all that mattered. In my mind I had proven that those perpetually “failing kids” and “failing classrooms” weren’t hopeless but at the same time it was too late for me to help them I had already sold out and gone somewhere “better”.
A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
The first issue for “failing schools” is that label of failing. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy; you label something as failing it is sure going to fail. Why can’t we implement a growth mind set approach just like we do in our classrooms with these schools. It is time to stop calling them “failing schools” and start calling them growing schools, yet schools, schools of the future, anything but failing. Kids aren’t stupid and take a great amount of ownership in their schools, they aren’t going to work hard at a school that we carelessly judge and label as failing, that’s a fact.
If we want to fix these failing schools the solution isn’t charters as Governor Bevin suggests, it isn’t overhauling the Kentucky education system, it isn’t repealing Common Core, it simply comes down to believing that all students can learn at a high level and deserve a quality education. Districts need to put their best administrators and teachers in their neediest schools and give them the freedom to make change. Too often we take the best faculty out of these schools and put them in “better schools” because that is seen as a step up or a promotion. When I taught in the “failing school” I frequently felt looked down upon as if I was a better teacher I would be teaching at a better school and to be quite honest now that I am in one of the better schools I feel that my ideas and philosophies are given way more merit than when I was at failing school.
Time to Invest
There are some amazing teachers showing up at “failing schools” every day. They are there early and stay late. They are giving those kids everything they have. They don’t look at their kids or schools as failing they look at them as growing but they need support. It is time for Governor Bevin, the legislature, and district leadership to gather around these failing schools. Bashing these failing schools and calling for their replacement in the media isn’t the answer. Throwing money at the problem isn’t going to address the issue either. Instead investing time in believing the kids in these schools deserve the best teachers and administrators will. A charter school with poor leadership and support will fail just as quickly as a public school with the same issue. It is time to invest in the future of our most struggling learners.