>”Success is counted sweetest 
By those who ne’er succeed.”

-Emily Dickinson

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about how teachers should be paid.  Under the current system, public schools use a single salary schedule that rewards years of experience and/or credit hours earned, but many are now calling for merit pay tied to student performance.

I’m not sure I agree philosophically with tenure as it exists, but I also know that if I were to be judged on my students’ learning outcomes this year…I would probably be in rather severe trouble.  But according to my master’s program, I’m doing a bang-up job for “where I’m at” in the course of my development as a teacher.  So while experience is not a free ticket to successful teaching, there is usually at least a weak correlation (though not necessarily causation!) between years in the classroom and effectiveness at influencing student learning.  

In my starry-eyed idealism, I want to believe that the best teachers keep learning and improving year after year, but I have unfortunately seen much more evidence to the contrary.  My mentor teacher was staff-reduced from our building based on seniority, but I honestly can’t think of anyone in the entire building who works harder and does more for the students in and out of her own classroom.  She is someone who is always learning and changing and thinking of ways to do better, but does any of that count for anything?  Apparently not, and that’s a little scary.  Of all the things I want in life, stability is probably in the top two or three, and knowing that I can be axed after my first year is up if funding doesn’t work out makes me nervous. I want to trust my principal and superintendent, but I know there are lots of things that are even out of their control that could send me packing.

Which leads me back to the idea of success as a teacher.  As much as I want school to be a safe place, there’s no way to completely escape the outside world, nor would I ever want to, since that world makes my students who they are.  In my current student teaching placement, especially, I have seen how vulnerable little people can be to outside disruptions, and how powerful home and school institutions can be.  My students come from a world where education, when valued, is hard to come by; where family support can be weak, despite the best intentions; where anything and everything can set a kid off because there is no control exercised for them at home.  And as hard as I try, I can’t change all of that as one person who sees them 47 minutes a day.

It’s been very frustrating trying to teach at the end of the year.  We took the Ohio Achievement Assessment in mid-April, and the students have been progressively shutting down ever since.  Our school struggles epically on standardized testing, so all year long there is a massive push toward that one big test.  Who can blame the students for thinking that the year is over when it’s done?  But I’m stuck standing there trying to get blood from a turnip, and I have to admit that it’s extremely discouraging.  Even though I’ve done my best trying to create an engaging project for the last month or so, I appear to have maxed out their academic motivation and now I just feel like a glorified babysitter.  On the plus side, it doesn’t really “matter” what happens during this month, but on the other hand, that makes motivation extremely hard to come by.  I have a strong tendency to mirror and magnify the emotions and behavior of those around me, so I feel like I’m in a state of chronic disappointment when it comes to these projects, but I’m learning about the process so it’s not all for nothing.

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