I resigned from the position before Christmas. I hadn’t even gotten my certification.
The district in which that middle school is located, Louisville’s Jefferson County Public Schools, is one of the nation’s largest, serving over 100,000 students in roughly 150 schools. Eighteen of them are labeled “priority schools,” meaning they demonstrate exceptionally low student achievement. Unsurprisingly, most of these campuses serve student populations with at least three-fourths of kids on free or reduced-priced meal plans, an indicator of poverty.
For example, Knight Middle School has one of the lowest performance rankings in the district and the highest percentage of teachers with four years of experience or fewer: 80 percent and 84 percent, respectively. Knight ranks in the fifth percentile, according to state metrics. Similar statistics exist at Doss High School, where over 84 percent of students are on free or reduced-price lunch and 71 percent of the teachers have four years of experience or fewer.
The combination of poor performance and limited teacher experience makes it especially difficult for Knight and Doss, and similar schools across the country, to fulfill strict guidelines under the federal No Child Left Behind law. If Knight and Doss fail to improve reading and math proficiency, among other academic indicators, they are subject to various sanctions. Those include removing the principal, which is what the Kentucky Department of Education recommended for Doss earlier this month. Replacing teachers is also an option.
Although some educators hit their stride early on in their careers, experience matters in the classroom for both students and teachers. Recent studies suggest that it takes many educators a decade or even longer to become truly effective in their craft—to efficiently deal with distractions and disruptions, create and implement engaging curriculum, and provide meaningful feedback to students, for example.
The boys from room 204 didn’t need me; they needed a veteran teacher with these aforementioned abilities. And it seems that placing me in a classroom that nearly drove me out of the profession could have been avoided. Here lies one of the most pressing policy challenges facing today’s schools: creating equitable teaching and learning conditions for not only students, but for educators, too.
I ended up staying in teaching and now work at Fern Creek High School, another priority school in Jefferson County. Though the school has high needs, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by an effective, veteran staff that supports those newly entering the profession. Only about a third of Fern Creek teachers have four years of experience or fewer—the lowest rate for priority schools in the district.
Across the country, schools that are adjacent to each other and even share the same zip codes often serve vastly different demographic groups from one another. And not all teaching jobs are created equal. Within my own district, for example, I could be working at a magnet school—a public institution that typically has selective admissions. Most students arrive at or above grade level in reading and math, and often have more support at home, whether the reason is financial or because of familial stability. Educators at these types of alternative schools aren’t always subject to the same scrutiny and bureaucratic demands as their counterparts at regular public schools. It all comes down to test scores, and it’s rare to find a school serving more-advantaged students that has been subject to the same kinds of No Child Left Behind sanctions that Doss High, for example, is undergoing.