I’m not new to this whole “education” thing. I’m in my 24th year of being involved in education. In that time, I’ve been a curriculum designer, AP instructor, In-service Trainer, athletic coach, and a classroom teacher. As a classroom teacher, I have taught World History, Geography, American History, Sociology, Psychology, Civics, American Government, Economics, Health, Physical Education, and I’ve even been a ISS coordinator!
As a teacher, we (well most of us) really care if we are “making an impact” in our students’ lives. I’ve often wondered if I am actually “getting through” to my students’ and there is really no way to actually know this unless they are truly given a non-biased (meaning not teacher made) test. Yes, the dreaded “state test/standardized test.” I’ve been very fortunate with testing lately, 85 percent of my students passed the American History EOC last year, the year before 70 percent passed. To fully understand those numbers here is what you need to know: In Spring 2016, the state pass rate on the US History EOC was between 50-58 percent, I had 70 percent. In Spring 2017, the state pass rate was 67 percent, my students: 85 percent (which was in the top 10 percent of high scores in the state of Florida!). How did this happen? Public perception is that my students are “select” students from Madison County, maybe some are, but a lot of them are not! So, how do my students do well in my class? Am I doing anything differently from other people? Am I effective?
As I look to answer the questions that this article provoked, I started to look at everything I do:
I worked tirelessly to have my students trust me. I’ve found out in my educational journey that by the time students get to me they don’t trust the educational process and most don’t trust teachers!
I don’t ever lie to them--about anything.
I work to make them believe in themselves, even through failure we can learn.
I demand, and expect, nothing but perfection all the time. There are no shortcuts in my room; we work, we evaluate, we get better. For a student who has never been academically successful or challenged, this is the hardest part of my class.
My class is a safe space--we are here for an education, but they will always be safe with me.
They have a voice in their education, they may not always get what they want but they can voice their concerns and opinions - without any punishment.
I do everything I can to make them successful on the EOC. I have after school tutoring every week. The Saturday before the EOC, I hold an EOC “cram session” at the school. Most people would read right over that but here is the kicker: It's on a Saturday morning at 8 a.m. Have you ever tried to get 16-17-year-old kids to get up voluntarily at 8 a.m. on a SATURDAY?!? To go to school? But my kids buy into it, they believe in what I am trying to do (and this has been super successful). Last year alone, I had 39 students attend... 37 passed the EOC.
Most importantly, the one thing I do for each of my students is that I genuinely care for them. I care about the whole student, not just my class. I get to know each student's personality, what makes them tick, what triggers them, what motivates them, and the family dynamics. I have this rule, at the beginning of the school year, I will know their name by the end of the first week. It may not sound like that big of a deal, BUT when you teach nearly ¾ of the entire school, it can be challenging.
When writing this article, I reached out to my former students, and I keep up with a lot of them via social media. Having no idea what I was doing, I simply asked them: What makes me a good teacher? I was touched by the responses:
You’re unapologetically you, you’ve never lied to us and you’re genuine
You relate to us on a personal level
You honestly care about us
You make the class personal
You don’t settle for mediocrity
You gave us every chance to succeed.
I call all of this very simply: Making it happen. It's my masterpiece for the classroom. When you combine all the aspects of my class (items #1-7), mix in a honest, trusting atmosphere, spread some “real life” on top and bake it with four years of geniality, students become successful and it carries on far beyond the classroom into real life.
Patrick White, Lead Teacher
James Madison Preparatory High School