When I was 22 years old, I preached a sermon at the church I worked at as a youth minister. At the end of the service, an elderly lady approached me and said, "That was good. You will be a great preacher someday."
I was offended. I mean, I was good. I spoke well, had good illustrations, and kept 90% of the audience awake. I had been a state finalist in UIL Informative Speaking AND 4-H Public Speaking for crying out loud.
See, I thought I was as good as I could be. This was a problem I had first caught an inkling of in my first semester of college. My first speech in my Honors Speech class at A&M was amazing. I wowed everyone. But then, I never improved. I just kept doing my thing, but never growing, and getting a little irritated when others did not see my awesomeness.
That elderly lady was reflecting, and making a sound, evaluative comment that I should have listened to.
Flash forward to this week. My classroom has been a hit. I have heard "Can I just stay here all day?" and "You're the best part of my day today" and "This is awesome." Those are great things to hear, but as I have grown, I have learned that those compliments are superfluous. They are emotions, in the moment, and not from deeper reflection. But at the end of the day on Friday, one student hung back after my last class before I took off to oversee the Credit Recovery class I have during my duty period. This student had been quiet all week, he did not jump in on any of the discussions, but he had said a little to me as he entered the class, and when I went around to the groups during their "Perfect World Genius Hour" time. His comment hit me harder, and meant more than any exultation I had heard all week.
"You know, you're a pretty good teacher."
He did not say this on day one, for all to hear. He waited, he reflected, and he shared when it would have the most impact. He evaluated me, and because he did not strike me as the kind of student to frequently praise his teachers.
His comment was taken as high praise.
As I reflected on this, and how my perspective had changed due to my learning about growth mindset and, you know, gaining maturity in general, I made a connection. I have heard a lot of teachers via social media complaining about T-TESS, and often, they use this meme, or one like it:
OK, yes, T-TESS is expecting a lot from us as teachers. And I am not going to dismiss concerns that reaching Distinguished might require a process of some sort of deification- it does expect perfection, and we need to have an ongoing conversation about achievable goals. But you know what?
I am excited about it.
And I feel the meme above is not about legitimate concerns as much as it is about teachers used to getting the top score suddenly getting the middle score. And no amount of calling it "Rock Solid Teaching" will change that perspective.
So, this is not to my administrator friends, it is to my teacher friends.
We need this.
I can honestly say I could virtually sleepwalk through my PDAS and get high marks. After my first round of evaluations, I was never worried. But the moment I heard about T-TESS, I began to think and reflect on my practices. Was my current instructional technique good enough for Proficient, let alone Accomplished or Distinguished?
The mere thought of T-TESS made me think of how to get better, to push myself further, to take risks.
How many of you have begun to take for granted that you will get the highest marks on your evals? How many are offended that the rules changed, that the expectations moved forward? How many think that the move makes the job too hard?
How many of you also have called for "MORE RIGOR!" for your students along with the chorus of voices in education these last few years?
Well, guess what. T-TESS is "MORE RIGOR!" for teachers.
We give our students more rigor and more stretch to deepen their learning. We want our students to grow and mature, so why do we not desire the same thing for ourselves?
I believe so much of our lives revolve around perspective, and we desperately need to have a perspective that views T-TESS and any other new challenge that comes our way as an OPPORTUNITY to become better for our students. We cannot allow ourselves to assume we have "made it" as teachers, and we should invite any new methods to continue to stretch us. This is an opportunity to address the concerns of our students who think we give them the hard lessons but are not challenged ourselves. This is an opportunity for us to have something in our life that helps us relate to our students, and them relate to us in turn. This is an opportunity to live out the "growth mindset" and the "stretch" we have become so fond of asking our students to buy in to.
That elderly lady introduced me to "growth mindset" fifteen years ago, but neither of us knew it then. I was not "there" yet. I am still not there. I adopted a phrase years ago as a ind of motto, and it applies to us here, now. It means that I am glad of what I have accomplished, but recognize that I have room to grow. So here it is, changing the meme from above to reflect what I think we as teachers need to have as our perspective:
To me, this means I am happy to have achieved some good as a teacher, but I am not done moving forward and maturing as a teacher. I am not the college freshman who had nothing left to learn, or the young minister who was at the top of his skill. I recognize I am but a journeyman, on my way to greater things.
The student on Friday reminded me, I am a "Pretty Good Teacher," which means by the end our time together, I can still work toward being a "Pretty Great Teacher." I was proficient for him this week, but my goal now is to move toward Accomplished.
And maybe someday I can earn the Distinguished title of "BEST TEACHER EVER."
And it will be based not on emotion, but on the fact that I made a true, positive impact in a student's life.
I teach Psychology, Sociology, Communication Applications and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team and co-sponsor Student Council. I am an aspiring administrator.