Teaching Profession Blog

Teacher of the Year

(Editor’s Note 06/05: This blog is now closed. Many thanks to Betsy Rogers for her hard work sharing her year with us. Read Ms. Rogers new blog, located at the Teacher Leaders Network, slated to start in August 2005.)

Betsy Rogers, a 20-year teaching veteran from Alabama, was named National Teacher of the Year in 2003. Ms. Rogers spent her year as National Teacher traveling the country and talking with educators about her belief that the best way to close the equity gap is to put the strongest teachers in the weakest schools.

After finishing her tour, Ms. Rogers decided to practice what she preached, choosing to work at Brighton Elementary School, the “neediest school” in Jefferson County, Alabama. In this, Teacher Magazine’s inaugural opinion blog, Ms. Rogers reflects on her year at Brighton, and how her experience there meshed with her expectations. (Views reflected herein are strictly those of Ms. Betsy Rogers.)

Education Opinion Being A Brighton Teacher
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.
May 24, 2005
4 min read
Education Opinion Growing Our Own
In my first entry, I wrote about my choice to work at Brighton was based on my belief that we need to recruit our strongest teachers to our most needy schools. I still believe this, but realistically I realize we need to consider other options. I now see the need as some would say “ to grow our own”. The reality of recruiting teachers to schools labeled failure is very difficult. I know we have a need for highly accomplished, veteran teachers. However as one teacher responded to my previous entry on recruitment, established teachers do not easily pull up stakes and change schools.
May 15, 2005
2 min read
Education Opinion Sense of Urgency
Last week, I had the privilege of presenting at a conference in the northern part of my state. This not only is a beautiful part of Alabama, but the schools in this area are outstanding. During my presentation I stopped several times to ask the teachers if they were involved in some of the efforts that are ongoing at my school. Their responses were no to most of what I asked. As I looked out at this very energetic group of teachers, I felt a twinge of jealousy. This group looked as fresh as they did when I spoke to them at the beginning of the year. While I on the other hand, look frazzled and exhausted and I am not alone in this. A topic of conversation in our school office this past week was our current state of exhaustion and what vitamins we all need to take. Very simply, our staff is worn out.
May 8, 2005
4 min read
Education Opinion Keeping Good Teachers
Last week, I wrote about recruiting teachers to my school. This week my thoughts are turning to how do we keep good teachers in my school or any hard to staff school. One word comes to mind - support.
May 1, 2005
3 min read
Education Opinion Recruiting Teachers
Testing is over and we are now looking to next year. Like every year, we are losing teachers. Some are going because circumstances have changed in their lives; marriage, divorce, and family needs. Some may be leaving because they find this work very stressful. I understand the need for some to leave and I would never encourage anyone to stay who felt it was time to go on. Now the problem is how do we get accomplished teachers to come to our school?
April 24, 2005
3 min read
Education Opinion Testing Time
It that time of year-testing time! My fever blisters have returned, my principal has very dark circles under her eyes, our testing coordinator’s face is drawn with anxiety, the teachers’ faces show deep lines of worry, and the students have rarely smiled during the last two weeks. This is my first testing experience in a school where our test scores determine so much of our future.
April 18, 2005
2 min read
Education Opinion A Few “Bad Apples"
I had really planned to address the issue of teacher quality later on in telling my story. However, since this has come up on the comment page. I would like to share what I have learned this year.
April 10, 2005
4 min read
Education Opinion Brighton's Children
I am often asked how the children of Brighton feel about their school and what they know about our school having the label of low performing. I spend most of my time in the K-4 building and I really do not think many of the young children have any knowledge of this label. The older children I am sure know of Brighton’s reputation. I was told that years ago when Brighton High School was closed quite unexpectedly, one student told someone from our district office he planned to drop-out because he knew he did not have the background to make it in the other school. The inequity of standards we have for our schools is of great concern to me and I believe this is the most blatant discrimination our children of poverty and color face.
April 3, 2005
2 min read
Education Opinion A New Day
A New Day
As I continue to share my journey, I realize I have had very few positive things to say about my first year at Brighton. To be honest, I felt there was not much to smile about during the first semester. In fact right before Christmas, one of our teachers told me I had lost my smile and they needed it back. This truly broke my heart. To add to this pain, my principal told me that the teachers did not want me at Brighton. As harsh as this seemed at the time, I needed to understand that much of the attention I brought to the school was more hurtful to the faculty than helpful. I also had to acknowledge to myself that “my dream” for Brighton may not be the correct path for the school and I may not be the right person for this job.
March 25, 2005
3 min read
Education Opinion Conversations and Accountability
I can not tell you how much I have enjoyed reading the many comments to my last post. I so appreciate your words of encouragement and I am especially grateful to hear form those of you in similar situations. It has taken me longer to write this week as I mull over a verbal response I had to my last post. I was asked, if I acknowledged there is a need for accountability than how do you not label schools?
March 20, 2005
1 min read
Education Opinion Labeling A School
Labeling A School
Joe’s comment to my last post is a perfect intro as I continue the story of my metamorphosis. If any of you are of my generation and remember the cartoon Mighty Mouse, you will understand I came to my school with the Mighty Mouse attitude, “Here I come to save the day!” This created much resentment for my being there in spite of what I could bring to the school because I really did not have a clue about what it meant to work in a school labeled failure and the teachers knew it.
March 9, 2005
2 min read
Education Opinion First Challenges
In a comment to a recent post, I was asked “What assumptions about how schools succeed made you believe that you could make a difference in a "failing" school? My answer is the same reply I a gave a very savvy third grade boy at my school who asked me, “Why are you at our school?” I told him I fell in love with your school when I first visited two years ago and I want to help your school be the very best it can be because you deserve the best. I believed my eighteen years of experience in an award winning Title I school along with two years of traveling across my state and our country visiting schools and meeting teachers had given me a wealth of knowledge I wanted to share. In addition, much to my surprise, I was able to bring to the school over $70,000 in programs and materials that I felt could improve instruction. Plus, my college, Samford University, had agreed to form a partnership with the school to aide and assist in a variety of ways. In essence, I thought I could bring help to this school.
March 3, 2005
2 min read
Education Opinion The Snake of Brighton
Normally, I do not sleep the night before school starts because I am so excited about starting a new year. This year, I did not sleep the night before because I was so worried about how school would actually open the next day because I felt we were so ill-prepared. I quickly realized there were very few routines and procedures in place from record keeping to starting the day. In a meeting with the teachers, I referred to our district policy on student transportation and I was introduced to a phrase that I hear too often, “This is Brighton and that does not work here.” I call this dysfunctional attitude the snake of Brighton.
February 25, 2005
2 min read
Education Opinion Bright Beginnings
Brighton School has been under the mandates of School Improvement for the last four out of five years. For two years, the school has offered school choice as an option. As a result, we have lost about eighty students a year to other schools. Supplemental Services have been added and this year the first phase of restructuring the staff began as a new principal was hired. There was great difficulty in finding a principal for the school and it was ten days prior to school starting before a principal was in place. The teachers and the community became very frustrated with this process. I am sure this is a common problem in hard to staff schools. By some very unique events, one of my former principals was finally hired. I can not tell you how glad I was to hear Margie Curry’s voice on the phone when she called and told me the news. As I recorded in my journal, “A miracle-Ms. Curry is going to be my principal. Oh me of little faith!”
February 17, 2005
2 min read