Saturday, July 16, 2005

How do you measure your impact?

This past week I decided to leave my job teaching seventh grade math at Verity Middle School in Middletown City School District, just north of Cincinnati, OH. I spent the first five years of my career at Verity and I have to say that it was difficult to leave. In my new position, I'll be teachinig sixth grade at Wyoming Middle School in Wyoming City Schools.

Although I was happy as can be in Middletown, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to work in Wyoming. You see, the students in my new district typcially are members of families with highly educated parents who stay involved in their education. As a result, the district boasts extremely high-achievement rates, some of the best in the state. On the other hand, the district I am leaving is an urban district with a high percentage of students receiving free-and-reduced lunches. Furthermore, parent involvement is low and test scores reflect this.

So it seems my reasons for making the switch are obvious--wouldn't everyone love to teach in a district similar to Wyoming, where parent involvement is high and student achievement is consistently near the top in the state? Well no, there are many who may read this and say that they would much prefer the challenge of teaching in Middletown. It would be much more rewarding to make a difference in the lives of children who often have so little. How much of a difference can one make in a district like Wyoming, where 95% of graduating seniors attend a four-year college?

I started thinking about this question the other day and a few thoughts came to my mind. First, and maybe I'm wrong about this, I don't think I made much of an impact in Middletown anyway. In five years there, I can't recall having more than just a few students who I really developed GOOD relationships with. And guess who those students were? The high-achieving, highly motivated ones with whom I instantly developed a positive rapport. I had much in common with these students--a strong desire to learn and be challenged, a killer work ethic, and the drive to be successul. In other words, the type of student that I enjoyed teaching was exactly the type of student I will be teaching in Wyoming.

My second thought came in the form of a question--is it possible to make a positive impact in the life of a child, even if he comes from a great family? My answer is yes. Every child has their challenges, and teachers can help them overcome those challenges. I may have a few students this year who excel academically, but need help socially. I may have a student or two that hate to read. What if I could find a way to ignite a passion for reading in these students so that they become avid readers? Or what if I have student who is in to alternative activities--skate boarding, heavy metal music (I also reached a few of these kids in Middletown)--and as a result has few friends. What if I could find a way to relate to him/her?

I guess my main question is, how do you measure your impact as a teacher? I believe that not every child in a high-performing district is destined to be successful the moment they leave the womb; even these kids need the support of a caring teacher somewhere along the way.

Every teacher has a job to find out where they can make the biggest difference and search for a way to get there. Maybe my place was Middletown, but I'm pretty sure my place is Wyoming. Beginning this August, I'll find out.

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