Saturday, March 1, 2014


Purple is September and Printed Scores are May
Yesterday, I finished my report cards for the recent trimester. As usual, I felt useless and ineffective as a teacher. Because my school favors all-day homogenous ability grouping, my students rarely make the progress that I feel we deserve. When I was putting away my report card materials, this paper slipped out of a book. I sat and looked at it, remembering one of the few successful years that I've had. This is a reading range test comparison. The purple score is the grade level reading range that students had during the first week of school. The printed scores are the grade level reading ranges of students after a year in my classroom. It was a year where everyone progressed. Almost thirteen of the students were reading at a fifth grade level by the end of their fourth grade year.

I have worked at two different schools during my career as a teacher. The first school had classes with heterogeneous populations. During my second year of teaching there, I received a transfer student from a school that practiced homogenous ability grouping. She was reading on a pre-primer level: 0.5. By the end of the year, after spending time with grade level students, she made astronomical gains. I'll never forget what she said to my teacher's aide, "I didn't know that when you read, you had to understand what the words meant." In a homogenous class, with other non-readers, she was not able to see past decoding to get the bigger picture.

When a class has a wide assortment of students with varying skills and abilities, it is a class that is bound to succeed. The teacher is not the only person imparting knowledge in a classroom. That is why it is so important to have a variety of abilities in a room. A class should have gifted students, and struggling students, with a healthy range between those two groups. In other words, a classroom should be a measure of society. Students that speak two languages should be mixed with students who speak English as their primary language. Everyone progresses. Everyone shares.

Each year, except for a few that oddly, end up having mixed abilities, I fail. Unfortunately, I am a child of my father, a very driven man, and my grandfather, a hardworking and stubborn dry farmer in central Utah. This makes me very determined and hardheaded. Just like my grandfather, when the crops fail, I dig my feet in, and try harder. I invest more into the task. This year, I feel like I can't possibly dig in any harder. I feel like I'm letting my students down. But, to be honest, it's not entirely my fault. There are no role models in the classroom. There are a few students who complete their homework, take notes, and give their all. I think that they suffer under this system the most. They are expected to shoulder the burden of keeping up their attitudes and plodding forward, not knowing really if what they're doing is the right thing to do. Praise comes only from their teacher, never from their peers.

So, I'm pinning this paper up to my bathroom mirror, so that I can live with myself. I need to feel that my work has some value. Don't get me wrong, I know that I provide encouragement and nourish students emotionally.  But, to build a student's skills and to make that student understand the joy of learning is the ultimate target.

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