Lately I've found myself overwhelmed. I'm embarrassed to admit it. I'm especially embarrassed to admit it on this blog, but the reality of it is that it's true. As I have worked so diligently to take a really deep dive with our student achievement data in the last few weeks, I found myself falling deeper and deeper into a less positive state of mind. I'm not sure why that is although I suspect a number of reasons for this. None of these reasons may be correct and I'm not sure they even matter, but I'm going to share them anyway. So here goes nothing.
Am I discouraged by the research?
I'm a voracious reader. But every since the initial days of my Ph.D. program I haven't really read fiction. I've come to enjoy reading research studies. I particularly enjoy reading about economic mobility, anything related to education and poverty, and early childhood education. When I read the research, I see the same recurring theme: What happens from conception to five matters and the further down the road in a child's educational journey, the more it matters.
While I've read study after study, and been fascinated with what I learn in each one, I'm still left with the same question I think of everyday as a coprincipal of a Title I middle school where we are working our hearts out to increase student achievement: What do I do now? While I have lots of ideas of what might help and some of which I know will help, I can't help but question is overcoming a multiyear learning gap possible? And if it is, how can it be done? What I know for sure is a traditional approach to teaching and learning is limited in its' impact and although we have and will continue to positively impact student achievement, will it be enough? High school graduation isn't that far away for our students and our time is limited.
Do I have the right perspective?
I've also been fussing at myself for being what some might call negative-I like to think of myself as a realistic optimist who can be brutally honest. Many of my colleagues have encouraged me to focus on the positive. And yes-there is lots of positive to celebrate. I've just been unsuccessful at ignoring the harsh reality of what it means to improve the proficiency of a group of students who are more than three or more years behind where they should be in reading and/or math. How do I do that? Can I do that? Do I have the skills and expertise to lead that charge? What resources do I need? Will I be able to obtain them? Am I too focused on the reality in a way that I am not balanced to have a healthy perspective? Am I too negative? Does focusing on sunshine and rainbows make you more productive? Does focusing on the opposite paralyze you from acting? Again, I don't know which is best. All I know is from my own experiences.
In my previous principalship, I had the same issues. Always looking at what I could do better or improve and never stopping long enough to celebrate the good that we had accomplished. But that mindset led us to remarkable results. We saw improved student achievement for five consecutive years. No flunctuating-just up,up,up and I am very proud of that.
Do I take my work too personally?
Do I take my work too personally? As a child of poverty, looking at my students who are in the midst of poverty in an objective manner seems nearly impossible for me. I look at them and I see me. In reality, I know they are not me and I am not them, but in my heart we are one in the same. I can't help it. I owe it to them to help them in every way I can, and I can't do that by just thinking if I only help one then I've done well. They all need my help. They all need our help. The baggage of being poor has never left me. Read through my previous post and you'd agree. I even wrote a post titled, Why I'm Stiil Just A Poor Kid From The Projects! I guess that's because under all the degrees and professional success, that's what I am. I work hard out of fear of having to experience poverty again. Some would not understand that but once you've been poor and made it out, you never want to go back. I want the same for my students. I want them to make it out. It's that simple. And I know that it was education that set me free from the projects and from poverty. Breaking the cycle of poverty isn't as simple as pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. It's far more complex than that but that is for another post.
I had a very dear friend tell me recently to try not to let my work define me. I reflected on that advice and I think she's right, but I've yet to be successful at doing that. That's something I certainly need to work on and improve.
Is my best enough?
For so long I've been one to say if I only make a difference in the life of one student then my work has mattered. However, as I work in a high poverty school where student needs in the social emotional realm are as great or greater as their academic needs, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I need to impact more than one student to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and help my students help themselves beyond their K-12 educational experience. I'm doing my very best everyday. My momma used to always say as long as we did the best we could at something we could not ask ourselves of anything more. I know that I am giving my all! But I guess I am just afraid that my best may not be enough and that makes me incredibly sad and disappointed.
I've grown so much as a person and a principal in my current role. The experience has been one that has taught me many things. I'm sure there is more to learn too. Mostly I want to overcome this feeling of being overwhelmed but not by ignoring the issues. I want to overcome it by making a difference for all students, but a difference that will matter for generations to come. In a world where a high school education or less negatively impacts your health quality, quality of life, and more we are charged with doing more. Our students may not see the impact that right now will have on their future. They would never imagine how heavy they weigh on my heart or how often I wonder, what are they going to do as adults? Only time will answer that question and lately I seem so impatient.
I am proud of myself however for sharing my vulnerability via this blog. No matter how things may seem, I'm only human. I think all educators experience these feelings that I have but we are not "allowed" to acknowledge them. This work we do is incredibly harder than even I imagined when I made a decision to become a teacher in the early 1990's. I never expected it to be easy. I realize that I am not alone in this. All across the country and world, many educators are feeling this. Some might see this post as negative but I see it as brave. I'm brave enough to say-I'm trying really hard and I'm worried my best efforts may not be enough. Is there something wrong with that? I don't think so and I don't think I'm the only one. And so I shall continue to plug along...hoping it all turns out ok.
Until next time-be you, be true, and be a hope builder,