Sunday, June 10, 2012

Yes, We Can

Wow. It's nearing the end of the school year, and what a long, strange trip it's been. At M School, we've taken an all-hands-on-deck approach to turning things around, and by "things," I mean a collection of indicators of performance as seen through the lenses of higher-ups at the state level. Those things would include, but are not limited to: test scores, attendance, and behavior (internal and external suspension rates). We have increased the length of our school day, and we have added two hours of professional development to our working time each week. We have made a concerted effort to improve student writing skills by delivering monthly open response questions and focusing more on writing instruction techniques. As of this past Thursday, we were still awaiting our MCAS test scores, which many in the M School community are awaiting with the most bated of breath. 

But the sparkling cider corks are already popping for me.

MEPA (Massachusetts English Proficiency Assessment) scores arrived this past Thursday. Our district goal was 62% improvement. M School beat that goal, and moreover, the ELL kids at the middle school level surpassed it by an even larger margin. As a teacher of beginning English Language Learners in grades 6-8, I've got myself a tall order. My students arrive directly from Puerto Rico with little to no English proficiency, and believe it or not, they don't always arrive in my classroom doorway with freshly sharpened pencils, clean, smiling faces, and positive attitudes. Frankly, they're pissed that they had to leave P.R., their culture, their families, their homeland. They take one look at me, Gringa Maestra, and suck their teeth and cross their arms, waiting to see what I do with their defiance. Fortunately, I've gotten my Spanish on this year, so I've gained some competence in bridging this gap. I don't look like I can speak their language, but when I throw a few key Spanish phrases around, they pay attention and sit up. In addition, I've had a full year's worth of trying different teaching approaches, diversifying my techniques. I've worked hard to earn their trust and build relationships, and really, that matters more to me than test scores.

But I can't help but feel a sense of pride and affirmation in seeing those MEPA scores shoot right up, especially after such a grueling year. Half of my students improved enough to be mainstreamed into regular English Language Arts classes. I expect there to be a steady stream of newcomers next year, however, and they will likely arrive at random intervals during the school year. My brain definitely needs the summer off - for a very necessary vacation. In September I'll be ready to do it all again, knowing that when there's a will, there's a way. Si se puede!