At the end of every school year, my district loooooves to take surveys. About everything. We’d send out surveys about our last survey if we could. And we survey everyone—teachers, students, parents, and community members. For context, I teach in a large-ish public high school in Arizona, and to say that we sometimes lack community support would be an understatement. Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of families who do support us, but there are a lot of families who don’t.
The culture and climate of public education in Arizona is tenuous, to say the least. Our state government believes in school choice and so do many of our families, and with a well-advertised, state-labeled A+ district a 20-minute bus ride up the road, well, let’s just say many of our families take advantage of that highly-performing district—and, if we’re being honest, who can blame them?
At the end of last school year, we sent out our final survey. And when the results came back, there was this one long comment that has stuck with me since. And, as we near the end of another school year, I have found myself thinking about this comment over and over again.
Basically, here is what it said:
‘The high school is average. The teachers are average. The academic programs are average. The athletic programs are average. Everyone does just as much as they must and no more. There is nothing special about the school.’
Now, who wrote this comment? Was it a parent? A student? A teacher? I do not know. But, what I do know is that they sound pretty invested in commenting on my school and my role within that school.
To say that I was disheartened by this comment wouldn’t do it justice, but I have to believe that I am not the only one who has read feedback similar to this. And, to flat out ignore this comment, to brush it off and say it has no merit, well, that would be a mistake because, although it is hard for me to hear, there has to be a grain of truth in it. If someone finds our school to be mediocre, they must have reasons, right? It’s an uncomfortable conversation, but it’s one schools have to have.
There are many reasons we need to have these conversations, but the biggest reason is that I know I can’t be the only one who sometimes leaves school at the end of the day feeling total despair and frustration. I know I can’t be the only one who works in a school where support/resources/time/money is lacking, and each day, you show up to work and do your thing and at the end of that day, you aren’t sure if you’ve made a difference or not.
If you work in a school like that, I want you to walk away from this feeling that even though someone may have arbitrarily slapped a ‘C’ or ‘D’ label on your school—and by extension, on you—if you pause for a moment, you will realize that label does not define you.
You are not a ‘C’ teacher.
Your actions define your impact and if you get out there and make yourself an ‘A’ teacher, that is when the conversations in your community begin to change.
Across the nation, education is a hot topic right now. There are many conversations happening about teacher pay, the conditions of school buildings, lost funding, and the impacts these factors have on student learning and student achievement. There are also many misconceptions about what it means to be a teacher and there is this perception in my community and in communities around Arizona that when a school has a bad grade, that immediately means all of the teachers in that school are bad teachers. I’m here to tell you that is simply not true, but, if you remain silently complacent in your ‘C’ status, the perception will remain the same.
As educators, we all know that good teachers matter and that a good teacher has the biggest impact on student achievement out of all factors that schools can control. And there is data to support this. So then, the argument that follows is: “If good teachers matter and good teachers impact student achievement, why then do schools have bad grades?” There are so many answers to that question that I cannot even begin to answer, so I’m not going to. What I am going to answer is this: “If my school has a bad grade and my community doesn’t support us, what can I do to change the narrative?”
Now, that’s a question I can answer. When you became a teacher, you may not have realized it at the time, but you were signing up to be an educational advocate. In our current climate, it is more important than ever that we get out of our classrooms and advocate for our students, our school, our profession, and the future of our schools.
When you, and the teachers around you, stop treating your school like a ‘C’ school and your teachers like ‘C’ teachers, only good things can happen! If you want that first push, check out the diffusion of innovations theory. Figure out your own sphere of influence, find people who will feed your soul and your work, pick one thing to impact, and then work on that thing. Then, when someone accuses you of being “average” or “mediocre,” you will be able to tell them about the good things you are working on and why you are, in fact, an ‘A’ teacher.
In the famous words of Taylor Mali, teachers “can make a C+ feel like a Congressional honor.” Your reality is dependent on your perspective, and so is that of your students, your parents, and your community. So, stop treating your school like a ‘C’ school and it will cease to be one.
Maricopa High School
Grades 9 & 12
Ms. Aidan Balt has a B.A. in Secondary English Education from the University of Sioux Falls (South Dakota) and a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership, with distinction, from Northern Arizona University. She is currently pursuing National Board Certification in Language Arts and is a certified Arizona Master Teacher through the AZK12 Center. She is a Beginning Teacher Mentor and she spends half of her school day in her own classroom and half of her school day in the classrooms of the beginning teachers she supports. She is the English Department Chairperson and the MHS Gifted and Talented Teacher Liaison. She is currently teaching 12th grade Advanced Placement Literature and Composition and English 1 Honors, but she has taught grades 9-12 typical, honors, and advanced. This is her eighth year as a teacher at Maricopa High School. Before becoming a teacher, Aidan worked for Volunteers of America, Dakotas, and brought her years of experience in working with youths of diverse backgrounds, including young refugees, into her role as a classroom teacher.