For better or for worse, nearly everything I believe about education comes from one man. Well, I should back up. Even at a young age, I believed all kids, despite their background or social status, deserved an equal education. But it was this man, Wayne Green, who made me believe all kids can learn.
Every teacher has their first day, first week, or first year story, and I have mine. It’s exactly what you’d expect of a 22 year-old female with an inadequate (that’s being kind) college of education degree inside a Title I urban middle school. You’ve heard it before, so I’ll spare you the rest.
Fast forward to year two. No “Back to School” party in the teacher’s lounge for me. Rather, the very first meeting with my team in August was inside my principal’s conference room. Mr. Green started the school year by sharing with the entire team, matter-of-factly, the student learning gains of each teacher from the previous year. I heard theirs and they heard mine, and none of the results were good. It was a humbling moment.
But it was a new year and it was time to move on. He gave us each an expectation—I think mine was 75%; that is, 75% of my students would make a learning gain by the end of the school year (of course, one might surmise that the goal should be 100%, after all—every kid can learn—but you have to start somewhere. For context, the federal Teacher Incentive Fund only required 40% of my students to make learning gains to earn the full bonus). He made the point that this was not a goal that which we should strive to meet, but rather an expectation—we would meet it, and he would do whatever necessary to ensure we got there.
I worked my tail off that year. I differentiated instruction like nobody’s business and was careful to use every moment of class time and after school efficiently. And miracle of all miracles, I surpassed that expectation. Eighty-six percent of my students made gains that year. I couldn’t have been more proud (I even put it on my resume when I moved to a new school district a year later).
There are a hundred and one stories I could share about Wayne Green, so why this one? I’m not going to become famous (edreformer famous, anyway) because 86% of my students made learning gains. But the point is this: Mr. Green’s school was a well-oiled machine, a powerhouse for learning, because he had high expectations. He set a standard for teachers, and teachers in turn set a standard for students. No excuses. He set the bar high because he knew we could all achieve it.
And that is what we want for kids around the country. Don’t set goals, and then excuse yourselves for not meeting them. Set high expectations and watch our kids succeed.
About the author
Sara is the Florida Regional Advocacy Director for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Prior to joining ExcelinEd, Sara worked in the Florida public school system as an English/Language Arts and reading teacher, at a Title I middle school and later at a K-12 charter school. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Secondary English Education from the University of North Florida and a master’s degree in Education Policy from the Florida State University.