(Photo: Michael Clevenger/Louisville Courier Journal)
As I think back to my student-teaching experiences in college, I remember my studies being solely focused on the Common Core Standards and testing. I was sent to observe and student teach in high-performing schools. I never once took a course on classroom management.
My first teaching job was at a failing charter school in inner-city Columbus, Ohio. The school had a population that was very similar to Maupin’s and completely opposite from the population of students I worked with in college. The most challenging student I had during student teaching was comparable to my least-challenging student at the charter school. I was completely shellshocked.
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The charter school was small, but we began the school year with a full staff. After one month into the school year, half of the staff had quit. After winter break, our principal took another job. The only staff left were the first-grade teacher, the second-grade teacher, the third-grade teacher, the custodian, the secretary and myself. Some teachers came and went along the way.
The six of us worked throughout the school year completing jobs that would take the work of a full school staff while receiving a horrendously low paycheck. If it were not for my kids, I would have left too. The charter school was shut down after the end of the school year. I moved to Louisville, where I accepted the job with JCPS at Maupin.
When I arrived at Maupin, I quickly realized that the majority of the staff was new to the school as well. Nine of the teachers, including myself, were in the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program for new teachers. It was a challenging year, and when it was time to make decisions about the upcoming school year, about half of the classroom teachers left.
They were not happy at Maupin and that is OK. We began 2017-2018 with many new and excited faces. There was only one first-year teacher compared to the nine of us from the year before. I am happy to say that almost all of those teachers still want to continue at Maupin, and it has made such a positive difference. Priority schools need teachers who have the experience and the will to be there.
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Priority schools also need a strong administration that understands the importance of communication inside and outside of the building. Maupin has a rich history. Our administrators celebrate Maupin’s culture and community every day by providing ample support and opportunities for our students and their families to be involved and voice their ideas, thoughts or concerns. They go out of their way and out of their own pockets to make sure our kids have not only what they need, but also what they want to be happy and successful in school.
We try to get parents more involved in their children’s success. This is essential because learning does not stop at school. I try to communicate with my kids’ families by providing weekly newsletters, reading logs, homework, phone calls and notes so they can stay up to date on what is going on in the classroom. Over the last three years, I have had many students whose families I was never able to contact. Those students typically struggled the most academically and behaviorally.
The school should be a resource, not only to the students but also to their families. We need to supply them with such things as family counseling, GED and résumé writing classes and other workshops to help them thrive so the students can also thrive at school.
Also, the behavior must be addressed. Students need to be held accountable for their actions, and there must be a consistency with reward and consequence. As a staff, we need to be united. We should constantly be modeling for our students. Expectations should be clear, consistent and practiced schoolwide.
Teaching takes hard work and perseverance, and teaching in a priority school is a completely different challenge. I’ll say it again, we need to support new teachers and we need accomplished teachers in our struggling schools — teachers who aspire to be there. Many teachers, old and new, have used our schools as a steppingstone to get a job with the expectation of transferring to a “better” school as soon as they get the chance.
Our schools need our district’s support, our community’s support and the support of experienced teachers and administrators.
Jenna Fracasso is a kindergarten teacher at Maupin Elementary School.
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