Saturday, June 8, 2013

Amazing Things Will Happen.

Normally, the last day of school is a pretty joyous day. 

The students are usually all:
And the teachers are all:
And, admittedly, some of the teachers may do that dance, too.  That's what happens on a "normal" last day.  But today wasn't that day.  This week just wasn't that kind of week.
In case you don't live in North Arlington or read newspapers or listen to just general gossip or speculation, you might not know what's been happening in my school.  To make a long story short, we haven't met the standards set in place -- AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) -- according to NCLB (No Child Left Behind).  All those letters are federal standards, measured in accordance with state testing standards. 

Now, you can feel how you want to feel and say what you want to say about standardized testing or how we measure student progress here in the good ol' U.S. of A.  That's your business.  And you may or may not realize that A) every state's measurement standards differ.  Or 2) that once you're in trouble with the Feds, you're in it... and you have to prove you're worthy by making AYP two years in a row.  So finally) a school could actually be seen as a top-perfoming school in the eyes of the state and still continue to be seen as a failing school in the eyes of the federal government (See: Nichols 2010).

But, as I said, you can feel however you want to feel.  Mostly, I just feel confused by it all.

AYP also advances in stages.  When a school first misses the mark, they are in Stage I. On a side note, it has never escaped my attention that the AYP lingo is the same lingo we use for classifying cancer. Stage 1 is sort of shocking, but fairly isolated and easily treatable.  But Stage IV... man, watch the eff out for Stage IV.  Ain't nobody got time for that.  Stage IV is devastation.

There is no Stage V in the cancer world, but there is in AYP.  And that, my friends, is where we've found ourselves. 

This year has been especially difficult.  We, as a faculty, have been living and working and teaching in a metaphorical pressure cooker.  There are, I'm sure, many people who have decided that somehow we've gotten what we've deserved.  They will say that we didn't work hard enough or that we didn't use the right materials.  Or that we should have tried this.  Or that we should have tried that.  Or that we must not really care.  Or that we're a waste of time or money.  Or that we should be ashamed.  Or that we don't deserve a voice in our own fate.

Don't laugh.  Don't doubt.  Those are actual quotes I've heard -- some whispered behind hands, eyebrows raised.  Others voiced openly and publicly.  Mostly by people who have never worked in a struggling school.

It's been hard to wear the Scarlet "N".  But we've done it, and we tried to keep our heads held high.  In many ways, I've done it my entire career.  I've been on the end of the sympathetic head tilt many a time when I've told other district employees where I teach.  They react as if I told them I had a dreaded disease.  Like cancer, I suppose.

So this week, the decisions of some led to the leaving of many.  Today, it was very hard to celebrate the end of the school year.  It was hard to remember the success of our students, and we've actually had many -- just not those that are measurable with a scantron and a #2 pencil.  And it was very difficult to say goodbye.  I'm not very good at goodbye.

See, the greatest thing about being a Mustang is that you are always a Mustang.  I have heard, time and time again, that there is something truly special and unique about our building.  Teachers leave and go to other campuses or districts, and they always report that they might like their school, but it just doesn't feel like home.  The Nichols faculty is a family.  We may not always get along or agree, but we love each other.  We support one another.  Teaching in a struggling school feels like going to battle, and our faculty has been in the trenches together for a really long time.

While I will remain at NJH next year, seeing so many of my friends leave today was tough.  Some were leaving by their own choice while others were not, but it doesn't matter how they left.  They left.  And we will all have a tremendous amount to rebuild -- within our school and within ourselves -- no matter where we all land in August.

I wore one of my favorite shirts today.  It's the last shirt I have from the grief camp I used to volunteer for.  (It didn't escape my attention that there are, strangely enough, five stages of grief). The camp's motto is, "We cannot choose the way we are hurt, but we can choose the way we are healed."  We have been hurt.  We will continue to hurt. 

But we can choose to heal.  And, God, I pray that healing touches all our hearts soon.  I don't know how or when it will begin to happen, but my suspicion is that it will start with the smile of a student in August.  Or a hug from a colleague.  Or a parent choosing to believe in each of us.  I doubt that it will start with a test score. 

Just as I was about to go to bed tonight, I saw a video that made me think of my school family.  It's the farewell speech from Conan O'Brien when he left The Tonight Show under much scrutiny and a highly publicized controversy.  The first time I watched it, I just watched it.  But the second time I watched it, I heard it.  And it went straight to my broken heart and placed a tiny band-aid.  It may not hold for long, but it held long enough to make me believe that amazing things will happen.

Amazing things will happen, friends.  Not just at Nichols but wherever we all land.  Amazing things will happen because of who we are and what we've learned from one another.  Amazing things will happen because we struggled mightily and never gave up.  And there is beauty, real beauty, in standing tall in a fight that no one else thinks you can win -- in standing up when all you want to do, when all anyone expects you to do, is stay down.

They will happen.  I believe it.  I believe it in my heart, broken as it may be right now.  I have to. And I  hope you believe it in yours as well.

So, good night, my Mustang friends.  But not goodbye.


  1. "Once a Mustang, always a Mustang." I'm living those words. Change is difficult whether it's freely taken or forcefully given. They can say what they want to about our schools but until they have lived there they cannot know the real truth. You are a beacon of hope for many kids and God bless those just like you in all of our so-called "impoverished schools."

    1. Arthur, I have missed your wisdom and peace so much this year. Thank you for your kindness always. And you'll always be one of my Mustang Heroes.

  2. I have been avoiding the news but followed what happened at Nichols through 2 facebook friends. One is a retired teacher that subs at Nichols. I love your positive spin. My other friend teaches English at Nichols, and based on your hating clowns and my being facebook friends with him still, I believe you are part of his lunch crew. I hope that he gets to stay. From what he writes, the teachers at Nichols have great senses of humor and very big hearts. I hop that CD is getting to stay at Nichols, but as you said, the spreading out of the Mustangs will really end up spreading their joy, love, knowledge, and creativity. I have had the NJS staff in my prayers and will keep them there as the summer passes and school starts again. Perhaps the little bandage on your heart was green with a little horse on it. Go Mustangs!

    1. Thank you for your kind words. Luckily, CD will also be staying, and for that I am truly grateful. Thank you for reading, for helping us to remain positive, and for helping to spread the word that we cannot do this alone. We need our community and friends to help us stay afloat in the days to come. Please be sure to let CD know you are cheering him on as well. And I am assuming our other connective friend is Ms. Marcy (one of my favorite Mustangs ever)?

  3. You are so right about the Nichols FAMILY!! I cherish the years that I spent with that faculty and those administrators. We worked TOGETHER for our kids! I have always been(and still am) proud to be a Mustang! Once a Mustang, always a Mustang!! When I moved to Lamar, I became a Mus-king--a Mustang and a Viking and told my students that each year. My heart aches for what has gone on at NJH, but my heart also tells me that NJH WILL come back. Nichols Mustangs are strong and are loved by many of us. Sandy Potts (NJH - 1987-2001)

    1. Sandy,
      Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words. You are one of the first ones to show me the "Mustang Way". For that, I'll always be grateful. Keep cheering us on; we need all the cheers you can give.