Miss Lora’s Story
Prior to coming to institute, we were given quite a bit of pre-work to complete. Some people did it and some people didn’t. I eventually finished all of it, if a couple of weeks late. Some of it was interesting, some of it was boring, and some of it was outdated. The part that I found most worth reading was interestingly considered “optional.” It was a very good action to have read it.
Miss Lora’s story was quite a long read. It was based off of the life of a TFA corps member’s first four years of teaching. The format is interesting, starting at the beginning of the school year to the end but with all four years at once. So we read an entry from the beginning of the school year about a students from each one of her four years, then moved on to the next chronological date and four stories, then the next and four stories. While the stories gave insight into Miss Lora’s classroom in general, they were told through the lens of one particular student each year. The names in the story used for the students were Anthony, Douglas, Tanya, and Roberto.
I loved the story because it was completely and utterly honest. The four students chosen for the entries were some of her most difficult of the years. She admitted her failures and struggles to accept them along with the successes. Her story scared me and excited me.
One of the only things that I’m having a really hard time accepting is the emphasis on test scores. Unfortunately, it’s reality. The story was set up to reflect that reality. Each entry was labeled by the number of days left until the students had to take the standardized test at the end of the fourth grade year. In this particular state, it was the requirement for passing onto fifth grade. If students did not pass the test, they would be retained. It makes sense then that this had to be her ultimate goal, and the main theme that she invested her students in. (As an aside, apparently Oklahoma just enacted a similar law for third graders.) It makes me sad that the ultimate pinnacle of education isn’t curiosity, creativity, or love of learning, or even progress made. It is also such a high stakes day for kids, especially when they know that their future and ability to progress with their friends on to the next grade depends on it. There is always so much that can go wrong on test day, from forgetting to fully fill in the circles to stressing out over tests to feeling really sick. I am not aware of Missouri having similar laws, but obviously performing well on standardized tests is the ultimate goal of too many education policies. I guess it is something that all teachers have to struggle with and live with.
Miss Lora seems to have been an extremely dedicated teacher. She held after school tutoring sessions every day as well as weekly Saturday school. She taught summer school. She made individual growth goals and tracked them with every student as part of the process. She made home visits and tried to invest parents in their children’s success. She lobbied for her students and created school wide events like sleepovers and a spelling bee. The amount of energy used I can only imagine.
The struggles that she describes in her story revolve around only one student in her class of sometimes more than 30. How does one invest that much time and energy into every single student without burning out? Where do the strength, focus, and balance come from?
And what happens when a student still fails? Such is the case with Douglas’s story. After Douglas had failed third grade several times, she became his summer school teacher and “miraculously” got him to pass the third grade test. He was placed in her fourth grade classroom. Douglas displayed several behavioral problems besides being years behind academically. Miss Lora knew that Douglas needed counseling and special education services, but could not in good conscious recommend he be placed there because in her school the resources in place did nothing more than babysit those kids. So she did the best she could. She invested him in his own success using the positive reaction from passing the third grade test. She did everything she could to learn his triggers and teach him how to deal with situations. He was still suspended for violence several times, but much less than in other years. He made great leaps and bounds academically, especially in the three weeks leading up to the test. And in the end, he still failed the class.
I don’t know how I could deal with that. I am a perfectionist and will want to meet my goal that one hundred percent of my kids meet one hundred percent of their goals. I see myself as that teacher that will give it her all. But what happens when “all” isn’t good enough? I’m afraid of really letting that get to me.
On the other hand, she had so many successes. One child had been told repeatedly by his third grade teacher and his mother that he was the dumb twin, the one who couldn’t learn anything no matter how sweet he was. Miss Lora had a lot of work to do because he was very far behind, and she had to work just as hard on building confidence as teaching him. She invested the entire class in bringing Anthony up to speed. She did much the same as Roberto, who worked very hard but had almost no ability to write in English. He asked for extra work and repeatedly stayed after school. At the end of the year, he went from writing one barely legible sentence for an essay to writing several paragraphs with few spelling errors. These were the students that she kept teaching for.
I know I will have some of those students. I know I may also have some that don’t make it. I know that I may have to walk into a classroom where the administration only cares about test scores. I know that I have to invest my students in the idea that we will all achieve success. It sounds so overwhelming and almost impossible (and made it very easy to see how TFA corps members burn out quickly), especially in my case of doing it all in Spanish with kids who don’t speak the language. Yet somehow Miss Lora’s story left me inspired.