Sunday, May 06, 2007

Why Title I Schools Cannot Keep Teachers

I was ---this close--- to quitting last week. Not quitting teaching, but quitting at my school. After two weeks, I am still so angry I can hardly type this out. The bottom line is that I will be staying one more year at this campus and I will be spending all next year scoping out new schools and trying to make some connections. I am frustrated and so, so angry. Here is what happened:

I may have explained this before, but I don't feel like looking back at old entries. There are two standardized tests (well, more than two, but for the purposes of this post...) that the students take. One, the Big Test, is criterion-referenced. That means that it tests them on what they know and they pass or fail. Period. Special ed students take it on the grade level as stated in their Individual Education Plan (IEP). So if they are reading on a kindergarten level, that's where they will test. Then there is the Little Test. It is more of a local thing, but it's norm-referenced. Students are ranked by percentile, against other students on their grade level. Special ed students take the same test as anyone else.

All this translates to: Ms. G├╝erita is majorly fucked.

Fourth grade has been shuffled around a bit, and it ended up that 75% of my class roster consists of special needs students. Seriously. Exactly 75%. Our school bills itself as an "inclusion school." That means that special education students are educated in the regular classroom. Only, this is patently false. At the beginning of the year, I tried very hard to keep the special ed students in my classroom. I planned extensively around them so that our activities could include them in meaningful ways. I was chastised for it. From the months of October until March, the special education students were pulled from my classroom (with the exception of Corazon, who I kicked and screamed to keep). I was, simply put, not permitted to instruct the special ed students.

My Little Test scores were, predictably, dismal. When you have a class of almost all special needs students, they aren't going to score on grade level, much less above grade level.

At the beginning of April, we began receiving our formal end-of-the-year performance reviews. They have two parts. The first is based on direct principal observation in our classroom. I received my review and it was stellar. In several areas, I was ranked as exceeding expectations. The principal told me I was doing everything right and was doing a great job, she was really happy with me. I left the post-review interview feeling really good about the year and looking forward to next year.

Two weeks ago, we received the second half of our reviews. This half is based on policy, procedure, alignment of objectives and teaching, etc. She called me in for the interview and the first thing I saw was on the review form, she had marked me as below expectations in several areas. I was shocked. She explained to me that my Little Test scores were a huge disappointment and were way, way too low. I told her flat out that I didn't think it was a fair assessment, that I have almost entirely special ed students and, furthermore, I hadn't even been permitted to teach those students for five months.

Her response was pretty much, "Well, sorry, but this is how it is."

Now I know why this school, and other high poverty schools, have such sky high turnover rates with their staff. It isn't the kids or even the neighborhoods. It's shit like this. It is hurting my career to stay at this school. Other principals, when I try to transfer, will look at my performance reviews and see a mess of "below expectations" and they won't hire me. If I ever try to move on to be, say, a reading specialist or a bilingual content specialist, they will see that I failed to meet basic expectations and I won't be considered a good candidate. This goes in my permanent file. With the new proposed rules regarding teacher performance, if I keep getting these kinds of reviews, I can be summarily dismissed.

I have had a very good relationship with my principal all year, until now. I feel personally betrayed. She has been telling me all year how well I have been doing. I have received nothing but excellent reviews from my principal, mentor, and certification supervisor. And now this.

There are two teachers leaving the school already. I am teaching one more year there, and then moving on.

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