It is the last week of school and as I put on my bright yellow-gold Brigthon t-shirt with burgundy lettering, I thought about how many months I had this shirt before I wore it to school. I really can not explain why I did not wear the shirt since purchasing it last fall because on Fridays most of the teachers wear a Brighton t-shirt. I remember the many Thursday nights I looked at this shirt hanging in my closet and thought I just can not wear it yet. It was not that I was not proud of my school, but I thought the teachers would resent my wearing “their” shirt. I felt so out of place and considered that by wearing the shirt I was somehow forcing myself on the faculty; a faculty I had brought more attention to than I ever intended. I finally got up the courage to wear my Brighton shirt. I was so relieved when several of my colleagues commented that the shirt was a good color for me. I know they meant this comment literally, but I hope it also meant I was finally becoming a Brighton teacher.
I have learned much about what it means to be a Brighton teacher this year. I have learned you have to be realistic about having a failing label and accept accountability for the academic needs. Brighton teachers are asked to work long hours and adapt to new programs and schedules with little input. Brighton teachers have to be extremely flexible as our school is in a state of constant change to find the best practices that work. Brighton teachers are often called on to defend our school and the longtime unjust reputation. Brighton teachers have to strive to maintain high expectations and not yield to the negative culture of poverty and failure. Brighton teachers have the awesome responsibility of being a stable force in the lives of Brighton children.
Two weeks ago, our school had our Southern Accreditation Five-Year Review. In the final conference with the visiting team of evaluators, the chair of the team shared with the teachers a very positive report and concluded with what the students had said in their interviews. The chair looked at the teachers and said “Your students love you.” She went on to say quite passionately that each child’s response about what they liked best about the school was -their teachers. As I looked through my own tears at my colleagues, I saw the same reaction to her statement. One teacher had tears streaming down her face, others had tear filled eyes and a few had shaky smiles. It was one of the most emotional moments of my teaching career because this is why we do what we do, it is for the children and the hope that we can bring. At Brighton, like in other high-need populations, school is so often the very best place for our students. At school our children are safe, warm, fed, and nurtured as well as taught. This is truly the calling of a Brighton teacher to make a difference in the life of a child that maybe no one else will or can make such efforts. It takes a special person to become and remain a Brighton teacher. I am so proud to be Brighton teacher and to wear my yellow-gold Brighton shirt with the burgundy letters.
This year has been the hardest year of my professional career. I do not think I have ever been on so many emotional roller coasters. I have learned so much and I know I am a better teacher today than I was last August on the opening day of school. Our school is ending with a positive note due to several events. Our young children have shown significant gains on the state mandated reading test. One of our kindergarten classes benchmarked at 100%! This has been so exciting to see the rewards of hard work. In our Five-Year Review, the committee stated that our school should be a model demonstration site for school improvement. This has been my vision from the first day I walked inside Brighton School and I now see this becoming a reality. I look forward to continuing this upward journey next year. I have high expectations for what will be accomplished at Brighton. I plan to remain at Brighton for the last four years of this part of my teaching career. I will continue to use my teacher voice for the inequities in education. I have adopted a new quote for my philosophy that all children deserve an equal chance. The quote comes from the book,Whatever It Takes, the authors quote Rick Stiggins who states as educators, our motto should be “Do not deprive of hope.” I am going to take this on for all the “Brightons” as simply, “ Do not deny hope.”
Last year, I had the most incredible year in my travels as National Teacher of the Year. One day last May, I was sitting in a beautiful, corner room at the Ritz Carlton in New York City, eating my room service lunch, and enjoying the view. I thought next year when I am back in a school, I will remember this day. Well, I am back in the lunchroom eating grilled cheese, watching the antics of young children, and it feels so good to be home because Brighton is where I belong.
This is my last post and I want to thank you so much for your comments. So many of you have spent your careers in high need schools and I felt very driven to represent your years of work in a deserving manner. I am very appreciative of the opportunity to be a voice for teachers. I wish you continued success in your work and thank you for the difference your making in the lives of children all across our country and in other parts of the world.
The opinions expressed in Teacher of the Year are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.