Dear Teach, a word of encouragement for you

maria

You know you’ve been grading papers too long in one setting when you have to stop yourself from writing sarcastic comments on your students’ papers as feedback. #guilty

What I wanted to write on one kid’s fiction analysis in my reading class: “What in the world?!?! Did we even read the same story?”

What I actually wrote: What was the main problem the character had to fix?

Other times I masked my true feelings…

What I wanted to write: Is this in English?

What I actually wrote: Use your Frequently Misspelled Words list.

What I wanted to write: For the love! You might as well start copying your partner. You’re never going to make it in this class!

What I actually wrote:  Tutorials are every Monday and Tuesday after school. Please make arrangements to come next week.

When I reach this stage of paper grading, I know it’s time to hop up and take a break for a bit. Bye Felicia! I’ll be back when I can record grades without choking back mouth vomit.

We’re about a month into school now; we’re settling into routines. We’re identifying struggling students, setting goals, making adjustments, probably clicking along at a pretty steady pace. As we begin to settle into fall and the first round of assessments are administered, we sometimes begin to fully realize the pressure put upon us as teachers. For me, it’s usually about this time of year when I begin to feel overwhelmed… by a myriad of things: getting students to be successful in the classroom and having data to prove it, balancing work life/family life, beating down the to-do lists faster than they can grow, wondering if I’ll ever get a few minutes of peace to myself before bedtime without accidentally falling asleep… just a number of things that make me feel uptight. Inevitably, when I feel stressed out, I have to deal with self-doubt. This leads to more negative self-talk than I care to admit.

Anticipating this natural shift in the year, I’m being more intentional this time in dealing with my feelings. This year, I have a battle plan in place. (Because, yes, I’m one of the many who contributed to the $11.4 million dollar success of the film War Room.“The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy.”) This year I’m choosing to take a pro-active approach to stress and self-doubt. I’m on the offensive now, and through much prayer I’ve identified my battle cry: 2 Timothy 1:7.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

A timid person is one who shies away from confrontation. A timid person feels unconfident in the face of strife. This is the chick who wishes things were better but never figures out how to actually make it happen. This is Elle Woods, when who we really need is G.I. Jane.

According to this verse (advice Paul offered to his BFF Timothy while being imprisoned for his beliefs), Jesus has equipped us with a spirit that is ready to take the offensive. In the face of self-doubt, he empowers us to stand up for ourselves and to protect our well-being. He provides us with the emotional, mental, and spiritual power to claim his truths instead of the lies the enemy would lead us to believe. We should not let Stress tell us that we are a poor teacher or an inattentive mother this year. Let’s ignore the voice that makes us question if our struggling students will be successful or if our family would be better off with a wife/mom who, like, cooks and stuff.

When we feel maxed out, isn’t it super easy to be irritable and snarky to the people around us? Through the grace of Jesus, we are provided with a spirit that continues to communicate in love. Therefore, this year I’m more equipped to approach my students, my colleagues, and my own family with patience and kindness.

Lastly, I am so thankful for the self-discipline to stay the course even when I am so exhausted I can’t even stay awake through a whole episode of Grey’s Anatomy. When we feel worn out, know that the enemy will want to strike us when we’re weak. In these moments, we’re more likely to lash out or give up. But, hopefully, this year will be different. As we begin to feel overwhelmed, pray this verse. Refuse to let self-doubt creep in and cause undue damage.  Let’s claim our right as a child of God saved through grace, to a mindset of power, love, and steady self-discipline.

Are you ready for battle?

A Prayer for Teachers

It’s that time of year again. In Texas at least, teachers are reporting back to duty this week. Good-bye slow mornings with no alarms. Good-bye afternoon movie dates and post-lunch naps! (I’ve always been told to sleep when the baby sleeps, and even though my youngest is nearly three, I still live by that creed. Mama takes her sleep SER.I.OUS.LY.) Good-bye mid-week grocery shopping. Good-bye late nights with one more cartoon and a few more snuggles. Good-bye to my crush, Jimmy Fallon. We’ve had a hilarious summer and I’m pleased to see your finger is healing nicely, but now reality calls. Until next year…

From one educator to another, I want to say to you, Dear Teacher, that I pray for you this week. Leaving the luxuries of summer behind is a yearly adjustment for all of us. In just a couple of weeks, you’ll face a roomful of new faces and try without success to remember what it was like to wake up after the sun instead of before it. As you look into your students’ eyes for the first time in a week or so, I want you to remember that you were lifted up in prayer and readied for this moment.

Dear Teacher, those kiddos (even the big ole’ seventeen- and eighteen-year-old ones) need you this year. They need to hear repeatedly that they are worth your time, that they are capable of big things, and that hard work will eventually pay off. They need you to speak these truths to them so many times that your voice becomes their inner voice. When they tell themselves, “Yes, this is hard! But difficult does not equal impossible,” they hear you. They’ll give it a try… for you. Because they think you believe they can.

Teach, they’re watching you this year. Don’t forget that they’re learning important life skills, the ones that have nothing to do with Reading or World History. They see how you treat other staff members and how you deal with conflict yourself. They see how you face the day with work to be done while your personal life crumbles to pieces and brings you to the brink of emotional instability. They’re learning from you, every moment, just by being near you. How should I politely tell this person they made me mad? What do I do when I’m afraid to go home after school? How do I admit I need help? Be intentional with your integrity and your character this year, Teacher. Your students need you beyond your subject area.

Dear Teacher, I pray that you will be what your students need you to be this year. Maybe some of those boys need a patient teacher, one who can always greet them with a hug and a smile… even in April or May. Maybe a few of those girls need a listening ear or a kind word to speak louder than the belittling ones they hear outside your room. Maybe your students just need you to remember that they’re still kids. And inevitably, kids are bound to act like kids. It’s not always convenient when data demands need to be met. But we’re not raising a generation of numbers, are we?

Teacher, I pray you’ll enjoy your last moments with your family or friends before the year steals your time. I pray you will be fortified and ready for the students God will bring through your door this year. I pray you will have the support you need and the confidence you deserve to have an unforgettable year.

And because I know my prayers will never fall on deaf ears, I pray for the REALLY important things too: I pray there won’t be a line at the copier when you’re in a hurry. I pray it won’t jam when the line is seven people deep behind you. I pray you receive Starbucks gift cards at Christmas instead of another candle. I pray your name is accidentally left off the committees list. I pray your duty is minimal, and your raise is significant. I pray for extra hours in the day when you need to grade research papers. I pray for the rest of your assessments to be online multiple-choice quizzes. I pray for patience when you need it, rest when you’re weary, more laughter to share with your  students.

Here’s to another stellar year, Dear Teacher!

Confessions of a Teacher: Learnt

I wouldn’t say I’m a racist. That’s always been an ugly word, especially now. I think it’s okay to admit I suffered from a certifiable case of culture shock.

I’m thinking of the year I was hired to teach in what some might label a stereotypical “inner city” middle school, though the students there are not near as hardened as you might be imagining. Nonetheless, I had my first taste of this culture shock that summer before school started. The gentleman who happened to be on campus that July day and kindly escorted me through the halls sheepishly led me past a glaring, three-foot tall blue penis spray-painted on the window outside my new classroom. One of the first things I noticed about my new room when I crossed the threshold for the first time was a smaller, equally offensive version of the same blue genitals on the window behind my desk (The term blue balls suddenly took on a whole new meaning. At least there was that to laugh about.) Also, lining the back of my classroom where I expected a wall to be was an accordion-style folding partition. Not exactly my dream job of teaching, I could tell that much. The first few minutes I was in my new room, I cried. It was not even my first day of actual teaching for that district, and already I was replaying scenes from Dangerous Minds in my head. Should I make room in the lesson plans for Michelle Pfieffer’s Dylan-Dylan contest? How many Snickers bars would I need to buy? Would my new anthem become my favorite song from that movie, “Gangsta’s Paradise”?

I am a white, approaching middle-age woman; most of the students I taught the four years I was at that middle school were not white. They were largely made up of Hispanics and African-Americans. To be candid, to be authentic, I felt like a fish out of water.

My culture was not their culture.

My values were not their values.

And this created problems.

I did have a problem with many of my students… I had a problem with EXTREME apathy toward learning, despite my best and most innovative efforts to win my students over. I had a problem with families who offered no classroom support and made no effort to give their kids the impression that school is important. I had a problem with kids thinking the streets are cool, preparing for the future and being smart is not. I had a problem with families who gloated in generational welfare. I had a problem with three of our 8th grade students being pregnant during the year. I had a problem with a lot of things. I experienced a complete clash of our cultures.

I spent four years of my teaching career feeling like a failure because I struggled to merge the cultures and values of many of my students with my own. My numbers were no different; my data was comparable to other teachers on campus, even better than some in areas of student growth. But, in the year I’ve been out of that school district, I’ve endured an incessant, gnawing feeling. Why couldn’t I be successful? How should I have overcome paralyzing culture shock?

How did I fail?

I use to be a good teacher. Best practices, collaborative learning, differentiated instruction, engaging lessons, all of these teacher-y things were second language to me. Not a blessed one worked in my new school.

Which leads me to this: Edward M. Baldwin’s book, LearntLearnt

I plucked it from the overcrowded shelf at the public library because of this jacket synopsis: “Kenny Houston is a white teenager with problems… and he’s being shipped to Lincoln High, a predominantly black alternative school in a week. …Tony Avery is a black man with problems too. He’s Lincoln High’s new English teacher, but he’s not very popular. Portraying an authentic African-American dialect, Learnt tells the story of a discouraged teacher and a troubled student learning the most valuable lessons of their lives in one of Duval County’s worst high schools. A tale that speaks out to teachers, parents, and anyone who has ever set foot in a high school classroom.”

Wow.

I buried myself in the world of “Kenny Houston” and “Tony Avery” this past week, wondering how much of myself I might be lucky enough to discover among its pages. A “discouraged teacher and a troubled student learning the most valuable lessons of their lives”? A clash of cultures. With a happy ending.

The book did not disappoint. I kept asking myself, Why doesn’t Avery just quit? (He asks himself the same question repeatedly, especially after trying days when he rushes home feeling defeated and ready to lick his wounds.) He never does though. He is determined to keep at it. Throughout his journey in surviving his first year of teaching, proving administration and the community wrong, and finding his own teaching niche in which to settle, Avery’s heart spirals back to the same fundamental principle: there are students who need him.

Above all else, the novice teacher treasures relationship. He allows room in his heart for any kind of relationship his students are willing to offer. Some students come to adore him and relinquish enough to become compliant, well-behaved students for him. Some maintain their “old ways,” the same behaviors that scared off two other teachers before Avery. They at least respect him enough to let him teach without too much disruption, even if they never actually become ardent learners themselves. Others actually fall into a fairytale ending when they truly enjoy learning for the first time and make great academic strides. They were capable all along. They just needed the right key to unlock their potential.

Avery doesn’t always understand his students. He can’t always relate to them. They predictably grumble when he assigns homework. He makes home visits and is surprised to find he’s not welcome by some of their parents. But it always comes back to the same idea: relationships. Avery achieved what I feel like I ultimately let become a struggle for me: Relationships trump everything else. Relationships especially trump cultures that clash.

I’ve known it all along: Teachers are in the business of people, not education. Teachers should protect those people at all cost: by accepting them and every pound of baggage they’re forced to drag behind them, by not giving up on them as individuals despite how many of them collectively hold morals or values that are different from our own, and by, above all else, loving them for who they could be and not who they may be today.

What an awesome responsibility I took on in becoming a teacher! I am accountable for those things, as I should be. As Baldwin concedes about the unsung hero of his story:

“If they [his students] fail, he’s partly to blame. But even though the blame wouldn’t be entirely his, he knows his part in their failure would be the most pronounced. …Besides, students and parents don’t claim to have majored in their position, or graduated with a three-point-seven-two grade point average while studying to be a student or a parent. Students and parents haven’t gone through workshops and internships, bent on honing their techniques and skills before being awarded with the title of ‘student’ or ‘parent.’ They don’t wield a diploma that claims they know what they are doing. They are not really expected to be professional or even the slightest bit good at what they do, and they can’t successfully argue that what they do deserves a paycheck.”

But we educators do. It is our challenge to take the blame for our students who fail. We have spent years perfecting our craft. Students are just students; parents are just parents. But relationships… relationships will bridge most gaps and, I want to believe, eventually settle the conflict of clashing cultures.

So, I’m not supposed to use the S– word in my classroom?

I cryptically repeated the exact same statement for the third time, trying my absolute darndest not to use any inflection that could be deemed “inappropriate.” “If you would like a dictionary, please raise your hand.”

Surely the third time will be the charm, I thought to myself. Nevermind that this was a READING TEST, of which new vocabulary makes up a sizable percentage of the score. Obviously. Nevermind that the kid I was hoping would catch on and raise his hand already owned the specific dictionary I was offering him. I mean, it’s his. He bought the electronic dictionary from Best Buy himself. He wrote his name on it in permanent marker. Forever until the end of time, or at least for two more weeks before this technology becomes obsolete, it’s his personal dictionary. So, why didn’t I just hand him the darn thing? FOR THE READING TEST?

Because this is the STAAR test, and state testing rules trump common sense.

Rules that govern how to administer the dreaded S- word, the Standardized Test, dictate that I may NOT hand out dictionaries to each student in the testing room, but I may OFFER them. FOR THE READING TEST. Apparently automatically passing one out to each student would be demanding a certain reading strategy be used. FOR THE READING TEST.

It is this kind of ridiculousness that makes me question my role as an educator. The state of Texas has taken micro-managing to an entirely new level. If I wasn’t so frustrated, I would be impressed.

As a classroom teacher for 13 years, I can assure you, the state has lost its collective mind in terms of uniform, standardized testing. Not my specific school district, not my campus, not the teachers on my hall.

But for your viewing pleasure, here are some more rules that prove standardized testing has completely lost sight of the Big Picture in education:

1. During testing, students may not wear sweatshirts with front pockets. They may not wear hoodies or jackets with hoods or jackets with pockets. (Hey, at least we let them keep their pants.) And please point me toward the section at Target that does NOT sell sweatshirts with front pockets or hoodies or jackets with hoods and front pockets for teenagers and preteens. When you find that store, you should buy them out. Just take out a small personal loan and go home with the entire stock. It’ll be a worthwhile investment every spring when testing days roll around.

What if one of our students tried to cheat on the state assessment? Some have, and undoubtedly more will. But slow your roll. Are we raising a generation of students who are so adept at cheating that they’ll spend more effort on cheating than on actually thinking? If that’s the case, shouldn’t we be more focused on the problem of an entire generation of dishonest humans?

2. Common testing supplies (like highlighters, dictionaries, scratch paper for the math test) may be requested by the student but cannot be initiated by the test administrator.

3. Teachers may only actively monitor during the assessment. All attention must be focused on the students at all times. For four hours. Teachers are expected to circulate around the room, never spending “too much time” in one location.

monitoring pic

4. Teachers are also expected to check on the students while they are working by double checking that each student is working on the correct part of the test and that they are bubbling their answers on the appropriate section of their scantrons, without leaving any questions blank.

5. At the same time, teachers are forbidden to look at ANY. PART. of the test. Somehow, we are to check the students but not actually read any of the words on the page. Don’t stare too long!

We’re molding a generation of teachers who are perfecting the art form of looking without seeing, which is a useful skill to have exactly 0 other times in life.

Keep in mind, naive reader, that our public schools are currently in “Stage 1” of a three stage system, built to increase the rigor of our state tests…er… I mean, instruction. Surely, the end purpose is to increase the rigor of classroom instruction statewide. But if that’s the case, then why was the passing requirement of tests like 6th grade math set at 34% and 8th grade reading at 56% in 2014? Even the lawmakers are admitting, “It ain’t gonna happen!”

* Should educators in Texas be held accountable for their effectiveness as teachers? YES! A resounding yes!

* Should students be held accountable for mastering age-appropriate educational concepts? Absolutely!

* Is a state-wide, one-size-fits-all assessment the best way to accomplish these goals? Doubt it.

But this is what has become of our public educational system in Texas. It’s not exactly what I signed up for when I first tried on those rose-tinted glasses my first year of teaching and embarked on my journey to change the world, one adolescent heart at a time.

I certainly never dreamed I’d witness a Facebook uproar as teachers banded together in an attempt to shoot down state legislation that has the potential to create a mass exodus of employees out of the field of education. (I am not a political guru; I have no business quoting legislative topics. But I can tell you everything you need to know about HB 2543. Scary, isn’t it?)

Do doctors get paid according to how many patients they cure?

Are preachers earning their paycheck based on how many people they convert each year?

Do collegiate professors earn their salary based on how many students earn a degree within the field in which they are being taught? (The instructors from my glory days of college sure are glad that isn’t the case. How many times did I change my major?)

The good new is this: I have, quite literally, taught my way across Texas, from the piney woods of East Texas all the way to the frozen tundra I like to call the Texas Panhandle. And in every district I’ve been a part of, I have met, learned from, and been challenged by REALLY GREAT TEACHERS. The state hasn’t totally ruined us. Not yet anyway. Teachers all over this great state are working innovatively and creatively to both prepare your student for Life and for the dern test. For the most part, teachers have found a pleasant balance. They are offering engaging, relevant, often project-based lessons. They are fiercely holding on to the responsibility of raising your student to become a productive, contributing member of society one day, not just really great test-takers. But make no mistake about it, teachers are also making sure your student is ready to pass the test. But, deep down, you’re actually pacified by that. Admit it: you’d complain if you felt your student wasn’t prepared for the test.

The take-away is this: Teachers are doing the teacher thing WELL. Your student is learning. The state assessment itself seems to have grown too big for its britches, and that creates a lot of friction. But regardless of what craziness the state creates for our public school classrooms, teachers are still in the business of loving on your children and providing for their educational needs.

5 Teacher Stereotypes: Are you one of these?

Can you identify yourself or any of your colleagues?

1. The “Cool” Teacher

This teacher is easy to spot. He’s stylishly dressed, and he’s the one getting fist bumps from every student who passes him in the hallway. You can’t hold a conversation with this guy because of all the kids interjecting with “Hey, Mr. Battle!” as you walk together to the lounge to check your mailbox. Even his name is cool. All the other teachers secretly want to be his friend too. But he’s already taken. His bestie is The Coach.

2. The Coach

Commonly referred to as The Group Work Teacher, this one runs his classroom just like he runs his team. A few examples:

With his team #1: No athlete will speak during practice unless spoken to. Don’t even attempt a response without direct eye contact and a response that ends in “Yes sir!”

In the classroom: No student will speak during class unless spoken to. Don’t even attempt a response without direct eye contact and a response that ends in “Yes sir!”

With his team #2: Players are expected to review the weekly scouting report. They are told to pair up with a teammate in the like position and quiz each other on their roles for the next game.

In the classroom: Students read the weekly chapter from the textbook. They are told to work in groups; complete the study guide at the end of the chapter.

With his team #3: Team gathers in locker room to watch and discuss game film.

In the classroom: Class watches a film after every test. “Wait! There’s a movie for that!”

3. The Newbie

This poor soul is readily identifiable by the permanent deer-in-the-headlight look on her face. Brace yourself if you teach in the classroom next to hers. She needs you this year. She will have A MILLION plus one questions, and it is your duty to teach her. She’s just now figuring out that she didn’t sign-up for the typical 9-5 job. She’s learning to juggle her home time with lesson planning and paper grading. Monday mornings are a special kind of struggle for her because she’s still young and holding on to occasional old, weekend-party habits. Hey, YOLO, right? Oh, and she remembers saying “YOLO!” while in college (because, come on! That was only last year.) while tossing back one more shot that will surely doom any hope of getting up before, say noon, on Sunday.

4. The Veteran

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This educator is a true professional. She has spent a great number of years perfecting her craft. Perhaps she has crossed that line where more years have been spent in teaching than in all the other phases of her life. She is often called The Lecturer because she’s been using the same lesson plans since 1976. But she never takes a sick day, manages to keep even the rowdiest of kids quiet, and is predictable and consistent to a fault, so no one messes with her. She has earned her seniority. That little calendar next to her desk counts down the days until retirement. It’s hard not to be jealous of her sometimes, isn’t it?

5. The Question-Asker

Every faculty has a token question-asker. This is the one educator who really likes to dig in to deep academic conversation during professional development. Unfortunately for the rest of the 150 faculty members, the group meeting will run 30 minutes longer than the time allotted on the agenda due to her incessant questioning.

“Yes, but what would Schlechty say about that?”

“I heard Kylene Beers speak last year. How can we implement some of those close reading strategies?”

Someone cut her off already! Find a new literacy article to distract her with so the rest of us can go to lunch!

On Little Boys and ADD/ADHD: A candid look on a tired debate

I didn’t want to do it. My husband didn’t want me to do it. Some of our extended family still question it. Even our pediatrician let out an audible sigh when he admitted it was time.

It was time to start my eight-year-old, a third grader, on ADHD meds.

As I looked around the compact examining room, I eyed the juvenile artwork hanging above the examining table. I felt exactly like those multi-colored scribbles, the jagged, unsteady lines cross-crossing haphazardly over the print. It was beautiful in a way; it was equally chaotic.

Our pediatrician and I discussed different drugs that would meet our goals, the appropriate dosages to try first, the side effects to watch for. Though he proved patient and kind and sat with me in that little room for nearly an hour answering every question and devil’s advocate scenario I presented, I still felt oddly alone. The weight of the situation bared down as I realized no one could else could help me here. I couldn’t delegate; no one was coming to stand in and tell me what to do. I also felt that it would be inappropriate to poll our friends and family for their opinions. It’s just too touchy of a debate, and no one outside of our immediate family of five adequately understands the nuances of our family dynamic anyway.  Only I was equipped to make the call.

So, on a Friday morning shortly before Christmas, my first-born (in his shorts and t-shirt– this is Texas in December after all) and I headed down to the parking garage with a plan in hand. I felt excited, anxious, defensive, and a million other responses I couldn’t quite articulate.

I don’t regret the decision yet. Not as a parent, not as a fellow teacher, even though my mind and heart aren’t in complete harmony, even now. Part of me wants to buck up, start a grass-roots campaign calling attention to western education and the shove towards standardized testing and standardized education. This movement transforms students like my son away from their natural, eight-year-old boy tendencies into statues who are able to sit and robotically perform practice exercises for prolonged periods of time. The old adage “Boys will be boys” comes to mind. Maybe my son isn’t really ADHD; maybe he’s just a little boy exercising his God-given tendencies. (Note: I, in no way, accuse our current children’s teachers of failing to meet our students’ needs. We are SO BLESSED to have educators who defy the odds, make learning fun, and differentiate instruction to meet each individual students’ needs. Still, their efforts to achieve all of this most often require their superhero capes and a lot of prayer because of the current trends in our educational system. And as amazing as our teachers are, they’re still forced to work within the confines of such a system.)

The other part of me, the voice of reason that won over in the end, realizes my personal opinion on the state of our educational system’s affairs won’t help my son be successful in his classroom. I am a public school educator myself. Naturally, my own children will most likely complete their grade school education in a public school setting. Regardless of how I feel personally, my son needs to be able to function in a public school setting. He is one among many in his class. When his teacher needs him to sit still and remain quiet so she can direct teach or so other students can themselves concentrate, then he’ll need the medicinal help to make that happen.

He isn’t a boy who is merely misbehaving. He isn’t in need of a nice stern spanking; my husband and I are in agreeance of using well-timed, appropriately handled swats on the behind. His teacher isn’t failing to challenge him. He is eager to learn and eager to please, and I am willing to get him the help he needs to reach his “little-boy-in-a-public-school” potential.

Even if that means introducing a long-term drug into the family. It’s not what we expected when we cradled our sweet, shockingly observant newborn in our arms that first day of parenthood. But it’s become our new norm. That is the sign we’re making it as parents– our ability to adjust and accept life’s curveballs and create whatever new norm is best for our children.

We hit the curveball this time, and our son is better for it.

A typical entry in my third grader's school agenda.

A typical entry in my third grader’s school agenda.

Note the change in handwriting-- after only two weeks on meds.

Note the change in handwriting– noticeable immediately after starting meds.

32nd & P

school pic

I look across my desk at the students in my classroom, at the tops of their heads really, their faces lowered as if in reverence. They pore over their standardized test. Maybe some of them should take a moment of reverent prayer; they’re taking a re-test after all. This is their second attempt at passing the Reading test, and at this point, I say we leave no stone unturned.

Since all we teachers can do during these tests is actively monitor (gone are the good ole days of knocking out a set of research papers and finalizing grades), I’ve been busy keeping myself busy. My students would be horrified to know I’ve spent the last five minutes figuring out which animal each of them most closely resembles.

You’ll be glad to know that representing my room today are a baboon, a koala bear (his nose though!), a mouse, a cheetah (cute kid, lots of freckles), and a raccoon (it’s safe to say, he didn’t win that fight last week).

All in a day’s work at this campus on the corner of 32nd and Avenue P.

We’ve worked really hard this year to get to this point. The kids don’t need to know I’m totally freaking out inside—USE YOUR STRATEGIES! READ THE PAIRED PASSAGES FIRST! OPEN THE DADGUM DICTIONARY RESTING RIGHT BESIDE YOU OR I MAY BE TEMPTED TO BEAT YOU WITH IT AFTER THE TEST! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL MANKIND, DON’T YOU DARE PUT YOUR HEAD DOWN ON YOUR DESK AND CLOSE YOUR EYES!—but I’m totally freaking out inside. Because a ton of them are SO CLOSE to passing. Some of them are THIS CLOSE to being successful.

And that’s the thing. The students on our campus are finally starting to come around to the idea that education is valuable, and what’s more, some of them are starting to believe that they can be good at it. The adults here are hard at work affecting a positive change. We are undergoing a cultural shift here at 32nd and P.  And you should take notice. We know that if our families and our immediate neighborhoods will begin to show that they value what’s happening at school, then we’ll be successful in teaching our kids.

We’re not there yet—dear goodness! How many times this year have I joked with my partner teacher to get my bail bond money ready after particularly grueling days? I’ve spent many days this year feeling frustrated or discouraged. But this campus is SO CLOSE to reaching the point where we can turn the corner.

Our teachers are in the trenches every day, working their hearts out to affect change. Lessons are innovative and engaging; a literacy movement is pushed and supported by every discipline on campus—even in classes like P.E. and Orchestra. Our teachers are “best practicing” LIKE A BOSS.

Now, the downside is: the numbers will betray us. The numbers don’t know how far we’ve come and where we’re headed. There is a vision though, and eventually it will be fulfilled.

But that takes time. And the TEA and numbers are incredulously impatient. But our campus will forge on, wisely recognizing the progress being made and the time needed to bring change to fruition.

So, what are the keys our little campus on 32nd and P will need in order to turn the corner?

1. Keep HOPE strong. Scripture says “never grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13). I’m guilty of losing that vision myself. Many days may make you want to lose your mind and take up heavy drinking, but hang in there. Keep an eye on the Big Picture. Change the “neighborhood”; change the school.

2. Be positive.

Attitudes are contagious. Positivity yields positivity. Negativity yields negativity.

3. Continue to teach that school is different from home/the streets.

Let’s convey the idea that education is important; knowing the answers is cool. And both teachers and students alike will be professionals.

And our kids can be successful.

They’re not there yet, but eventually they will be.

Keep an eye out for this school in the next 5 to 10 years. With the right leadership and a sustained vision, you’re going to wonder what those people are doing down there at 32nd and P. You’ll be learning from them.