Archives for category: Students

Peter Greene wrote this column a year ago, but it remains pertinent as ever.

Reformers like to say that the student should have “a backpack full of cash” (there is a terrific new documentary with that title, exposing the harm that school choice does to children and public schools).

Peter takes that canard on:

One of the foundational assertions of the charter movement is that public school tax dollars, once collected, should be attached to the child, maybe in a backpack, or perhaps surgically. “This public money… belongs to the student, not the failing school” wrote a commenter on one of my HuffPost pieces today. And I’ve heard variations on that over and over from charter advocates.

The money belongs to the student.

I’ve resisted this notion for a long time. The money, I liked to say, belongs to the taxpayers, who have used it to create a school system that serves the entire community by filling that community with well-educated adults who make better employees, customers, voters, neighbors, parents, and citizens. But hey– maybe I’ve been wrong. Maybe that money, once collected really does belong to the student. In which case, let’s really do this.

Let’s let the student spend his voucher money (and let’s stop pussyfooting around this– when we talk about the money following the students, we’re talking about vouchers) on the education of his dreams.

Does she want to go to the shiny new charter school? Let her go (as long as they’ll take her, of course). But why stop there? Travel has long been considered a broadening experience– what if she wants to take the voucher and spend it on a world cruise? Why not? It’s her money. Perhaps she wants to become a champion basketball player– would her time not be well spent hiring a coach and shooting hoops all day? Maybe she would like to develop her skills playing PS4 games, pursuant to a career in video-game tournaments. That’s educational. In fact, as I recall the misspent youth of many of my cohort, I seem to recall that many found smoking weed and contemplating the universe to be highly educational. I bet a voucher would buy a lot of weed….

Heck, let’s really go all in. Why use the odd fiction of a voucher at all– let’s just collect taxes and cut every single student an annual check for $10,000 (or whatever the going rate is in your neighborhood). Let’s just hand them the money that we’re asserting belongs to them, and let them spend it as they wish. Maybe they’d like a nice couch, or a new iPad, or a sweet skateboard, or a giant voucher party, or food and clothing for themselves and their family.

He goes on from there. Read it and learn why that backpack full of cash is a dopey idea.

Angie Sullivan, second grade teacher in Nevada, gives thanks. If you want to thank Angie, a tireless advocate for her students, write her at angiesullivan0@gmail.com

 

Angie writes:

 

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

I am grateful for public schools which are central to American opportunity.

 

Public schools are the main protectors of social justice.

 

Public schools are central to democracy.

 

We educate everyone – no matter the need.

 

Public schools take all students.

 

My students are the center of my life.

 

We need to protect public schools not drown them with unfunded mandates while withholding resources. We will fail if Nevada continues to withhold resources while increasing demands every year.

 

Experiments across the USA to educate communities of color by forcing them into charters without skilled permanent labor are failing. Corporations and groups want to devalue what teachers do. It does not work. It is a scam.

 

See Detroit.

 

See the lawsuits.

 

Policy that there is no need for skilled labor and union busting did this.

 

Communities of color need to demand a neighborhood public school with RESEARCH BASED instruction. They also need to demand authentic education not just test preparation.

 

Communities of color need to demand a real permanent skilled veteran teacher. Filling at-risk schools with young folks who had five weeks of training one summer – does not work. Filling at-risk schools with large number of ARLs and Subs has got to stop. It is our communities of color without real teachers.

 

Teachers should not be temporary. Hiring warm bodies without pedagogy is a real problem in at-risk schools in Vegas.

 

Teachers know there is not a quick fix. We know literacy is hard work not a quick fad or gimmick to make someone outside the school cash. Real teachers are not on our way to a school board seat or some other position. We do not whisper in the ears of power. We do not have a public relations firm which announces all our achievements.

 

We just take care of kids.

 

We do the job – but we are tired of being abused.

 

Detroit is Vegas.

 

If we do not fight charters, this will be us at a rate of six schools in the ASD a year. Yes, ASD legislation did this to Detroit. Charters did this to Detroit. Union busting did this.

 

If our community does not stand up and demand funding for at-risk public schools – this will be us. We are being starved into failure.

 

We will be drowned in lawsuits. All students who do not have a real teacher -should be demanding one.

 

The reformer experiment has failed in Nevada. Nevada charters are failing.

 

The full data needs to be reported.

 

The reformer experiment destroyed Detroit. Detroit’s charters are failing. Detroit’s ASD failed.

 

We do not need to repeat the mistakes other places make. We need to change our laws to get our charter mess under control

 

I am grateful for public schools.

 

I am grateful for my sweet students and their families.

 

I am grateful for democracy and America.

 

Home Means Nevada.

The citizens of Massachusetts spoke loudly and clearly on November 8 when they overwhelmingly rejected Question 2. They don’t want more charter schools. They want strong and well-resourced public schools.

 

But the state of Massachusetts and the Boston school superintendent Tommy Chang have decided to close Mattahunt Elementary School despite the pleas of the parents and the local community. 

 

The state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester has threatened to take over the school, although state takeovers have seldom been successful at improving schools. Boston superintendent Chang says that the only way to save the school is to close it. Read that sentence over two or three times and see if it makes any sense to you. It reminds me of the saying during the Vietnam War that “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.” This is insane.

 

Test scores are low. Kids are poor. Why not come up with a strategy to improve the school? Chang, who worked for John Deasy’s in Los Angeles, seems to have no idea how to help the school other than to close it. Neither does Mitchell Chester.

 

Citizens for Public Schools writes:

 

Does Boston have to close a school to save its children from suffering harm at the hands of the state?

 

That startling question was the focus of nearly four hours of passionate debate last week, pitting 100 parents and other supporters of the Mattahunt School against Superintendent Tommy Chang.

 

In the end, the School Committee voted to close the school at the end of June to head off state takeover, even after parents said they were willing to take the risk and would join with the School Committee in fighting for their school.

 

The Mattahunt students are 95 percent Black and Latino, and over 25 percent English language learners. Many come from Haiti and have already experienced trauma and instability. School Department officials said 17 of the students came to the Mattahunt from other schools that the department closed.

 

“You would never do this in a white community,” said Peggy Wiesenberg, a white parent who came to support the Mattahunt parents…

 

All sides agreed that state intervention would be a tragedy for the children. Speakers said the state takeover of the Dever and Holland schools had hurt the children in those schools, using terms like “disaster.”

 

Have public officials in charge of education in Massachusetts lost their minds? Why would they close a school to avoid a state takeover that everyone agrees would be a disaster? Would they do this in a white neighborhood? Why are they treating these children like they are inanimate objects? Like they don’t matter? Like their well-being is unimportant? They are not doing this for the kids. Why are they doing it? What is the point? This is not education reform. This is community destruction and child abuse.

 

Where is the accountability for Mitchell Chester and Tommy Chang? They are guilty of educational malpractice. They should be held accountable.

 

 

A coalition of parents, educators, and privacy advocates issued a statement in defense of student privacy, which is threatened by efforts to create a massive federal data base containing personally identifiable data.

Press Release: Parent, education and privacy groups oppose overturning the ban on a federal student database

For more information: Leonie Haimson, leoniehaimson@gmail.com; 917-435-9329

Parent, education and privacy groups oppose overturning the ban on a federal student database

This morning a letter was sent to the federal Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking from parent groups, education advocates, and privacy experts, urging them against proposing that the ban on a centralized federal database of student personal data be overturned.

Recently, several DC-based groups testified before the Commission, urging that this ban be lifted, which was established by Congress as part of the Higher Education Act in 2008. The Gates Foundation has also announced that the creation of a centralized federal database to track students from preK through college, the workforce and beyond is one of their top advocacy priorities for 2017.

In the letter, parent, privacy and education organizations warned that eliminating this ban would risk that highly sensitive information would breached, as has occurred with sensitive data held by many federal agencies in recent years. A hack into the Office of Personal Management released personnel records of about 22.1 million individuals. More recently, an audit of the US Department of Education found serious security flaws in their data systems, and a government security scorecard awarded the agency an overall grade of D.

Moreover, K-12 student data currently collected by states that would potentially be incorporated in the federal database often include upwards of 700 specific personal data elements, including students’ immigrant status, disabilities, disciplinary records, and homelessness. Data collected ostensibly for the sole purpose of research would likely be merged with other federal agency data and could include information from their census, military service, tax returns, criminal and health records.

Said Leonie Haimson, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, whose members led the fight against inBloom, designed to capture and share the personal student data of nine states and districts, “A centralized federal database containing the personal data of every public-school student would pose an even greater risk to individual privacy than inBloom. It would allow the government to create dossiers on nearly every United States resident over time, and if breached or abused would cause immeasurable damage.”

As privacy advocates in England recently discovered, the personal information in a similar national student database that the government promised would be used only for research purposes has been secretly requested by the police and by the Home Office, in part to identify and locate undocumented children and their families.

“Our disastrous data privacy situation here in England should serve to warn Americans of the grave dangers of this sort of comprehensive student surveillance and database. The personal confidential information in our National Pupil Database was supposed to be used only for research, but we found out recently that data on thousands of students and their families has been secretly requested by the police and for the purposes of immigration control in just the last 15 months. It would be unwise and irresponsible for the United States to create a similar database, which can so easily be used for political purposes which are not in all children’s best interests,” said Jen Persson, coordinator of defenddigitalme, a privacy and digital rights group in the UK.

Chad Marlow, Advocacy & Policy Counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “Improving educational opportunities for children and protecting student privacy are not mutually exclusive goals. In fact, it is our responsibility as parents, educators, and Americans to doggedly pursue both objectives. Creating any type of centralized database for personally identifiable student data would pose real and significant risks to the privacy of America’s students, and that is why such databases have consistently been rejected in the past. With education policy, as with privacy, ‘do no harm’ is a reasonable place to start, and here, doing no harm clearly requires rejecting any attempts to establish a universal database that compiles and tracks students’ most sensitive information.”

Diane Ravitch, President of the Network for Public Education and NPE Action pointed out, “Whether Democrat or Republican, the one thing parents agree on is the importance of their child’s privacy. To allow the federal government to collect personal and sensitive data on every public-school student in the nation risks that this information would be misused by the government and corporations.“

“Parents Across America opposes any effort to establish a national student record system. Ever since the federal government weakened protections for student privacy, parents have been in a crisis mode. Our children are exposed every school day to a growing mish-mash of screen devices and online programs that capture mountains of their data. We know that the threat to privacy will only get worse if there’s a national record system; education profiteers will line up to tap into an even more convenient source of private student information. But we are determined not to let that happen to our children’s data,” said Julie Woestehoff, Interim Executive Director of Parents Across America.

Lisa Rudley, Executive Director of the NY State Allies for Public Education, observed, “Data collection and sharing of our children’s personally identifiable information should require a parent’s informed consent. Just because the technology of data mining is here, it doesn’t mean children’s privacy rights should be sacrificed.”

“Our children and their families deserve protection of their data. More importantly, we must understand that protecting our children relies upon protecting their personal information from breach or abuse,” concluded Marla Kilfoyle, Executive Director of the Badass Teachers Association.

The Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking is accepting public comment on this matter until December 14, 2016. For more information, visit the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy website here: http://www.studentprivacymatters.org/federaldatasystem/

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Arthur Goldstein teaches English language learners in a high school in Queens. He is active in his union and more often than not, a thorn in its side. He writes a blog where he speaks his mind, protected by tenure.

He addresses the question that most educators will have to face in the days ahead. What do you tell the students? What do you say to Hispanic students? to Black students? to gay students? Do you still teach an anti-bias curriculum? an anti-bullying program? If you do, are you criticizing the President-elect?

Goldstein writes:

In this post, he calls on the Chancellor of the New York City public schools to put a letter in his file. He also offers a graphic/meme that he hopes will appear in every classroom in the city (or state or nation).

Chancellor Fariña declared there would be no overt political talk in class. To a degree, I understand that. It’s not my place to tell kids who I voted for. It’s not my place to tell them who to vote for either. I would never do such a thing. But I knew they would ask me anyway.

Nonetheless, on Monday, I wore a tie a little bit like the one on the right. You wouldn’t notice what was on it unless you looked closely. When the kids asked me who I was voting for, I showed them the tie. I told them that a donkey represented Democrats, and an elephant represented Republicans. They didn’t know that. They looked at my tie and said, “Oh, you’re voting for Hillary.” I was glad they asked, because I needed them to know I would not vote for someone who hated them and everything they stood for, to wit, the American dream.

I also needed them to know that I stood against all the bigoted and xenophobic statements our President-elect made. I’m sorry, Chancellor Fariña, but I’m a teacher, and unlike Donald Trump, I stand for basic decency. My classroom rule, really my only one, is, “We will treat one another with respect.”

Donald Trump failed to treat a wide swath of people with respect. He’s a hateful, vicious bully. There are all sorts of anti-bullying campaigns that go in in city schools, and I fail to see why Donald Trump should get a pass simply for having lied his way to the Presidency. So I specifically repudiated a whole group of his insidious statements. I also added LGBT to my group, and told my kids that we would not tolerate slurs to gay people in my classroom. Even my kids seem to expect a pass on that. They won’t get one.

Rachel Levy–blogger, teacher, graduate student, parent in Virginia–offers sound advice about what the election means for education and how concerned education voters can respond to it.

Here is a sampling.

Pay attention to high-quality research (and I would add, pay attention to who pays for the research).

Read writers from different perspectives, including those who don’t share your views.

Support investigative journalism, which is badly needed and in need of supportive readers.

She writes:

“3. …Trump supports the current traditional Republican agenda, that is privatization, school “choice,” and the complete elimination of education as a public good. In my opinion, those are not good policies–they are not good for public education but they also are not good for our society. Public schools are flawed and as an institution have been tools of segregation and oppression but they are our best model for sustaining a pluralistic democracy. Public schools are where kids (hopefully) from all kinds of backgrounds and families come together and navigate the world. Privatization and “choice” will end that. Keep in mind that privatization and school “choice” are part of what we’ve been contending with for a long time, including from the Obama administration, though most centrist Democrats do draw the line at vouchers.

“And education is a matter that is largely left to states and localities. Trump has indicated that he would leave education to the states and localities to a even greater extent than ESSA does. However, at the same time, he has said things such as that he wants to abolish Common Core, which is a state matter. He has no record of governing (he has never held office), has no demonstrated expertise or knowledge of policy, is unpredictable, is, and is especially interested in amassing power. Education does not appear to be much on his radar screen. So some of what happens will depend upon his education-related appointments, but otherwise, who knows how much he will leave education to states and localities and how much he will want to control himself? Who knows what he will do?

Recommendation #3: If you are not already, now is the time to get engaged in your local and state governance. That is the only thing that is left. Learn all about your local and state governing bodies, including your school boards. Learn about the issues and policies. Get informed. Talk with your fellow community members about the issues and policies. Comment publicly on what your local and state governing bodies are doing and what you as a citizen, taxpayer, and constituent want them to do. Cherish those public democratic institutions and work to preserve them and keep them healthy. Work to get people from diverse backgrounds and different groups elected and appointed to such bodies. Serve in those bodies yourself. Contribute and be a participant. I can’t stress this enough.

“I have long said that local and state governance is the most important and this is more true than ever. Neo-liberals have demonstrated disdain for institutions and matters of local and state governance. Obama’s principal Secretary of Education Arne Duncan thought school boards were dysfunctional and a nuisance. Do not follow this example. Set a new one. When you fail to engage with your local and state institutions, you leave a void for others or nobody to fill. Local and state political leaders are obligated to serve their constituents and they need to be held accountable. We have to make them serve the public, ALL members of the public.

“4. Going back to federal education, while I stated that much of what Trump has said about education aligns with current initiatives in education generally, there will be a large, devastating difference from the Obama administration in terms of the focus of the Department of Education. Trump may work to eliminate the Department of Education, he may completely redirect the way federal funds for education are used (Title I, for example, and Pell Grants). Civil rights components and integration initiatives will be gutted. So much of the work that has been done towards establishing even just a fragile understanding of white supremacy and just a small start to countering and dismantling it will likely be lost. This will have devastating effects.

“Recommendation #4: Get involved and be present in your community’s schools, in your children’s schools. Advocate for diverse school staffs and diverse curricula. Tell your local educators that you know that they can’t control what kids learn at home, but that once in school, you expect everyone be treated with respect and dignity and to be kept safe. If you hear something or see something, say something. Right now, there are many kids in schools (including many traditional public schools) who are just trying to survive. Read this –it’s alarming but you must read it. It’s always been this way on some level, especially for Muslim, black, Latino, LGBT, and immigrant students and students with disabilities, but now it’s even worse and female and all other non-Christian students are also in more danger. The country will have a president, unless the electors of electoral college step up to the plate, who is a white nationalist sexual predator and whose behavior would violate the code of conduct in many of our children’s schools and warrant suspension if not expulsion, not to mention arrest and conviction outside of school. Our schools will be charged with enforcing codes of conduct to keep students safe from sexual assault, bullying, harassment, and attacks. Many are being bullied, intimidated, provoked, and in some cases attacked. They need our support and protection.”

Teacher Mark Weber, who blogs brilliantly as Jersey Jazzman, was invited to deliver the keynote address the New Jersey Education Association. He thought he might speak about charters or testing or teacher evaluation, but decided instead to talk about how the election of Donald Trump would affect teacher unions and the teaching profession and how teachers must help students who feel targeted by Trump’s divisive rhetoric.

He said that the battle to destroy unions would intensify:

“This union here, the New Jersey Education Association, will be one of the prime targets in the new anti-teachers union era. This union has stood strong for teachers and proudly used its political and other capital to advocate for the best interests of its members, which also – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – happens to be the best interests of this state’s students and their families.

“I am constantly amazed and appalled when people try to make the argument that somehow teacher work conditions and student learning conditions aren’t the same thing. Middle-class wages with decent benefits are necessary if we are to draw talented young people into the profession.

“Job protections, including tenure, are necessary to protect the interests of taxpayers and students, who count on teachers to serve as their advocates within the school system. Safe, clean, well-resourced schools make teaching an attractive profession, but they also lead to better learning outcomes for children.

“Teachers unions are the advocates for these necessary pre-conditions for student learning. Teachers unions are the political force that compels politicians to put necessary funds into public schools. Teachers unions are the groups who make the conditions of teaching better, ensuring that this nation will have a stable supply of educators for years to come.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that right now, public education hangs in the balance. Teacher workplace rights are in serious jeopardy. The ability of NJEA to protect the future of New Jersey’s outstanding public education system – by any measure, one of the finest in the world, in spite of this state’s recent abdication of its role to fully fund its schools – is under dire threat.

“There is only one course to take: we must organize. We must stand strong, we must stand together, and we must refuse to give into desperation. Our families, our colleagues, and our students have always counted on us when they needed us the most – we must not now, nor ever, stop fighting for them or yes, that’s right, for ourselves.”

Turning to the greatest threat from the campaign, Weber spoke about teachers’ duty to protect their students:

“No one should think for one second that our children have not been deeply, deeply affected by this outpouring of hatred. It is worst of all for any child who has been transformed into an “other” by the rhetoric that had infected this campaign.

“I fear for any child who shows up to school after the election wearing a hijab. I fear for any child who wears a hoodie and walks to school through a neighborhood that doesn’t include people who look like him. I fear for any child who is not conforming with our society’s preconceptions about gender. I fear for any child who was not born within our borders, yet who loves the promise of America as much as any of her native sons and daughters.

“The only thing that can ever hope to protect these children is the love of the adults in their lives who know better. If you know better, you can no longer sit on the sidelines. If you know better, but you stay silent, your silence will become violence.

“I pray that I am wrong about Donald Trump. I pray he will grow into his position. I pray he will find some measure of conscience, some level of decency, within himself and rise to the enormous task ahead of him.

“But even if he does, his campaign has emboldened dark forces within our democracy. We saw them in those ugly, violent rallies. We saw them when the so-called “alt-right” said and wrote unspeakably horrible words, spewed across our media and the Internet.

“Those forces will have absolutely no qualms about taking out all their anger and all their hatred on our children. We, my fellow teachers, are an integral part of those children’s defense.

“We can no longer tolerate racially biased classroom and disciplinary practices within our schools: the stakes have just become too high. We can no longer tolerate racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic language that, yes, sometimes, sadly, comes from our less-enlightened colleagues: the stakes are now too high. We cannot stand by and allow one kind of schooling to be foisted on one kind of student while another enjoys all the benefits of a truly meaningful education: the stakes are now too high.

“And we can not, we will not, we will refuse to allow politicians to use the alleged “failures” of our urban students to deprive them of adequate funding; to deprive them of a broad, rich curriculum; to deprive them of experienced teachers who look like their students; to deprive them of beautiful, healthy, well-resourced school facilities; and to deprive them of lives outside of school that are free of economic injustice and racial hatred.

“The stakes are too damn high….

“Our civil liberties have been under assault since 9-11; now, they are in even greater peril. And on Tuesday our world may well have become far more dangerous. If there is another leader of a democratic country who has said that he is fine with the use of nuclear weapons, I don’t know who he is.

“I pray I am wrong, but when I rationally consider the future, everything tells me that our students may well soon be living in a world that is less prosperous, less healthy, less free, and less safe.

“They will need us more than ever. They will be hungry and scared and stressed. They will be confused, because, even as we preach to them the importance of self-sacrifice and modesty, this country rewards too many who have lived lives of gluttony and arrogance.

“We must be there for them. We must never stop fighting for them. We must never stop believing in them.”

Ken Futernick wrote this post for the Harvard Press blog. Ken is a researcher who believes that collaboration is better than competition.

I first encountered Ken’s work when I read his superb paper: “Incompetent Teachers or Dysfunctional a Systems?” I urge you to read it too. He makes it clear that the billion-dollar-hunt for the “bad teacher” is not productive. And we know now that it is not.

He writes:


It’s time for those of us in education to revisit an old question: what’s our purpose? Some would say it’s to pass on what we know to the next generation.

That makes sense, provided we like what we’re passing on.

It’s hard to imagine that many Americans would want their children to inherit today’s toxic politics or to emulate the politicians who lie to the public, ignore science, peddle bigotry, and eschew civil discourse.

Not surprisingly, some students are doing just that. Last February, for instance, students attending a championship basketball game at Andrean High School in Indiana mimicked a popular presidential candidate, chanting, “build a wall” at their opponents from Bishop Noll Institute, whose students are mostly Latino.

And why wouldn’t we expect students to reject climate change, evolution, the use of vaccines, or science itself when some of their leaders do the same?

The point is that educators must be discerning about what we pass on. As the American philosopher John Dewey wrote one hundred years ago, “Every society gets encumbered with what is trivial, with dead wood from the past, and with what is positively perverse…. As a society becomes more enlightened, it realizes that it is responsible not to transmit and conserve the whole of its existing achievements, but only such as make for a better future society.”

Enlightened schools do this by updating their curricula with relevant, useful content and by cultivating values like equity, critical analysis, and civil discourse. In addition to academics, they promote social, emotional, and moral development. They confront bullying and racism, teaching students to resolve their differences respectfully. They teach the value of facts and demand that students support their opinions with reasons and evidence—even when politicians don’t.

These schools aren’t engaged in partisan politics. The values they’re teaching don’t belong to political parties—they’re fundamental values of a democracy, which is why all public schools in America should foster them.

Enlightened educators also model good leadership. As I show in my book, The Courage to Collaborate: The Case for Labor-Management Partnerships in Education, a growing number of school boards, administrators, and teacher unions are working as partners, rather than as adversaries. They still disagree, sometimes vehemently, but they manage their disputes through trust, collaboration, and civil dialogue. Without the acrimony, the name-calling, and the gridlock, these educators are able to innovate, solve problems, and cultivate good teaching and powerful learning. Isn’t this the type of leadership we want students to learn?

https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/18/i-teach-the-toughest-kids-and-i-love-it/

In recent years, there has been a new genre of writing from teachers who are fed up and explain why they are leaving.

But fortunately most teachers rise every day to do what they love, and they refuse to be intimidated by mandates, administrative nonsense, or tough kids.

Steven Singer says he teaches the toughest kids in his school, and he loves it. He loves the kids, he loves the challenge, he loves meeting them as adults when they come up to hug him and thank him.

Do you want to know what keeps this teacher inspired and motivated?

He begins like this:

It was rarely a good thing when LaRon smiled in school.

It usually meant he was up to something.

He was late to class and wanted to see if I’d notice. He just copied another student’s homework and wondered if he’d get away with it. He was talking crap and hoped someone would take it to the next level.

As his teacher, I became rather familiar with that smile, and it sent shivers down my spine.

But on the last day of school, I couldn’t help but give him a smile back.

A few minutes before the last bell of the year, I stood before my class of 8th graders and gave them each a shout out.

“I just want to say what an honor it’s been to be your teacher,” I said.

They shifted in their seats, immediately silent. They wanted to hear this.

“Some of you have been a huge pain in my butt,” I conceded.

And almost all heads in the room turned to LaRon.

And he smiled.

Not a mischievous smile. Not a warning of wrongdoing yet to come.

He was slightly embarrassed.

So I went on:

“But I’m proud of what you’ve accomplished this year. Each and every one of you. It has been my privilege to be here for you,” and I nodded at LaRon to make sure he knew I included him in what I was saying.

Because I do mean him.

Students like LaRon keep an old man like me on my toes. No doubt. But look at all he did – all he overcame this year.

His writing improved exponentially.

Back in September, he thought a paragraph was a sentence or two loosely connected, badly spelled full of double negatives and verbs badly conjugated. Now he could write a full five-paragraph essay that completely explained his position with a minimum of grammatical errors.

Back in September, the most complex book he had read was “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” Now he had read “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” How did I know? Because I had read it with him. We had all read these books together and stopped frequently to talk about them.

Back in September, if he raised his hand to ask a question, it was usually no more complex than “Can I go to the bathroom?” Now he was asking questions about where the Nazis came from, what happened to Mr. Frank after the war, did Harper Lee ever write any other books, and is the fight for civil rights over.

The last day of school is one of the hardest for me, because my classes are doubled. I don’t just have my students – I also have the ghosts of who they were at the beginning of the year.

They all change so much. They’re like different people at the end, people I helped guide into being.

Read and be inspired.

The Parkway School District in Missouri posted this beautiful video about the first day of school. It asked students what they hoped for. It asked teachers what they hoped for.

Please notice that no one mentioned higher test scores.

They spoke of hopes and dreams. Being better. Making new friends. Having school feel like home. Caring. Feeling wanted. Belonging.