Monday, October 29, 2012

How Do You Figure?

No matter how the election turns out, I'm pretty certain that there will be more and more talk about how teachers are evaluated. Finding some way to connect student test scores to teacher performance is the kind of unified field theory that has mystified educators for years now. I continue to cling to my flat earth beliefs, because of where I teach. For example, last year we had a first grade class that started the year with twenty students. At the end of the year, only three of them were the ones who were there at the beginning. The other seventeen had come and gone, and some of them only stayed a few weeks before moving on to the next. We call this transiency.
I won't suggest a solution for this here. That is for people who have more negotiation and statistical skills than I have. Instead, I can tell a story of the Branham family. I had their oldest son in my fourth grade class six years ago. The next year, I had his brother. Though I switched back to the computer lab a few years back, I tracked the progress of their sister and youngest brother as they made their way from standing outside the gate, watching their brothers go off to school, to kindergarten, and onward and upward. Smart kids. Good kids with strong parents behind them, pushing them to succeed. They were one of the families who helped shore up some of the struggles we experience with those that drop in and drop out of our school. They were the ones who stayed and watched us grow out of Program Improvement to become an officially designated "good school." We have them to thank.
Now, the Branhams are moving. Their mother has decided that Oakland is just too rough a city to bring up four kids. The teacher part of me wants to argue with her, but the parent in me says, "Vaya con Dios." The youngest is in second grade now, one of the stable members of that first grade class that turned over almost completely and he will be missed, not just when test taking season rolls around. He and his older sister, a fifth grader, were part of those good examples that we could point to when things turned ridiculous. Now they're moving somewhere that feels safe. That makes sense.
Meanwhile, back here at the ranch, we'll wait and see who transfers in to take their place. It's pretty rare that we get the kids who show up ready to jump into our program. It takes a few weeks to figure out how to fit in and be successful. That's what we do. And we'll miss the Branhams. That's what we do, too.

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