I returned to school this week committed to becoming a “Well-Being Superhero”, the moniker created by Martyn Reah for his #teacher5aday New Year’s challenge.
I had envisioned my origin story: Formerly harried teacher rises from the depths of the toxic testing sewage, where she was buried for years by the avalanche of an impossible workload, to find that she has developed superpowers manifesting in a laser-like focus on the purpose of her work, the ability to balance her personal life and workload with a mindful composure, and the strength to raise the status of her fellow teachers along with her own as she staunchly defends all that is right for her students and community.
I was golden. Nothing would stop me. I joined a gym. I spent quality time with my son, who was home from college for the holidays. I made and prioritized lists of the goals that I felt were most important for my classroom this semester.
And then the week began. It should have been an easy one. Monday was a professional development day and Thursday was cancelled due to frigid temperatures. Not exactly speeding bullets and tall buildings…or so it would seem.
The professional development session began with a description of recent changes in Tennessee’s teacher licensing requirements. In order for experienced teachers to renew a license, we must jump through a variety of new hoops to prove that we are worthy. Never mind that there are teacher shortages in special education and a sharp drop in applicants for new teacher training programs. Never mind that Tennessee’s value-added teacher evaluation model has been under criticism for poor validity in measuring teacher quality. The message in the licensure requirements is clear. We teachers must show that we need our jobs desperately enough to prove our worth to schools, instead of schools demonstrating that they need teachers with experience and commitment desperately enough to provide us with resources and support. I think teacher accountability may be my kryptonite.
But I was ready for my students on the first day of school. Our first semester grading period had been extended into the first two days of January due to a flu outbreak during final exam week in December that had caused many students to miss exams. I had quite a few students who needed to take makeup exams, but I made individualized grade improvement plans for each student to work on so that everyone would have a chance to remediate problem areas. The students seemed to have returned to school calmer and more focused than they were at the end of last year. Or was it my newfound superpowers helping to motivate them?
And then school was cancelled on Thursday. Had my superpower strengths even willed this gift of a full day to mark papers and complete grade spreadsheets? Who can say? With time to carefully analyze student papers, I was able to identify gaps in prerequisite knowledge and misunderstandings of procedures that might explain some of their difficulties learning the standards. I was impressed with many of my students’ progress toward meeting their course objectives. I was making the most of my laser-like-focus superpower and it felt good.
Most of my students had transferred into my class during the last grading period because they were not making progress in the general education setting, so the school’s computer-based spreadsheets included their transferred grades. And while all of my students are working behind grade level, they must still pass standards-based coursework to earn a general education diploma. Despite extensive accommodations and small group lessons to address deficit areas, I was disappointed with the low grade averages that resulted for a number of my students. Maybe it’s grade averaging that is my true kryptonite.
(In reality, I have to admit that I have a terrible attitude while I’m there and really don’t challenge myself. And I’m pretty conscious about wearing gym clothes in front of people. Shhh… but Lycra might also be my kryptonite…just a little.)
I prefer working outdoors, and had hoped to follow the lead of Hannah Norton, in her commitment to spending time in wild spaces every day. After all, the wild spaces begin in my backyard and work wonders on my well-being.
Flawed superheroes are all the rage right now, so maybe there’s still some hope for me. I read that the Green Lantern is even weakened by exposure to the color yellow. So, as long as I can still head past a line of school buses as I stride toward my classroom, I’ll stay in the game…tune in next time for the exciting conclusion.