Jessica Marks, Teacher of the Year in Arizona, wrote a guest post for Tim Slekar’s blog “Busted Pencils.” She recounts her journey from being fired at KIPP as a terrible teacher to winning accolades on Arizona. And now, on the verge of walking out, she wonders what she should say to the public.

“On Friday, April 27, I will be giving a speech to a ballroom crowded with 300 people, explaining what it meant to have spent the last year as 2017’s Yavapai County Overall Teacher of the Year.

“”It’s been quite an honor. A flag was waved over the nation’s Capitol in my honor. A declaration about my contribution to education was read on the floor of Congress. I was showered with free vacations, free tuition, and thousands of dollars in prize money. People recognize me at the grocery store.

“And only about four years ago, I was fired from a teaching job. My principal then told me that, on a scale between one and four, I was a 1.5.

“I wonder if he realizes his great loss.

“I wonder, what do you put in a speech that will be published in the paper the next day, read by everyone in your small town, and put under a microscope by everyone who wants to squash the Arizona walk-out movement?

“I have a lot to say and, for the first time, I’m in a place in my life where I am not afraid to say it out loud and sign my name to every hurtful word.

I wonder where I should begin?

“I could talk about how far I’ve come. I mean, after I was fired, I wanted to give up teaching altogether and water plants at Home Depot . . . but Home Depot wouldn’t hire me. I was too broken. Too worn out, exhausted after months of 16 – 20 hour days at KIPP Austin: Academy of Arts & Letters. I’d suffered relentlessly, both at the hands of the students and at the hands of the administration. The kids stole from me, destroyed my things, and threatened me. The administration had pointed video cameras at me all day long to document and criticize everything from my handwriting on the board to my clothing. I was trying to teach messages about endurance and foster a love of learning in students that hated school and couldn’t read or write in English. I failed miserably. KIPP discarded me.

“I came home to Arizona after being fired at the pleading of my family and my left-behind boyfriend. I felt lucky that anyone would want me at all, me being so tarnished and useless. My friend told me to apply at a local middle school because “they would hire anyone.” They hired me.

“I gave every bit of my heart and energy and determination to those students. Now, just a few years later, I’m recognized as one of the best educators in the entire state…

“I could use my few minutes on the stage as a platform to speak up for the deplorable conditions of Arizona’s education system. My textbooks are 25 years old. I don’t have one desk that is not mutilated or broken. Every Post-It, pen, or pencil that I use in the classroom has been provided by myself or the generosity of my students’ families. At the beginning of the year, my classes were packed with 36 – 40 students in each one.

“I have had two students try to kill themselves this year. Two of my students have moms who were murdered. I have students living in their cars and motels. My students have withdrawn from school so they can go to prison. We don’t have a social worker on campus. We DO have a school psychologist (though she is TERRIBLY overwhelmed, diagnosing learning disabilities all day and writing IEPs) and three school counselors – but their job is to make sure every student can graduate on time – not give private therapy about traumatic events. But we are having success! I build lessons and create learning with no budget and no help! My students trust me, even though I was a failure before. We rise.”