After finally getting my feet under myself as a primary teacher throughout the past two years, I have been delivered a devastating blow a week ago. I have been informed that I am moving to 4th grade next year in my school. I spent the past two years unwrapping the Common Core standards with an amazing team of teachers, finding ways to incorporate technology within my instruction of first graders, and encouraging the six-year-olds to reach their potential as readers. Many of my students are reading chapter books and writing three-paragraph essays. If I am doing well in my primary position, why am I being moved? That question was answered simply with, “We are wasting your talent on the primary students. You need to bring this to an intermediate grade level which impacts the school’s ranking.” I am being punished for being a district outlier.
Malcolm Gladwell defines an outlier in his book, “Outliers,” within this scenario: “The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantage and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others can not.” I was introduced to this term a few years ago as over 90% of my third-graders achieved “meets” or “exceeds” scores on their AIMS (Arizona’s standardized assessment of math and reading skills/concepts). Throughout my tenure as a high-score teacher, I was asked, “How do you achieve such high test scores?” I even wrote a blog article about it about two years ago. Mostly being an assessment outlier as a teacher is having a can-do attitude about the students’ potential. Rigorous instruction, 21st century thinking skills, and parent involvement are also big contributors to closing the achievement gap in my classroom. I found a way to tap into each child’s drive to want to succeed, finding different ways to motivate unique personalities.
For a few years my classes consistently achieved these high test scores, but during the last AIMS assessment, I had a panic attack while administering the AIMS. My high expectations of myself and of the students caught up to me as I observed them taking the test. I felt a sense of powerlessness as I knew my reputation as an outlier could be destroyed by their choices to not do well on the test. It didn’t matter if I poured my heart and soul into teaching and worked hard to teach them how to master a standardized assessment. My chest tightened, I began hyperventilating, and I knew it was time to move. I couldn’t handle the pressure any more. More importantly, I knew that my priorities were skewed if I was that upset about students taking an assessment. My vision and goals as a teacher should NOT be so closely aligned to standardized assessments. It was a clarifying “ah ha” moment as I tried to calm myself down- I needed to get a grip as a teacher and redefine my priorities. They should be about closing the achievement gap for my students in a long-term range, not being measured every April during standardized assessments. My administrator was kind to listen to my rationale for moving to a “non-AIMS” grade level, and as I mentioned, I have been a primary grade teacher for the past two years.
But my reputation as an outlier has persisted within the undercurrent of teacher placements at our school, and it is time to move “to help my school.” Never mind that I was excited to build a cornerstone of rigorous instruction for my first graders to succeed in higher grade levels. I do feel like a prisoner who had a brief time out on parole, but now I’m being locked away in the dungeon of standardized assessments. Obviously I will make the best of this situation, but this time I need to focus more on long-term instead of short-term success for my students. I want to become the district outlier for inspiring students to graduate high school, go to college, and become successful and happy in their lives. I want to hear that they succeeded because they were encouraged to find their internal drive, motivated themselves through obstacles, and passionately fought for what they believe in. That is a legacy in which teachers dream of.