Lessons From a Sellout

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.


13 thoughts on “Lessons From a Sellout

  1. What or how would you invest in changing the mindset of teachers? How do you teach caring? How do you teach respect for “cultural differences” of the students and their families in your classroom? I know how- invest in cultural training and hold the accountable for implementing the beliefs, attitudes, instructional strategies that they learned in the training. How about investing in ensuring that the schools have teachers/administrators that have cultural differences or look like the students they teach. I love your honesty and courage to write this article! I have a question: Why did you leave the “failing” school? Maybe that is why you considered yourself a “sell out”?

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I left the failing school simply because of the administration in that building being toxic and nothing else. I loved each one of the children there. I will slightly disagree with you on the having to look like the kids you teach part. I didn’t look like the kids I taught there but they didn’t seem to notice. I think the bigger picture is the kids knowing their teacher is human and connects with them on a deep level regardless of race. Thanks again for your thoughts!

      • I understand why you left…I would dare say that most of the “failing schools” have administrators that are inexperienced, overwhelmed, and unsupported to make the necessary changes that they want to make at these schools. I totally agree that the kids know when they have a teacher that care about them (regardless of race). My daughter’s kindergarten teacher was not African American (like my daughter) and we had no doubt in that she was not only a good teacher but she did not care that she was of another race….but she was also not a “failing school”. Thank you for your article!

  2. Or maybe it’s time for Good Teachers to stay at these “failing ” schools and teach those deserving kids rather than leave the first time they get a chance for a Better Paying More Cushy job.

    • I will have to respectfully disagree with y0u. The reasons I left had nothing to do with money or cush. I didn’t take a pay raise to leave and I certainly didn’t relinquish and responsibility. I got myself out of a situation with an administration that was toxic. I would gladly go back to any “failing” school if there was a stable administration that was going to be there for the long haul.

    • Really? Why don’t you turn down a better paying job when you have tons of school debt to stay in a thankless position? Maybe we should pay the good teachers to stay in the less successful schools, not fault struggling families for moving to better paying jobs.

  3. This is a great piece. I swear I have had the exact same experience but just could not write it as beautifully as you did, going from Booker T in Fayette Co 11 yrs ago to Murray aka Disney Land. I hope that many heed your advice!

    • Thank you so much! I plan to keep writing to Governor Bevin and our legislatures and hope you will do the same! Write, call, whatever you want to do let’s just make sure we don’t think it is what the answer is for Kentucky’s kids!

  4. In Ohio, charter schools were used to funnel cash into the Governor’s friends bank accounts. It’s the reason for taking public to private. I wouldn’t put much stock into the idea that charter schools produce better results. Just look at the results in Ohio since Kasich has been governor.

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