Learning The Art of Teacherly Love

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 26 2013

“The Bar”

No, I am not referring to the excruciating exam law students have to pass upon graduation… Nor am I referring to a restaurant or location that holds a license to administer adult beverages to thirsty young professionals, though sometimes that is the type of place I would like to be after particularly challenging weeks in the classroom…

When teachers, administrators, and all others involved in the education world refer to “The Bar,” we are talking about Expectations.  High ones.
TFA is particularly interested in “The Bar,” as they seem to beat Corps Members over the head with reflection questions and comments like,
“What is The Bar you have set for your students?  Is it high enough?  How will you help them reach it?  How will you know when they have met The Bar and you need to move it higher? You should really think about how you will concretely assess if your students have met The Bar.”
All good and valid questions and comments, TFA.  But when you want me to set The Bar for things like “mindsets” and “values”… I’m not really sure how concrete we can be here.  And when your school organization has already set The Academic Bar and The Cultural Bar for your students, and you are the one being held accountable for getting them to meet those Bars, I think we’ve got The Whole Bar pretty much covered…
(In fact, I was told today during some observation feedback that I am good at asking my students the higher order thinking questions, and I am making their brains sweat, but, my observer added, the only way someone would know that is if they have been in your shoes, with your population of students.  So everyone just please back off my kids a bit!  We’re working on it!  Always working on it…)

But tonight, I haven’t been thinking about The Bar for my students.  Tonight I am thinking about The Bar for teachers, and the incredibly high expectations and standards to which we are being held accountable.  Not only is this a concern because I want to be the best teacher I can be for my students whom I love, and I want to meet, and exceed, those expectations, as I have always sought to do in everything I became involved in, but there is also that whole “Merit-Based Pay” that keeps driving us all to improve.

Now, as a Special Education Teacher and Case Manager, I am being held to two sets of expectations.  One for my case managing duties; the paperwork, progress monitoring, and IEP writing, and also the Teacher Instructional Standards.  Please note, I said Teacher Instructional Standards, not Special Education Teacher Standards… Well, as long as it is someone who has taught in my type of classroom, or worked with my population of students who is doing the evaluating on whether or not I met the standards, then I think this is fair.  However, when I am being held to The Bar that 100% of students should be focused and engaged in the lesson, because that is what general education teachers are held accountable for, I am just not sure that’s fair for me or my students… Or when it is expected that a student, with a Specific Learning Disability in Reading, needs to make 1.6 YEARS worth of reading growth within one academic year… Let’s just think about that one…

And then The Bar gets higher… I am being given more students, to manage their IEPs and progress, as well as to teach… And we are all already over the limit.  Yes, I get paid extra for being over the limit, but my time and attention for each students’ needs also decreases, making it even harder for them to make progress… Progress for which I am being held accountable… Progress that my salary is based on… And the cycle continues…
The Bar gets raised again… When I am asked to give up my precious Prep Period (the one where I try to do all this case manager work as well as prepare lessons that will help me meet those high instructional expectations) in order to add another Reading Group to my schedule.  Will I be paid extra for my extra teaching time?  Yes.  Will I have time to prepare lessons that will meet the instructional standards?  No. And really, it is not a matter of can it be done, but can it be done well.  Will I have a little extra money, but lose my  mind?  Most likely.
And here is the bigger debate:  The students who need me to do the extra reading group are students on my Case Manager caseload… Students I am already being held accountable for… So if I don’t do their reading group, how will they make adequate progress on their reading goals?  And if I do the reading group, how will I prepare lessons that are exceptional and push their progress?  And when will I write their IEPs, monitor their goal progress, and check in with their families?  All of which are responsibilities and standards that I must meet in order to reach my high Bar..

Is everyone, no matter the field, being asked to “Do more with Less” these days?  Yes.  We are all trying to be economical, efficient, and accomplish as much as we can with as little as possible.  But in education, asking teachers, who are already pretty good at “doing more with less,” to over exert themselves, give up their prep time, come in even earlier, stay even later, do even more… Who is that hurting?  Well, I can tell you one thing for sure, it’s exhausting this teacher, and an exhausted, stressed, and panicked teacher is no good to her students.  (When I don’t even have time to pick up an asthma prescription, that I have been taking my entire life and need in order to get through days without increased inhaler usage, because I stayed late at school, we are reaching the level of “this is too much.”)  So, ultimately, this mindset, and this “Bar” is hurting the students.  Student progress is slowed by teachers who are too stressed to think through and plan lessons that will push them, and it is slowed even more by teachers who are running constantly on empty with shorter patience fuses.. And when student progress slows, so do the salary increases, and with that you have teachers literally doing more with even less… The cycle repeats… High Expectations… Standards… “The Bar”… Can we please find a balance?

But I have developed a few coping techniques for navigating this cycle.  The best strategy I have is one I learned years ago, from my dad, through that emotionally and physically draining life of a competitive gymnast.  Dad taught me to “Leave it all in the gym.”  At the end of those 4-5 hour practices, make sure you left it all there on those 4 events.  Tomorrow, come back and attack again.  Thus, I have learned to “Leave school at school.”  If I prioritize my lists and my agenda for the day, the most important things will get done, and the things I have remaining at the end of the day, must not have been important enough for today’s work; I leave it at school.  Tomorrow, I will get back at it.

And with that, I would now like to go to the bar, and enjoy a nice fall flavored pumpkin beer.

Here are some other ways I have found help decrease this stressing over The Bar:

 Running with this guy.
We’re up to 6 miles averaging around 9min/mile.
Watching The Game with some of my favorite (new) Buckeyes.

Finding real Buckeyes in a Philadelphia park!

Baking “Chocolate Elvis Brownies”
(Replaced the eggs and oil for the mix with 2 bananas and peanut butter… YUM!)
Making a Fresh Fall Chili with Pumpkin and Beer featured in this new recipe adaptation

It’s Pumpkin Sampling Season! :)

And this place… My Happy Place.

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    Dare to Teach with Love… Never cease to Learn.

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    Elementary School
    Special Education

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