For 20 years, I taught in a rural school district north of Rockford. The kids behaved, parents were involved, attendance was exceptional and class sizes were small. My students excelled on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or PARCC. Every day my kids came to school ready to learn with more than enough resources and support from home to be successful.
Two years ago, I made a professional move and accepted a position as an instructional coach at a southwest Rockford neighborhood school. I always wanted to make a difference in the lives of children in the city I love, and this was my opportunity.
I first noticed that Rockford teachers have grit. They have the courage to deal with issues that I only experienced a handful of times. They greet every child with a hug, a smile or a fist bump. They believe children can and will learn. Rockford teachers are the hardest working teachers I have ever met. They have risen to the many challenges and have taken on several new curriculum changes. Those changes include the district's new elementary math curriculum, Integrated Literacy and the new foundational literacy program.
Through these new initiatives, we are seeing incremental success. Kindergarten foundational literacy scores took a huge jump last year. This year, our students are being exposed to more science and social studies than ever before. In math, our kids are no longer memorizing facts, but instead are learning that there is more than one way to solve a problem. We are no longer doing what we have always done and expecting a different result.
All of these changes take time. Teachers need to become familiar with the new resources, digest and perfect their craft. The needle won't move overnight. However, if people dive into the data, they will find dozens of bright spots that demonstrate the direction we are heading is the right one. We are all in the same boat, rowing in the same direction.
I am often asked, "Do you ever miss your old district and your old job?" I miss my friends, the kids and families. But I was craving a chance to make a difference in the lives of Rockford children. I feel I have.
Recently I was teaching a difficult concept to fourth graders. One boy said, "Mrs. Hand, this is too hard. I can't do this!" I looked at him and took a line from one of my favorite movies, "A League of their Own." I said, "The hard is what makes it great!" "If something is easy," I explained to him, "there is no thrill in getting there." Two days later, he stood up in class when we discussed the concept again. He yelled, "Mrs. Hand! I get it!" Then he asked, "What else can we learn that's hard?"
It's moments like these and many others that affirm my career change and my faith in the future of Rockford Public Schools. I invite everyone to join us in this adventure as volunteers. We cannot do it alone.
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Wednesdays will focus on intervention for students who need support, and additional rigor for students who are excelling.
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