1 Teacher, 400 Scholars -- and Loving It

1 Teacher, 400 Scholars -- and Loving It
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Charlotte teacher Bobby Miles, shown with his science students two years ago when he was zone Teacher of the Year, took accountability for the results of 421 student last year. (Photo courtesy Bobby Miles)

RCEd Commentary

This piece is the third in a series of monthly pieces by teachers participating in the Opportunity Culture initiative, a movement launched in 2011 by education policy and consulting firm Public Impact. Pilot schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Cabarrus County, N.C,; Nashville, Tenn.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Big Spring, Texas; and Indianapolis are using Public Impact’s new job models and career paths. These “Opportunity Culture” models are aimed at improving the quality of education by extending the reach of excellent teachers and their teams, to encourage teacher selectivity, increase opportunities for teachers to advance in their careers without leaving the classroom, promote on-the-job learning, and boost teacher pay -- all within regular budgets.

It all comes down to this: As a science multi-classroom leader at Ranson IB Middle School in Charlotte, N.C., I’m accountable for the results of 421 student-scholars. And I love it. Far from being scary, it motivates me.

This year, we grew from 47 percent proficient on the science end-of grade assessment to 66 percent. How did we do it?

A multi-classroom leader, or MCL, leads a team of teachers while continuing in various ways to teach. I lead three eighth-grade science teachers and two “reach associates” (assistants). I’m responsible for creating all the lessons that my team delivers. I co-teach, create assessments and provide feedback through weekly coaching. Because of that, I take accountability for 50 percent of each eighth-grader’s results on the end-of-grade science assessment. Even though I may not reach all 421 scholars through direct instruction, I still lead!

I pretty much have the best of both worlds: I still affect more scholars with this position as well as the teachers I lead. And because I’ve accepted that accountability, my teachers—first-year and experienced—know I’m invested in their growth as an educator and the growth of their scholars.

Before I became an MCL this year, I was a professional development facilitator. I wanted to expand my reach outside of the classroom and prepare myself for future leadership roles. But I was missing the classroom a lot, yearning for that daily impact on scholars. And I didn’t like how this position took me completely away from those who had impacts on me on a daily basis, my scholars.

Growing up in Hillsborough, N.C., I wanted to teach. But when I heard my high school friends talking about becoming lawyers and doctors, and knowing that teachers didn’t get the same amount of respect as those occupations, I changed my mind. I decided to major in biology, and planned to go into pediatrics. But after a college internship through Duke University, I was immediately turned off from medicine. I was introduced to teaching through lateral entry by a college professor, and I jumped at the chance.

My first year was rough. With no experience teaching, I tried to emulate the teachers I had during my middle school years, using their strategies. But the high-need classroom I was in wasn’t like where I grew up, so my strategies were failing. Still, I knew these kids were eager to learn, and I was eager to reach them all.

Those students showed me that there was more than one way to teach, and teaching is not a one-way street: It may take different routes to get to each child’s success. As educators, we see a straight line from elementary to middle to high school to college, but education is just learning in itself. I want to prepare my students to be successful in society no matter what route they take. Even if they can’t sit still at a desk and learn, they still want to learn, and I want to help them find the way to do that.

And at Ranson I learned I was more than a teacher; I was a mentor, big brother, coach and one of their biggest fans. As a facilitator, I lost those relationships, built during lunch time and conversations about life outside of school, but got them back as an MCL.

Their impact goes both ways. When I was named zone Teacher of the Year two years ago, I was reminded of the impact I have on my scholars. Two of my past scholars made it a point to remind me of that impact again this year. They wrapped up their science notebooks from our year together and gave them to me. It was amazing to me that two years had passed and these boys, who teachers might say lacked organizational skills, had held onto these notebooks. That meant the world to me, and I will keep them forever. That is why I came back to the classroom!

A lot of great teachers are leaving the classroom to seek leadership roles that come with more sustainable compensation. But I get that without leaving the classroom. With this role, yes, it comes with more responsibilities, and yes, it means I’m held responsible for all 421 scholars. I consider myself to be very, very competitive, and I have always set high expectations for myself—and I set them for my scholars and teachers. People might look at Ranson and believe we can’t win. But with the right people and the right mindset, we can. And we are, as our year-end results showed. We’re not there yet, obviously—but we will get there.

I face this challenging position like it’s a competition, and I’m going to win—my teachers are going to win—and more importantly, my scholars are going to win, too!

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