03: Innovate teaching without Fear, but with a mission.

To understand Amy’s story, we needed to go back to the day when she was hired. Also, Amy is a short and petite woman who looks like a tenth grader, and she is teaching high students who are taller and stronger than her. 

Before Amy was hired, another science teacher at her high school also wanted to teach chemistry; however, Amy was hired to teach those classes. This teacher became co-chair at the end of the year and continued to be co-chair next year.  As co-chair, she is also teaching some chemistry classes.

More importantly, this teacher also taught grade AVID classes, and some of her AVID students were also in Amy’s chemistry class. When any student who has any concerns about Amy’s classes. Instead, she criticized Amy’s syllabus with her AVID students. Now, imagine having to work under this leader.

Amy’s principal was promoted to be director at the district, and Amy’s school had new principal. The new principal had a misunderstanding with Amy from the previous school where Amy student taught.

Before spring break of second semester, a few students wrote a petition using an AVID template. After a brief investigation and discussion with her students, many students came up and told Amy that they did not sign it. The writings were different. Some of the students’ names were not on Amy’s roster.  One of the students was a son’s assistant administrator whom Amy has been working closely with. Her son was transferred from the chemistry teacher’s above because the other chemistry could not provide additional support after school. Her son heard a rumor that his name was on it, so he informed Amy that he did not know anything about the petition. 

Before the break, a few students wrote letters. One student admitted her misunderstanding.

“You are fair. [A lot] of students I know personally who enjoy your class. Students who were from [other teachers] who failed 1st semester and wanted a better teacher so they [chose] you.  I never showed up to class so that’s on me and I needed an Allied Health Academy teacher. [You’re] a wonderful teacher to have. I keep my teachers’ syllabus mostly 3 of them. Including yours so one day when I am a history teacher I use that on my student. I currently have a 54% in your class and that is on me due to my late work and my test scores… I can accomplish my  goal of 70%.”

Another student wrote:

“I know I’ve been absent, and I really do apologize for it. I know it doesn’t affect you, but I just found it disrespectful to you because not only was I wasting my time, I have been wasting yours. I only want to do better and show and prove to you that I’m capable of doing. So… I promise I will.”

Effective teaching is not black and white; it’s is an obscure, yet visible process.

Amy’s second year classes were full. Students requested to have Amy as their chemistry teacher. Her evaluation Administrator did not even observe her class. However, Amy got an unexpected and unannounced formal observation form the evaluating Administrator on the last day of instruction of the first semester, which is Monday of the final week, to make an un-announced formal observation and evaluation. Immediately following the observation, Amy was called in with a school union representative to review her observation report, where the school principal was also invited. It is unheard of and unexpected; the evaluating administrators have not brought any concern to Amy throughout the entire semester.  

During the meeting, the evaluating Administrator was pointing out the concern from a Special Ed case carrier, who wanted Amy to provide and grade entire semester of missing work and grade it before the break…

According to our district contract, the Administrator needs to have pre-observation meetings before making any formal observations. Amy’s evaluator skipped all the required steps or any other professional courtesy that an evaluating administrator should

During the winter break, Amy politely asked for a new evaluator. The district and the principal agree to have assigned a new evaluator, who used to be a formal science teacher at my school. Then, they schedule another observation in February. During an observation, Amy had students finishing their lab on combustion. Everything seemed okay, and the students enjoyed the lab.

However, the administrator came back with a four-page written report on the observation, which covered every small mistake to point out all the negative aspects of the lessons. Amy wrote a rebuttal to explain her situation and ask the administrator to understand the situation. Within next week, Amy was called in and informed that she was not elected for next year. 

It is common for new teachers not getting re-elected, and their many reasons why. Likewise, administrators do need to inform the teachers about the reason. 

To Amy, she knew her dedication and impact on all of her students is more critical than any misunderstanding from parents, other teachers, or administrators. She cannot control how others will judges her teachings, but her students’ success and voices will tell the truth:

There three other chemistry teachers at her school, and all of them recommended Amy:

One chemistry wrote that “Mrs. Nguyen is very knowledgeable incorporating technology in the classroom. She stepped up to be the chemistry PLC leader this year. She requested, and was willing to listen to, everyone’s input so that decisions were made regarding common assessments  and lab without animosity. But most of all, I appreciated her keen sense of humor.

Another chemistry wrote: “Mrs. Nguyen’s innovative ideas have helped her 5 classes last year and her 5 classes currently, to successful learn the most critical chemistry core concepts. Ms. Nguyen checks for understanding by using specific questions encouraging success, thereby promoting self-esteem.

Lastly, another chemistry teacher wrote:  Her special insight on how to “flip” a classroom and her insight on the use of Chromebooks in the high school chemistry classroom shows her ability to be a true twenty first century instructor.”

For Amy, what she missed was not the job or the money. She missed the connection she has built with her students, as well as the friendship she created with her fellow chemistry teachers. She understood teaching is a complex process.

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