Sunday, July 6, 2014

Numbers Will Never Define Us

For the past 7 years, I have been fortunate to teach at West Leyden High School. West is located in the heart of a very blue collar and diverse town- Northlake, Ilinois. The numbers might suggest that we are an average school. With an median ACT score of 18, public perception probably agrees. But we don't let those numbers define us.

During the last 3 years, I've taught AP US History, a class that is regarded as one of the tougher classes in our curriculum. I've always been obsessed with numbers and judged our collective success or failure on our AP test results. After all, every AP teacher wants their students to perform well on the test and earn college credit. I do not mind bragging about my students' "numbers," because they deserve all the recognition in the world.

Tonight, I shared the test results with some of our students who were dying to find out their "number." One student in particular received a 4 instead of the 5 we both were hoping for. In all honesty, this student deserved a 5 and I was shocked she didn't get it. 4 is a great score, and almost every college in the nation is going to give her 6 credits for it. Even still, these numbers don't really matter that much.

Numbers don't measure the heart and desire of our students. If they did, and if they could, there wouldn't be enough numbers to calculate their unfailing drive for success.


When I first started working at Leyden, the school assigned me a mentor whose job was to orientate me to the school and answer all my questions.  I used to tell Mike that, "I wanted to be him,"  as I respected his place in our community and his incredible rapport with our kids. Mike always responded by saying,

"You don't want to be me, you want to be better than me."

The kids I taught these past three years were better than me - literally. I received a 3 on this test when I was in high school and since I started teaching this class, 63 of the 70 kids who took the test surpassed me. That sort of ceremonious "passing of the torch" has so much power that it brings me to tears. Yet, the true meaning of all this lies in something much deeper.


One of the foundational principles of my class is the phrase, "don't live life in the woulds," that is to say, do not regret any opportunity while in high school...I wish I would have...If I only would have...etc. I think this is a valuable life lesson that I learned, in many cases, the hard way.

I asked my student if she was disappointed with her "4" and her response was, "It may not be the score I really wanted, but I wouldn't change anything about how the year went. I have no regrets."

This is her story. This is the way it was written and she's sticking to it.

Numbers will never tell the story of what kids learn in our classes. These kids went through the fire and came out the other end- not as a number, but as a better version of themselves. The narrative of every school year is riddled with bumps and bruises, highs and lows, and ultimately, the unending hope that our students "took" something from our instruction.

This is our story- forged from the drive to score that "number," the work ethic to read a 1200 page book, and the patience to learn together for 184 class periods. For better or for worse, its a story written with no regrets.