Part 1 is where I discussed why I became a teacher and those early years of my career.
Part 2 is where I delved into my experiences from 2000-2008. It gives some insight into how we got where we are today in public education.
In my 15 years in the classroom as a high school English teacher, there were ups and downs, and over time, it seemed there were more downs than ups.
Here’s the continued saga of my career as a teacher.
THE NEED FOR SOME SPACE
After about eight years as a teacher, I felt led to be a leader. I thought of becoming an assistant principal and ultimately, a principal. Because of the role models I had as a teacher and the administrators I worked with, I knew the kind of leader I wanted to be: a transformational leader who empowered teachers to be their best, who led with compassion and an attitude of servant leadership. I never wanted to forget what it was actually like to be a teacher in the classroom. My role model was Dr. Karen Janney, the current superintendent of the Sweetwater Union High School District in San Diego, where I worked for 12 years. I met Karen when she was an Assistant Superintendent, and then when I was a student at SDSU, she was my professor. I got to know her personally, and I am so proud to call her a friend. She is the epitome of what a school leader should be – intelligent, caring, compassionate, charismatic, dedicated, and a good listener. She is a genuine person and leader. I wanted to try to be like her.
I had it all worked out. Earning my administrative credential was the first step, and I completed that in 2007.
And then I got pregnant.
When I got pregnant, I was ready for a break from the classroom after teaching for 10 years. It was good to step outside and relax. Things were really starting to change in education. It was 2008, six years away from the magical year of 2014 when 100% of students were going to be proficient according to NCLB.
I took one year off from teaching, with the full intention of going back to teach after that.
One year later, I discovered two things: 1) I really loved being a mom, and 2) I did NOT want to go back to work. So I took another year off.
And then another.
During my time off from teaching, I was still very much interested in what was happening in public education. All the feelings I had about the state of things and the growing emphasis on testing and accountability that had started to bother me as a teacher were still there, only now I was reading about it instead of experiencing it first hand.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
In 2011, when my daughter was three years old, I felt ready to return to work. Only things had changed in several ways. First of all, though I was working in the same district as before, I was at a new high school. So that was an adjustment in terms of learning where things were, who was in charge of what, what my new boss required of me, and what I was going to be teaching.
Secondly, Common Core was now in place. So I had to make a shift in terms of what I was planning to teach. My initial thoughts about CC was that the standards were kind of blah compared to the previous CA ELA standards. Like, we were already doing these things before CC came along! In other words, when we had the CA ELA standards and backwards planning was what was expected – starting first with what and how we were going to assess students – I feel like the standards were clear (or at least clearer than CCSS) in terms of what was to be assessed. But with CCSS, it was not at all clear what was going to be assessed. Many of the English standards were vague and some of them couldn’t even clearly be assessed at all, and others were so very specific. So I was frustrated by that because I had become well-versed in breaking down a standard and determining the best way to assess mastery of it myself. But now I saw that these standards were part of a bigger plan, and I didn’t like it. I was also dismayed by the influx of informational text and the resulting decrease in literature, as well as CC developer David Coleman’s insistence on how we teach literature. I was becoming increasingly bothered by all of this. This was not why I became an English teacher.
But fine, now we had CCSS, and I needed to get on board. We were also going to be transitioning to a new assessment, the Smarter Balanced test, in a few years, so I knew that was coming. And that it was a big deal.
In fact, a big change I saw was that there was now a LOT of emphasis on DATA. We looked at students’ test scores a lot more, trying to find out how we could improve them. We gave benchmarks to students and then, in grade level planning groups (or PLCs), reviewed the data to see how we could improve. And it’s not necessarily that this was a bad thing, but I strongly felt that there was a big emphasis on test data that hadn’t been there three years ago when I left to have a baby. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t really put it into words at that point. I missed talking about what we were going to teach and how to best assess it and how to really make our lessons engaging for our students. I missed talking about our students in a personal way as opposed to just talking about the data. You know, conversations about why Juan wasn’t doing well in class and how it might have to do with the fact that his beloved abuela had just died and what we could try to do to help him. I feel like we weren’t having those kinds of conversations anymore. It was just data, data, data all the time. I felt overwhelmed.
I’m sure some of my feelings of being overwhelmed came from me being a mom as well. After I had a child of my own, I feel I gained a sense of empathy for my students that I didn’t have before. It’s not that I didn’t care about them before, it’s just that I saw things differently as a parent. I was seeing them as a parent might see them, and not just in terms of a test score. So now that there was such an emphasis being placed on their test scores, I felt uneasy about it.
I was also looking for a job as an administrator. There weren’t many job openings for assistant principals at this time. And when one popped up, there were many applicants. I spoke with three different superintendents in San Diego who all told me basically the same thing: there were few openings, and when there were openings, there were a ton of very qualified applicants. In other words, a newbie like me didn’t stand much of a chance at that time to get into an administrative position. After two years of looking, I was deflated and starting thinking that it just wasn’t in the cards for me to be a school leader.
This also coincided with my growing frustration as a teacher with what was happening with the test-review data-make plans-test cycle I felt I was unwillingly stuck in as a teacher.
It was at this time that I had an a-ha moment and saw the big picture: that this was happening all across the country! That there were teachers who felt the exact same way I did! And we were all starting to find each other slowly online. Sometime around 2011, I discovered Diane Ravitch. I can’t remember exactly how I found her, but I think someone on Facebook posted an article she wrote in 2010. Then I found her blog, and I heard her speak in 2012 in San Diego. In 2013, I found the BATs. It was a big relief for me to see that there were other teachers – many others! – who were feeling the same way as I was.
I knew I had to do something. I wasn’t happy as a teacher. I couldn’t find work as an administrator. And there other things going on as well – the 2008 mortgage crisis hurt us and we lost our house. We had been renting a house, but rents in San Diego are high just like the home prices there, so we started looking at other options. My husband traveled a lot for work, and one place we traveled to frequently – and that I had visited several times and really liked – was Nashville, Tennessee.
OUT OF THE FRYING PAN…
And into the fire, pretty much. We moved to Nashville in 2013.
More to come soon in the final chapter, Part 4.