A letter from a NYC teacher:

I am a Nationally Board Certified Teacher (2003, 2013) teaching in NYC. Two years ago, I was intimidated to leave my first NYC school due to test scores on the grade 8 ELA exam. My students passed but didn’t make enough progress. This school was an “A” school in a very depressed neighborhood. Unfortunately, I did not love data enough and I refused to view multiple-choice questions as text.

I chose to assess my students differently: Where are they now? Where are they going? What do they need to know to get there? How can I help them reach their goal? I asked myself these questions daily. I chose community texts, intensive writing workshops, and art to help my students reach their goals. More than anything, I wanted them to experience a type of learning that had nothing to do with worksheets or tests. I wanted to provoke and inspire.

At the end of of my third year, I was slammed with my first formal observation the day after Spring Break. I was informed in an email about 12 hours before the start of the next school day. As my pre-observation was three months earlier, I made sure to send a lengthy and detailed email to my AP prior to the lesson. This was a gamble in itself since my administration was so terrified of email that they usually reprimanded us for using it. They preferred handwritten memos. The AP sat in the back of the room and did not make eye-contact with me. She simply typed.

Immediately following the observation, I was called down for a meeting. The AP who did the formal was not in attendance. The principal told me I did not make tenure. I asked why and how I was evaluated. He said nothing of my formal observation, my three years of teaching, or the countless handwritten memos that stated I was doing a great job (I saved all of them). Instead, he showed me data. Data from the three-day tests he made us give four times a year. These tests were photocopies of old NYS tests. Only the multiple-choice sections were used. Data from the Accelerated Reader (AR) program we struggled to implement. How does a student take an online test without an Internet connection? How do they read without even three titles they could enjoy on their reading level? They don’t. And so my principal also used a lack of data against me. And of course there is VAM. I am “Lucky Number 7.” Once published, that score would hurt his school.

I won’t lie. I cried. I cried because I had spent ten years teaching in functioning public schools in Orange County, FL and Montgomery County, MD. I cried because I was so exhausted fighting for my right to teach and the students’ right to learn. In previous schools, I was treated like a professional. I had working relationships with my administrators. All of us were about changing the lives of our students and we did it together. For ten years, I was inspired, motivated, and supported.

For days after that meeting, my principal would stand outside my room and watch me teach. He would come inside and examine my unit plans, which needed to be aligned to the CCS. He would glare at me if my eighth-graders spoke in the hallways or while walking down five flights of stairs to lunch. During that time, I actually received a memo that said, “Monitor your students at all times. I saw Clara push Timmy during line-up.”

I quickly secured a new position.

On my last day there, we had to wait in line to hand in our classroom keys. I passed my keys to the school secretary and the AP passed me my formal observation paperwork. It was signed, but not one box was checked. I had never known such insidiousness could exist in a place for children.

My current school is a large, “failing” NYC high school. The two APs I work with care about their teachers and students. Through them, I have learned so much about teaching city kids–without lowering my standards or testing them into oblivion. Together, we are building something better for our students. That feeling of support, of community, of compassion is priceless.