Category: Achievement gap

This new teacher’s biggest challenge

This new teacher’s biggest challenge

My biggest challenge as a first year teacher was not classroom management. It was not keeping up with lesson planning or grading.

My biggest challenge was not responding to questions and complaints from parents  or staying cheerful at long faculty meetings.

No, my biggest challenge was encouraging my students to think — what educators these days call developing a growth mindset.

As someone who loves making kids happy and comfortable in the classroom — and someone who has never been shy about sharing what she knows, it is hard to describe how difficult it was to bite my tongue and not immediately reply when students demanded:

“Just TELL us the answer!”

“Remind us!”

And, my favorite from the last week of school, “FIX THIS!” when a capable eighth grader’s Google Slides project went haywire.

It would have been an easy way to keep stress levels down in my classroom. Just provide the answer (or fix the problem on the computer screen) every time a student struggled. But that’s not in a student’s best interest.

Learning is a struggle — but a good one

Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck coined the term growth mindset and presented arguments for praising students who make the struggle to learn in her 2006 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

She encourages parents and teachers to praise students when they work hard and ask them how they feel about themselves afterward.

The idea is to help students value the process of learning and feel good about themselves when they have figured out something on their own — not just memorized correct answers from a textbook.

As a world language teacher, I wanted to students to value the process of figuring out new words in Spanish based on vocabulary they already knew in Spanish and in English. I also wanted them to feel good about being able to create new sentences in Spanish with rules they had learned about nouns, adjectives and verb conjugations.


At the start of the school year, I discovered I had my work cut out for me. Students wanted to memorize passages from the textbook and phrases that I wrote on the board. They wanted those exact passages and phrases to appear on quizzes and tests.

“WHAT?? We didn’t learn this!” I heard over and over. No, I would say. You did not have that exact sentence but you learned something similar. Apply what you know.

As I said. It was hard not to just break down and just tell students the answers. All of the kids I taught were smart and adorable. I wanted them to like me and like my class.

Learning how to learn a world language

I had to continually remind myself that learning to think about how to learn Spanish would benefit them more than an immediate A on a quiz.

I wasn’t successful getting all of my students to embrace the passion for learning how to learn a world language. But I know I reached many of them.

More than 90 percent of the eighth graders I taught scored well enough on an end-of-year exam to earn a credit for Spanish 1-2 — a class ninth graders normally take the first year of high school.

I feel like I scored big too. I will be starting a new job at a magnet traditional public school in July. I look forward to teaching the growth mindset at my new school.




How well do kids in your neighborhood read?

Last summer, when AzMERIT scores were released, Arizona residents learned that more than half of the state’s third graders were not reading at grade level.

Last week, Arizona’s Office of the Auditor General chided the Arizona Department of Education for not making sure that schools are making good use of an annual $40 million allocation to bring weak readers up to speed.

But when the Legislature in 2010 approved Move On When Reading, which requires third graders to master reading or be held back, it did not include a plan for a state check-up on use of the funds.

And. because Arizonans pride themselves on local school district control — remember all the fighting over Common Core and the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards — I am not holding my breath in anticipation that much will change.

Read On Arizona spreads reading passion and skills

But I am applauding a private-non-profit effort called Read On Arizona, which is charging ahead with reading efforts all over the state. So far the partnership has helped 25 Arizona communities, including several in the Valley, become what it calls “Read On Communities.” The communities channel city, school, non-profit and business resources to programs that help young children read by the end of third grade.

Read On Arizona recently partnered with the Maricopa Association of Governments to create a data tool that allows users to see how young children in their neighborhood elementary schools, school districts and counties are doing in reading. The tool also shows factors like school attendance rates, health data and poverty information – all of these affect how well kids perform in school.

Consider helping an Arizona child learn to read

Check out your school, district or county and see how well kids in your area are reading.

Don’t like what you see? Then consider becoming a volunteer with one of the many Valley programs that connect adult readers with children who are struggling.

Programs like Volunteer Match can help. And if you want to get involved in an even bigger way, consider becoming a Read On Arizona supporter.




The equity gap – what are your biases?

The equity gap – what are your biases?

From the sound of its name, an outsider would never know Paradise Valley Unified School District has worked hard – and still struggles a bit – to overcome minority student achievement gap issues.

When Arizonans think of Paradise Valley, they think of that ritzy ‘burb that features pricey houses with gorgeous views and lots of acreage – not the 100-square-mile north Valley school district where 37 percent of the kids are so poor they qualify for free or reduced-cost school lunches.

But PVUSD is a great place to look at when one wants to understand the challenges teachers and administrators face when community demographics change. In the last decade, schools that once served white, middle-class kids have started serving students who speak little English and whose parents struggle daily to get meals on the table. Seemingly overnight, parent-teacher conferences were less about how Sally is doing on  spelling and more about helping Salma’s parents understand the basics of how their child’s school operates.

Creative ways to teach English learners

When I was an Arizona Republic reporter I enjoyed visiting PV schools and writing about the creative ways the district teaches subjects like math to students who have still not mastered English.

I recently attended the Arizona School Board Association’s 2016 Equity Event  and heard PV Superintendent Jim Lee talk about how teachers and administrators in his 45 schools work to make students of all ethnic and economic backgrounds feel included.

Lee also is president of the national Minority Student Achievement Network, a coalition of multiracial, suburban-urban school districts that share ways to identify and work to eliminate achievement gaps in their schools.

The first step, Lee said at the Arizona conference, is self-examination.

Everyone is biased 

What are your biases? Where do they come from?

“In our training we encourage people to reflect on how they were brought up and what their belief system is,” he said.

“Everyone has deep-seated biases. We don’t even realize our biases. That is the hard part.”

While it might be unrealistic to overcome all deep-seated biases, teachers and administrators who have taken time out to examine their own prejudices tend to be better, fairer educators.

A female football kicker overcomes preconceptions

A student who spoke on a panel that I moderated at the Equity Event is a great example of what can be achieved with the help of a her father, a coach, and other adults who did not let history or preconceptions get in the way of her success.

Tempe Marcos de Niza High School student Krysten Muir is a record-breaking kicker on the school’s varsity football team. A Tempe and Arizona first.

Want to know more about what her school, coaches and teammates say about her success? Click here for a video.