What Measures Success in Your Classroom?

Times are changing. As schools become more data driven and merit pay a household name, districts, teachers and parents are trying harder and harder to figure out how each of their students can best learn. Since national test scores are a large factor in this assessment, parents and teachers alike are anxious to review these scores to see how well their students performed.

But what makes a teacher or student successful?

It’s not always the answer we think.

This questioning began for me when I started my teaching career as a student teacher in kindergarten and third grade. At the time, I was sure that my credential and style was more suited for the primary level. However, when full-time jobs came around, positions were scarce and elementary schools weren’t calling – middle schools were. My first job came as a 6th grade English and History teacher. I had heard tough stories about middle school and was worried that I would not be successful and that this would have to be my motto:

But the truth is – middle school students aren’t scary. They are actually pretty cool. (Shhh, don’t tell them I said that!) As a middle school English teacher I am still surprised how challenged I get to be every day – in the best ways! In my class we get to have amazing discussions, work hard, be real, learn about each other and life, challenge ourselves and have fun. (Sometimes!)

Some favorite quotes I display around my classroom to motivate my students (and myself) are:

“Use what talents you possess. The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.” (Henry Van Dyke)

“Learning is not a spectator sport. So let’s play!”(Author Unknown)

“If you are here, you are awesome.” (Shabbyblogs.com)

But teaching isn’t always fun posters and cute classrooms. It’s a lot of real life, and I always want to remember this:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” (Albert Einstein)

I really like this quote because it reminds me we just can’t expect every student to fit in the same little box. It is a challenge every day to figure out just how to make each child find success. It is equally hard to see a smart student make bad choices, or a struggling student think they’re not capable. It is hard sometimes to find the right words to say to build them up, since those words are different for every child. But we try. Being a parent, I hope, has made me a better teacher. When a student has a bad day, I think, ‘how would I want a teacher to react if this was my son or daughter?” and I respond that way.

Yet, with each new year, I still find myself surprised sometimes at the variety of issues teachers have to handle – including more than just the problems of not finishing homework or not doing well on the test. Issues that work against us every day as we try to help this child achieve academic success.

Some students come into the classroom with A LOT of real life happening and a lot of REAL problems…

Like the student who stayed after class every day to ask questions and talk, only to eventually share that their mother was just given months to live. And sharing in tears when we found out she passed away…

Like the student who got good grades and came to class with a smile on their face every day
and yet, inside, their body was fighting cancer…

Like the “must place” student who had to be assigned to a class, even if the classroom was full, because they were homeless…

I have witnessed some amazing teachers throughout my 9 years in the classroom:

Teachers who have picked up elementary students to take them to school in the rain, because they knew those students walked and if it rained they wouldn’t be able to come to school.

Teachers who work through every one of their breaks and lunch to help struggling students.

Teachers who bought morning snacks every day for students because they knew they didn’t eat breakfast.

Teachers who paid the field trip fee out of their own pocket for students they knew couldn’t afford it.

I am humbled every day to know that teachers like this exist.

In a few weeks, parents and teachers will receive the results of the national test that CA state and their district will use to measure whether or not these students were successful in school this past year. I know that most of my students will do pretty well on the test and I’m excited to see the results.

However, I also know that success can’t always be measured by a test.

And that, for some students, a successful year means they found a place to live.

A successful year means they made it through their first school year without their mother.

A successful year means they beat cancer.

No test can measure or replace that level of success.

And no credential program can prepare you for that kind of support.

It has to be in you, or grow in you. As the new school year begins I am reminded to be aware that students need all kinds of support, not just academically. I am blessed to be surrounded by teachers that inspire me to be this kind of better, every single day, to encourage and motive our students to learn and thrive in this world, not just for one year, but for the rest of their lives.

That, my friend, is success.