A few years ago, a team of principals and school board members visited my classroom. During their visit, my students cut paper skeletons while I distributed their weekly stack of parent flyers and assignments. It was madness—messy, loud. I called kids up for their papers over the rest of the ruckus. It didn’t look much like learning. It was real.
My principal was concerned that I didn’t teach a lesson during their visit, but I stood by my decision. I knew I could back it all up—either with standards or suggestions. I wanted to let them see my real classroom. Routine procedural stuff really takes time in an elementary class.
Lately, I have been the observer. All over Washington State, expert teachers have welcomed me to their urban, suburban, and rural classrooms. I’ve visited different grade levels, content areas, and specialized programs. These travels have filled me with pride and hope. I’m honored to be a part of the teaching and learning in our state. We have so much to celebrate! However, I know I’m getting only one side of the story.
I watched spring learning exhibitions in Highline. A seventh grader spoke openly about her insecurities in learning. She stood in front of her classmates, parents, and teachers. They asked her hard questions and gave her honest, critical advice. Together they created an action plan for the next term. Amazing.
Mt. Vernon uses the English Language Proficiency Assessment to help identify English learners for Highly Capable Programs. They taught me that the rate of language mastery can predict cognitive potential. Yep, so doing this in Quincy next year.
In Odessa and Toppenish, third grade feels like family. Both teachers happened to invite me during lessons on fractions, normally one of the most painstaking units of the year. But not in these classrooms. I could feel the trust in the air.
What I've been less privy to are stories like this one from my school. Last fall, our counselor quit the week before school started. We were unable to find any qualified applicants to replace him. Nearly all my students come at-risk, marginalized, low-income families. The school counselor provides critical supports for them, especially now. Teachers attempt to fill the void. We stop teaching and tend to their basic needs. We know kids can’t learn when they’re anxious, heartbroken, or angry. But we feel guilty anyway. We’re still failing them, only differently.
This is real, problematic, and important. I can tell this story. But my task is to speak for all of Washington. Tales of struggle cannot come only from my experience. I need to understand your real stories, too. So, educators. This challenge is for you. Show me your leaky roofs. Invite me to your struggling schools. Share your failing moments. Let me see your real. Help me tell your story.