Kids Just Wanna Learn

It has been almost 10 years since I became a teacher.  I didn’t have many expectations when I began. All I knew was that I wanted to provide the tools students needed to change their life because education had done just that for me.

A poor black girl from inner-city Chicago, I was bused to a gifted center from 3rd grade to 8th grade, where I was one of seven black kids in the entire grade. It was there I learned what I needed to excel, not just in the classroom but in life. Even though we were in a gifted school with students from all over Chicago, we still took the state tests. I recall those being the worst days of the school year.

I didn’t loathe taking the state assessments because they were hard; I hated them because those were the days that I felt like we didn’t learn anything – where we had to spend hours taking a test to tell us what we already knew.

I remembered that as I read about state legislators from Nashville and Memphis for are calling for an “indefinite pause of the state’s embattled test”. (Read more here.)

When I first heard of this, I was discouraged and angry.  Yes, the last few years have been a mess in Memphis and I assume the rest of Tennessee with the state tests.  From software problems to connectivity and a plethora of other issues, the past couple of years led to it not being counted against students or teachers. As an educator who not only sets high expectations for my students but also myself, I first saw this as an excuse for sub-par educators to continue to fail our students, specifically black and brown students in the inner-city.

I say this because, even though the state test didn’t “count”, I still received a report those years for my daughter, who scored “Proficient” in all of the tested categories.  I must also say that we don’t reside in a neighborhood with a track record of failing. Thus, whether the tests counted or not, learning still happened.

I straddled the fence on this topic, seeing both sides of the argument and leaning one way or another depending on what adult I spoke to.  Many parents and educators I spoke to want the test to be halted simply because it hasn’t’ been executed correctly. There are questions about the standards and alignment and how to adequately prepare. In those conversations, my biased ears heard “I want to be able to teach to the test.”

Another individual I spoke to questioned how halting the test would lead to achievement.  Many times, in failing schools and even districts, the buzz words are “growth” and not “achievement,” because there are so few students who are at grade level. Since the deficits are vast in some areas and schools, it’s important to also note growth, as the levels of achievement are seemingly non-existent. (Read more about growth vs. achievement here.) She feared that halting the test would lead to a lower percentage of growth (and achievement) as the years went by.

I wonder if the legislators realized these points when they stood in agreement to halt such an important measurement. Did they think of the long-term effects of a decision such as this? How it not only impacts education but the growth of the city and state? Would parents, professionals and others desire to live in a city/state where there is no defined measurement of academic achievement?

I’m usually very clear about where I stand, yet in this case, I still waver, so I asked my 10-year old daughter for her input.

“I mean, what’s the point of taking the tests if they don’t show how smart I really am. I thought they were easy but also a waste because I just wanted to learn.”

When she spoke, I smiled. Because the desire of all kids is learning, whether they are in a gifted school or not. I wonder if we focused more on teaching and giving the love of learning to students, if we would even be in this situation?

Dear White Teachers

It’s true that our perceptions are a collection of experiences lived through our concepts of reality.  What we “see” can vary from person to person, even in the same family. Perception is the reason why two siblings can have the same parents but have very different experiences. Perceptions are also the lenses in which we see others and how we treat them. Saying that, I wrote a short letter to white teachers who work in “the hood”.

Dear White Teachers,

If you work in an underserved, habitually and systemically deprived neighborhood as a teacher, you are not a savior. You do not wear a superhero cape that is invisible to everyone but you. Thus, it is not a part of your “calling” to save the little black and brown children. I’m sorry, but Jesus already did that.

I’m not speaking on anyone’s intentions because intentions can be good and still result in unfavorable outcomes. Neither am I devaluing the work you do, getting up each day and teaching can indeed be hard. I’m specifically speaking to the part of you, many times unintentional, that feels “good” about your work, the self-rewarding aspect of your internal makeup that doesn’t see that we don’t need your type of help. Honestly, we don’t need your help at all.

It doesn’t matter if you think you can relate, being an ally in this cause doesn’t mean you understand the depths of the generational effects of a white society. We weren’t emphatically taught of our importance and value by society. Not in the last couple of lifetimes. We consistently see images of us in every sector of media, here and abroad, as less educated, lesser civilized and less human. Our daughters still have a sliver of choices in the dolls that depict us. We have a section of books at the library, and an even smaller sliver of curriculum that we can identify with in our schools.

More often than not, my white counterparts struggle with classroom management. Whether they are “from” the area or not. Each year, I’ve encountered Referral Randy and Send-Out Susan, teachers who have no concept of the perception they had to the children they served, the entitlement that they exhibited when they entered a classroom that echoed an air of insistence in which students had to listen to them just because they were white. Let’s not forget to mention the desire to listen to hip hop and rap music during the day to connect, or even being the teacher who stays after-school to run a gender specific group. I have consistently sat in data meetings of these teachers who believe that any growth is good, that they are the best teacher since sliced bread, when their actual data is sub-par.

I personally take offense to the ways in which their efforts are seen as adequate when growth will most likely occur when an adult is consistently present. In education, there shouldn’t be a consolation prize for simply showing up. Yet, their unperceived entitlement results in a belief that their lower standard of excellence was good enough. To be completely honest, I can’t just blame them.

Society has consistently shown us that white mediocrity is acceptable, most times even rewarded. George Bush was a mediocre student – and he became President. I’ve repeatedly seen my white counterparts, both male and female, perform at a lower standard in the classroom and get promoted. I once worked in an organization whose head of curriculum couldn’t pass the Praxis teaching certification exam and only had a Bachelor’s degree – in music. I constantly witness white teachers have sub-par achievement and growth data and return the next year to teach the same subject.  In what other professions can you continually fail and continue practicing?

I recognize you may believe there is fallacy in my argument, however I write this from a place of personal truth. The essence of truth isn’t facts but lies in the pursuit of what is absolute. We absolutely don’t need ineffective teachers educating those students who have habitually been underserved, both intentionally and unintentionally. We absolutely don’t need your help in perpetuating the stigmas that exist on us by not reflecting on us in our entirety, while not placing undue emphasis on our current circumstance. And we most certainly, absolutely, don’t need your pity nor do we appreciate that you feel “good” about your work after teaching us for a day, week, months, or years.

What we do need is for you to operate in the spirit of excellence – our bar, not yours. The same level of excellence that we’ve operated in for decades and even centuries (check our scoreboard). We, I, need you to do more, especially for those who are playing catch-up in the classroom.

Signed,

Concerned Black Teachers Everywhere

Black with Kids – It’s NOT Magic

 

Being a mother of a Black pre-teen is more than a notion. In wanting to validate the greatness within my daughter, and even in others, I have often said the phrase “Black Girl Magic.”

“Work your Black Girl Magic!”

“Sprinkle that Black Girl Magic, hunny!”

“Yessss! That Black Girl Magic is shining!”

In saying it to my daughter once, I began to think about what “magic” really is.

Magic

a : the use of means (such as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces

b : magic rites or incantations (spells)

This has bothered me for some time. I wrote a blog for my young Black girls – requesting her to shine her Black Girl Magic at all times.

But what am I really saying? What are we really saying when we say this to our youth and sisters?

Why do we consider the excellence in which we move and be, to be magical? As if there lies no merit in it being just who we are, the perfectly designed being that is purposed to be great? Since when did accomplishments be diminished to being magic? Something supernatural, occurring under a spell or charm?

Why is this considered a phrase of validation?

I recall some of my favorite movies, Disney movies of course, where magic was a central element.  Aladdin and The Princess and the Frog. In both, the element of magic was used to alter reality. In Aladdin, the Genie gives supernatural gifts to Prince Aladdin to change his life; in The Princess and the Frog, the Shadow Man uses magic to alter reality in the most dark ways.

But we congratulate our girls by telling them they are Black Girl Magic?

I became furious! Maybe unwarranted, yet there were continuous thoughts of contradictions and confusion that followed.

Why can’t we just be great? Why we gotta always be magical?

Why are we so bent on being celebrated in the most interesting ways, that we forget that we are just being who we are designed to be? Would we really say, White Girl Magic? Or do we see a separate standard for ourselves that we must continuously paint a picture of make-believe for our youth?

Why must be supernatural when we exhibit what it looks like to operate in our individual gifts?

Anita Baker said it best,

The story ends, as stories do

Reality steps into view

No longer living life in paradise-or fairy tales

We are not in a fairy tale, (are there black fairy tales?) but in the reality that, in America, we have gassed up our black girls and boys by equating the actuality of their limitless potential and abilities with magic.

From now on, I think I’ll just say,

“You go girl!”

This Is (Permit Patty’s) America

I’m tired of people throwing stones and then hiding their hands. Especially white people.

Yep, I said it!

BBQ Becky. Rosanne Barr and now Permit Patty.

Now she’s sorry. Now she’s saying it wasn’t racially motivated and that she never really called the police.

White privilege is something that is real and unfortunately, the 8 year old little girl has realized that way too early.

Or is it too early? It’s a shame that that is even a question these days.

As a mother of a Black girl (who is indeed magical), I am daily faced with explaining to her 10 year-old self about the racial tension that exists in the world she grows up in. I remember the times I encountered racism, the moments I “knew” I was black. As Black Americans, we have all vividly encountered those moments where we felt small, infuriated, powerful yet helpless, hopeful and proud all at the same time. The stark dichotomy of those feelings is indescribable yet I’m sure everyone reading this knows what that has felt like. Let the church say Amen!

This little 8 year-old magical Black girl decided, with her mother, to take advantage of a hot summer day and sell water in front of her property. (SN: Does the aspect of property really matter? I’m sure it does, so for the sake of this argument, let’s just pretend it was the city’s property).

Sure, water is free. But this mother, if she was anything like me, wanted to teach her daughter the most important aspect of entrepreneurship – the art of the hustle.

Why not sell water on a hot day? How else will people know you’re selling water unless you shout it loud and proud? Why not provide a commodity to people as they walked by, while gaining the life experience of grinding.

But that’s it. White people don’t understand the grind.

Ok, ok. Let’s just say Permit Patty doesn’t.

Because if Permit Patty did, she wouldn’t have felt compelled to exhibit her white privilege in the most futile, asinine and wasteful way. Permit Patty, with her White Privilege, decided that she would teach the 8 year-old girl and her mother a lesson in what’s “right”. White right, of course. She thought it would be a good day to call her friends (ie., the police) to serve and protect her and her foolishness. Whether she called or not, the act of pretending to do so plays into the real fear and apprehension black and brown people have with law enforcement, but that’s another blog for another day.
Now, Permit Patty wants to apologize and recants the racial motivation, or lack thereof because she’s receiving death threats. Really? Really, Permit Patty. Have several seats.
Permit Patty, this is America.

This is the America we live in, where people like her feel entitled enough to a sidewalk which is most likely city property, to call the authorities to stop a little girl and her momma from selling water on a hot, summer day. The “America” that consistently tells our little black and brown girls and boys that they have a specific place and position, which completely contradicts us telling them daily that they are magical.

This is America. Where those who throw the stones run and hide their hand when they can’t take the reciprocity that exists in nature and physics – for every action there is a reaction.

This is the America that must change. Cause honestly, Permit Patty is just another representation of White America, with Dialing Debby, Snitching Stan or Patrolling Pete in the wings. We see it all too often. It’s sad that this is the America we are living in. But I’m ever so thankful that Permit Patty had just a phone and this didn’t turn into anything worse.

Even more sad that that’s a reality in this America.

All Summer ‘18

Honestly, education wasn’t my first career.

It was 2007 and I was 7 months pregnant with my now 10-year old daughter. Hustling, walking and grinding as a realtor didn’t seem appealing anymore, especially with an infant. I wondered, “What could I do to have summers off with my daughter as she grew up?”

Being an educator, the summer break is the one that I enjoy the most – it’s the time where I can spend countless hours with my own daughter, after she’s had to share me with hundreds of other children throughout the school year.

While this is not an exhaustive list, here are some cool things to do with your kids this summer, that won’t break the bank and fill your days with priceless memories!

1.       Cook a meal together.

I’m not the best cook and the word “chef” should never be synonymous with me, so www.myrecipes.com is my best friend.

2.       Visit the library and attend some of their awesome events!

Literacy is a foundational skill that should be strengthened even in the summer. Use the summer to check out books your child is interested in (school doesn’t always have interesting texts!) and while you’re there, check out some of the great events planned throughout the summer. Click here for Memphis Public Library site.

3.       Enrich your Memphis experience by visiting the many museums!

Memphis is saturated with great history in all areas, from music to art! Click here to see a list of museums and the days you and your family can visit for FREE!

4.       Play Charades!

There’s nothing like seeing my daughter imitate me – especially how I act when I’m upset and she’s in trouble!

5.       Make a video!

The current generation of kids is more savvy than I’ll ever be with technology! Take lots of videos and pictures and create a mini-movie with apps and even with your iPhone!

6.       Explore current events together, discussing the “Black Experience”

Before we had books, we relied on oral history and storytelling to provide us with gems of our history.  The world our black children are living in is very different than we lived in and comes with much more to be discussed. Take time this summer and ask your children about their experience, how it feels to #growupblack and what #parentingwhileblack feels like for you.

7.       Love on each other!

In my family, we often say that giving time is being “loved on”. Time spent together is more precious than anything; it can’t be replaced or replenished. With whatever you do this summer, do it WITH your kids! We would be surprised what memories they hold onto and how much we’d learn about each other in the process.

As long as I’m an educator and a mother, I will take delight in summer breaks. It’s not only a time to replenish and recharge for the upcoming school year, but it’s a time where I get to love on my black daughter and show her how much MAGIC she has!

And stay tuned for the weekly series, Parenting While Black, debuting in July!

 

Being Black with Kids – The Fight

“Why are your hands two different colors? It’s white on the inside and black on the outside?”

There are certain things that happen in one’s life that remain colorfully vivid, even 25+ years later. I’ll never forget that day. I was in 3rd grade, sitting at the lunch table when my classmate asked me those two questions.

I don’t remember if I perceived any inkling of innocence or maliciousness, but I do remember how small and insignificant I felt in that moment. I didn’t have an answer for the melanin on the outside of my skin, I hadn’t realized in all of my 9 years of existence that it was of any concern.

Yet it was that moment, being one of 5 black kids in an entire grade level and 1 of 2 girls who wasn’t mixed, that I realized my black was different and it made me feel inadequate.

Being in a “gifted school” was an academic feat, yet being a minority presented a burden I learned to carry. It didn’t become a chip on my shoulder but a weight on my back that forced me to learn how to walk straight despite the compressions. I worked 3x as hard with much less. I didn’t have any excuses for mediocrity, regardless of the external challenges I faced as a child living in poverty. For all intents and purposes, I was destined to fail, as I consistently had to prove that I deserved to be in that school amongst the others.

Living through those times and now being a mother, I consistently sit and reflect on the impact my life has had on me as a parent. As parents we do the best we can, yet there are times I wonder if my experiences have negatively colored my lenses.

I am raising a black daughter in the south.

Within that statement lies a connotation of implied racism that is synonymous with “the South”.  Having the experiences I have had in school throughout my adolescent years, I approach my daughter’s educational experiences with leery lenses, clouded by the perceived anticipated thoughts I have internalized over the years. I don’t shy off when fighting for my daughter. I strap up my combat boots figuratively and sometimes literally when I must encounter the all-white administration and teachers of her school. I purposefully dress down to “throw them off”, hoping to elicit their honest thoughts of who they are encountering by reading their demeanor in how they approach and begin our meetings. Yet my body language immediately signifies, “I don’t play about my daughter” while concurrently commencing to intentionally speaking in intense academic jargon when speaking with them to exhibit my thorough knowledge of education.

While this seems elaborate in hindsight, it is something so ingrained in my consciousness that I don’t realize I do it until it’s done.

My daughter is a statistic. She is the only child of a single mother, bearing the last name of her father, indicating her family unit make-up without even asking. I’ve been in education long enough, as a teacher and administrator, to know automatically what the consensus is of children of fatherless households.

That is why I fight.

Or do I fight today to make up for the transgressions of my past? Do I fight for my daughter or am I fighting for the 9 year-old me? Am I seeing her teachers and administrators authentically or do I judge them out of the eyes of “little Marlena”?

Being Black with Kids raises more questions than answers. There are many times I have prepared questions of racial undertones at my daughter when she recaps her day. “Do you think your teacher acted that way because you are black? Did she treat “Susan” the same way she treated you when you did XYZ?” Many times, my daughter looks at me confusingly; I’m sure she’s unsure how she should answer because she knows her momma.

Because she knows her momma, I will never forget the apprehension in her spirit the day she told me about being falsely accused by her teacher and subsequently reminded of her “place” by her counselor. She followed what I taught her – If your teacher is being unfair, request to speak to another adult, then come home and let me handle the situation. Her counselor’s words were what she remembered. “Every teacher doesn’t have to like you”.

If her aunt, cousin or peer would have said those words, it would have been from a place of empowerment and purpose, because its true. If I would have said those words to my daughter, it would be perceived as a lesson in life, to stand regardless of opinion. But because her counselor is a white woman in her 30’s, those words struck me as a direct implication of her Blackness.

And I geared up for a fight.

Even if the intent behind some of the actions of her teachers are pure and without prejudice, the fact remains that being Black with kids comes with a heightened level of consciousness, an intense desire to teach our children what to do in the face of injustice and a cautionary stripping of innocence of just growing up.

It’s a constant reminder that we raise our kids differently, purposefully, intentionally and without apology.

Unfortunately, being Black with kids also means I understand wholeheartedly how far we think we are in years but how close in reality we are to pre-civil rights segregated America right now. Being Black with kids is a constant fight – to be heard, to be seen and to be treated individually first. Cause equal aint even an option if you can’t see me individually.

 

“What do I do?”

I am a first-generation college student and sole college graduate in my family. In 2018, it seems like we shouldn’t still have “Firsts,” but that’s another blog for another time.

As an educator, I’m very open with my students and others about my journey. There were times I had to complete my homework outside because we didn’t have electricity. I *still* sleep on floors because it’s synonymous with comfort and safety, especially when bullets have no name. I grew up on the west side of Chicago, in arguably the worst side of town.  I had fights in the neighborhood because I sat on our porch and read, seemingly acting like I was “better than everybody.”

Education has been, hands down, the one thing that has provided me with a sense of stability, opened doors for me, and has been a constant in my life.

Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am. Point blank. Period.

Yet, as much as having a high-quality education has been the cornerstone of who I am as an educator, activist, and life-long learner, I can’t say that my daughter is realizing that same dream.

If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that my daughter isn’t receiving anything close to the education I did. She hasn’t been exposed to great teachers in a great school with a track record of success that spans decades. Her school isn’t ranking in the top schools in the state, nor is there a pipeline of excellence that she is being prepared for.

I struggle so much with this.

I often tell my students I’m the best teacher they will have. Sure, it’s subjective, but I love all my students like my own…

Or do I love them more?

I fight every day to give my students the education they deserve, while sending my daughter to a school that still isn’t up to par either. Sure, she doesn’t attend an inner-city school, her classmates aren’t grade levels behind, nor does her teacher have most of the behaviors I have dealt with, but as I write this, I contend that MY daughter is at a disadvantage too.

Do I leave the 99 to get the one?

What if the ONE is my daughter?

As a single mother, I can’t afford to homeschool and teach her what she needs to be competitive globally. Without working, I’m not able to pay for varsity dance, enrichment camps and mentoring programs that enhance her adolescent experience.  In these cases, she does have “more” than the students her mommy teaches.

But she doesn’t have “ME”.

Of course, no one will do you better than “you,” but my daughter has never experienced a teacher that has even come close – one with the passion, content knowledge, and love for educational equity that I have. What’s more unfortunate is that I haven’t taught in a school where I would even take my daughter to either.

I often questioned God and my purpose. I found myself pouring out in prayer last night, an inner cry engulfed in sadness.

“Lord, would you have me to forsake my own for the upliftment of others? How can I serve her in the same capacity that I give to the students I teach? Is this the path that I am supposed to take? What more can I do for her? Am I enough for her when I’m trying to fulfill my purpose in you?”

And when I got off my knees, when I stood up and began my day, I was reminded that this fight

isn’t for me alone That the answers may not come all at once. That I need others to make the changes necessary for all.

And even more so,  I realized my journey is not my daughter’s journey. My work is in educational equality and equity, for my students and for her. While my students may have me for 10 months, my daughter has me for a lifetime. That can and never will compare.

That revelation has changed my entire perspective. It has made this fight feel worth it and gave me fuel for the fight to come. I may be the only gladiator my students see, a fire may be ignited in the hours we spend together. Concurrently, there may be a fire ignited in my daughter from seeing her mother work so hard for others, for she does not belong to me. I am yet a steward for the greatness within her.

I don’t have to choose to leave the 99 for the 1.

Have any other mothers felt the same? Do you feel torn between your calling and your children, especially in education?

 

Equity in Funding?

In the quest for equity in education, some school districts, including Shelby County, will be adopting student-based budgeting for the 2018-2019 school year.  Here is what you need to know about what these changes are and how it seeks to even the playing field for students with the most need.

1.       The district will not have a set amount for all students, such as $8,200 per pupil. Instead, every school will receive $3,400 per student.

2.       There are categories of need that will allocate more funds to specific students.

a.       Students with disabilities

b.       Mobility (how often students move from school to school, a rate that is measured by the amount of students who transfer into a school after the 20th day)

c.       Student performance (Students who score below grade level and students who score above grade level

d.       Grade level (Additional funds for K – 5, with a higher weight on K – 2 students)

Not only am I an educator, but I am also a parent.  I have yet to be in a place where those two positions and identities agreed on educational reform.

The educator in me sees this a unique opportunity to provide students with a greater need more funding on the school level.  Within this model, a school’s principal has greater autonomy on how to best serve the students at the school, whether that is with more teaching assistants and specialized staff or additional training.  A principal would be able to have the funds necessary for students who need greater levels of support. As an educator, this appears to be a great opportunity to address specific deficits in the students I teach.  Most recently, I taught 36 5th graders in one class.  Only 5 students were identified as students with disabilities; however, there were only three students who were performing at grade level.  The other 28 students were below grade level and would be eligible for additional funds with this model. Thus, all but three of my students would have received additional funds within this model and depending on how the mobility rate was determined, those individuals may receive additional funding if they came into the school year after the first day.

The thought of having additional funds for these students sounds like music to my ears. We could get leveled readers, additional curriculum resources, or even an additional assistant for small group instruction. As a teacher, student-based funding would be the answer to the disparities that exist in low-income, impoverished schools – provided principals used these funds appropriately.

Yet, as a parent of an upcoming 6th grader, this model leaves her out.  My daughter is an “on-grade level” student.  Under this model, she would not receive any additional funding outside of the $3,400. She is not identified as a student with disabilities, would not qualify under “mobility” since we don’t move often, and will be going to middle school, which isn’t a priority grade in this model.  I’m not an expert in this model – yet I emphatically know, it takes more than $3,400 to educate her for the entire school year. As a parent, I’m a bit frustrated, thinking, there seems to be embedded “punishment” for being on grade-level.

There is a constant dichotomy present in my life – one that advocates for the students I serve, who are in contrast to the daughter I am raising.  This situation is no different. I applaud Shelby County for seeking opportunities to provide equity in education, like other districts in Denver, Houston, Nashville, and Seattle, but those cities demographics are quite different than Memphis.

I’d love to learn more about how this model will help and benefit all students. And because being a parent is my priority, I’d love to know how this model benefits MY daughter and many other “on grade-level” students.

To read more about Shelby County’s proposed plan, click here.

A New Sheriff in Town!

A few weeks ago, I appealed to the powers that be in charge of electing the next leader of the Achievement School District to have a few things in mind during the process of their selection. I’ve heard of “ask and it shall be given”- and most times those things I desire manifest. Never thought it would be applicable in this case!

As I read Chalkbeat’s announcement of ASD’s new leader yesterday, it was like a ray of sunshine on a rainy gloomy day, a streak of hope breaking through the clouds.  For the first time in a few years, I had an immense amount of hope in the future of ASD.

The Achievement School District announced Dr. Sharon Griffin, a Memphis native, as their next leader. With the official titles of Assistant Commissioner of School Turnaround and Chief of the Achievement School District, she will bring her vast experience in turn-around work to the district at its most pivotal point in its history. She was not among the finalists announced previously, which hints at a level of humility and regained purpose from the ASD that is necessary to really turn things around.

Dr. Griffin’s accomplishments and accolades can be easily gleaned with a quick Google search. Her track record of success is just that – a record of success. She is exactly what the most underserved students of Tennessee need in this moment – a champion who has been fighting for children for over 25 years.

In my previous blog, the rally cry rested on wondering, “Where do we go from here?” With so many students still “failing,” the lack of consistency left me with questions that were mainly answered with this announcement. Dr. Griffin’s prior accomplishments with Shelby County and the I-Zone schools is proof positive that she is not only poised for this next endeavor, but purposed for it.

Good job, ASD! Looking forward to good things to come…

 

Tennessee NOT Ready, Again!

I’ve sat each day since Monday wanting to write and each day, something else changes that compounds my feelings and thoughts as both a parent and educator.

Each day, I have placed hope in a system that consistently fails me. I feel like I’m a devout Christian, living out the WWJD? mantra in a loveless marriage with a habitual liar. I keep turning the other cheek and getting hit again…

As of today, the TN Ready tests that some students have taken since Monday will not count this year against teachers or students. The scores will not be used for teacher evaluations nor will it negatively impact students.

According to various news outlets,  the “Tennessee General Assembly struck a deal on Thursday that said the testing results will only count if it benefits students, educators and districts.”

Only if it benefits…

It is no secret that I have taught in the poorest neighborhoods in Memphis, in schools that have been taken-over by the state for their years of “failing” test scores. These schools were adopted by charter management organizations who have labeled themselves as “turn-around” schools (stay tuned for a subsequent blog about this term and the actual results).

It is these schools that won’t produce beneficial scores.

It is these students who have, once again, been failed.

Let’s not mention the fact that many are subject to teachers who lack the experience and pedagogy to hone their practice of teaching in order to not teach to the test, which has in Tennessee, changed almost each year since 2013 (when I arrived).

It is these students who have endured countless hours of instruction while their teachers tried to close the “achievement gap” with individualized instruction, small group instruction, homework, and even double-blocks of reading and math.

The decision makers of Tennessee has once again failed my students.

I can’t speak for all students, but I do speak for my black students, who believed in themselves and their abilities because I intentionally sought to build their confidence and efficacy while strengthening their foundational reading skills. They were proud to sit and try their best these last few days. They didn’t give up and get frustrated with words they didn’t know, nor did they give up in frustration because their academic endurance isn’t like their more affluent counterparts.

It is these students whose scores won’t be “beneficial” because they won’t be Proficient or Advanced. But I knew that.

It is these students who won’t be able to see their growth or even try for the rest of the remaining testing days (over 2 weeks) because, it doesn’t count anyway.

I hate to say it, but I’m sick and tired of failing my students. I’m sick and tired of giving my all each day to a system that doesn’t respect anyone’s efforts, time, energy, and dedication.

How can a teacher stay motivated in a state that doesn’t have an effective system to measure knowledge acquired? How can parents believe their child is getting an adequate education that will be a foundation for the rest of their lives if the tests don’t count in the fundamental years?

And why the hell would a student, who has been accustomed to a lackluster school who skates by because there aren’t standardized tests to hold them accountable to excellence in education, even care about being better, being different, or giving more when their school year can be wiped away by end-of-year tests that don’t count?

I’m so disappointed; I’m physically ill.

There will always be those that think this is a good idea. Sure it is, when it isn’t executed properly, but WHEN will it be done properly? WHEN will Tennessee get it together? Why is it ok to play with students in this manner? Who doesn’t see this as another slap in the face to our black and brown students who are already underserved? Because in most cases, their scores won’t be beneficial.

It’s not like we’re the only state in the entire country that has schools. At this point, someone needs to phone a friend, get a lifeline and buddy up with a city that is executing properly and have them print up the tests. Tennessee clearly can’t get it together and we’re losing ground with the people we have in place now.

I said it before – excellence starts at the top. With who we have in charge, it’s no surprise things are the way they are.