CELEBRATING SUCCESS AND FAILURE
Blog originally published 05/12/17 on Teacher2Teacher
When I started going to school in the United States, I was embarrassed.
My age landed me in a ninth grade class, but the highest education I’d received in Guatemala was sixth. There was too much to worry about in Guatemala: watching my younger brother and sisters, helping my family buy food, staying safe in a tumultuous country.
We immigrated to New York City to be with my grandmother because my mom wanted a better life for us. So there I was, new to this massive city, experiencing all the shock and displacement that come with being foreign in a new home and placed in classes three years beyond any I’d taken before.
Still, I loved it. All of it. It was the first time I was able to embrace school and education. I went to school in the morning. I went to satellite classes in the evenings. I spent nights surrounded by dictionaries and thesauruses to do my homework.
And as hard as it was, I did well. I learned the language in a year and a half. I tested out of my ELL classes. I completed 42 credits.
But things came apart for me right at the end on a test I couldn’t pass. American history. Go figure. I was so disappointed. I’d given everything I could. I had worked so hard over such a short period of time. But I didn’t graduate. They said, “Come back next year and try again.” I didn’t. I was done with school. It wasn’t for me.
And that was the hardest part, that it wasn’t for me. Failing at school made me question everything I believed I knew about myself. Ever since I was a little girl, I’d wanted to be a teacher. Taking care of my brother and sisters, I worked with them on their numbers and the ABCs. It was always on my heart.
My grandmother was a preschool teacher who retired from New York. I remember her telling stories after school – not what she said or what happened to whom, but the passion and joy that spread across her face as she told them.
After I dropped out, I went to work as a cashier. I needed to help my family. I did that for several years, moving from New York to North Carolina. And that was fine for a while, but a time came when it just hit me: I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do with my life.
I got the bug for education again. I found a local community college and got my GED. My GED is framed on the wall of my classroom. It was passing that test that allowed me to keep going.
I went on from there to find success in college: I got my associate’s degree, my bachelor’s and then my master’s, but a test – another test – did me in. I couldn’t pass my Praxis to become an elementary school teacher.
When I think back on that American history test and the Praxis, I feel such empathy for my students. It never got easy for me. I’m not sure it ever does for ELL students. It’s hard to build confidence, and there’s so much failure.
It never got easy for me. I’m not sure it ever does for ELL students. It’s hard to build confidence, and there’s so much failure.
But if there’s one thing that’s been true for me, it’s that belief comes when you least expect it and most need it. I found my first job in a classroom as a teacher’s assistant in Angie Power’s first grade class. I spent eight years with Angie, and it was exactly where I was meant to be. Because of the time I spent under her wings, learning from her right alongside those first graders, I knew I could do it when it came time to walk out of her classroom and into my own.
After all my starts and stops, the ups and downs, I’d found a place to learn, and I’d found someone who believed in me. I walked out of Angie’s class ready, for the first time, to become what I was meant to be.
They made me the educator I am today, an educator who understands the fears and anxieties of my students and their parents. They made me an educator who will be for my students what I didn’t always have: someone to believe in them. They made me an educator who’s still got so much to give.
And I’m thankful to everyone who supported me. To my mom and my family, to my grandmother, to Angie for teaching me right alongside those first-graders, to my cooperating teacher Sarah Collins, to all who’ve shaped my path: Thank you. Let’s never stop believing in each other and in our profession, appreciating what we get to do and cherishing the opportunity we have to inspire our students to learn, dream and succeed.
Thank you for reading!
Teacher of the Year Program Eligibility and Criteria:
A candidate should…
During my fourth year teaching not only was I eligible, but was also nominated and elected by my colleagues as Teacher of the Year 2016-2017 for W.M. Irvin Elementary school.
Reading the criteria a teacher of the year should exhibit, I can name a lot of teachers at our school who not only deserve this honor but exemplify these qualities and more.
I was honored to start representing our school and all the wonderful thing we were doing for our students!
Teachers of the year from individual schools in the county advance to compete at the district level.
A selection committee interviews each nominee and selects the top 5 finalists.
On March 23rd, 2016 I received the following email: "Congratulations! You have been selected as one of the five finalists for the Cabarrus County Schools Teacher of the Year!"
I was super excited and honored to have made it as a finalist. I immediately shared the news with colleagues and family.
The five finalist get observed in the classroom by the selection committee. Students, staff, and administration are also interviewed regarding teacher impact at the school level.
On May 5th, 2016 Cabarrus County hosted a ceremony to honor 2016 school Teachers of the Year and announce the district teacher of the year.
The unforgeable moment was when I heard superintendent Dr. Lowder announce my name as Cabarrus County Teacher of Year for 2016-2017. I don't have the words to thoroughly convey how I felt in that moment. I was beyond excited to receive such an amazing recognition. This is the passage Ms. Glenda Jones, Assistant Superintendent read about me as I came on stage to join the other finalists.
As our county's teacher of the year, I was honored to join our board of education as a teacher liaison for 2016-2017 school year.
I also had the great opportunity to share a message of inspiration with beginning year teachers.
But the best part of all this was the opportunity to inspire my students to reach for the stars and that nothing is impossible!
So many doors have opened for me this year. I am thankful for the opportunities I get to grow professionally and share my passion.
I am now part of the FabFive Squadster Team, a group of teachers, instructional coaches, and site and district leaders who focus on building sustainable approaches to ELL and multilingual instruction that are highly relevant to teachers, students, administrators, and parents. We represent five different parts of the US: California, Texas, Washington, Massachusetts, and North Carolina. Find us on Twitter: #FabFiveSquad and at Teaching Channel.
I also had the honor to be featured by Teacher2Teacher.
And last and not least, during the summer I get to join other North Carolina teachers on a professional trip to Germany sponsored by Go Global NC.
On Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017, I was honored to share my remarks as 2016-2017 Cabarrus County Teacher of the Year with new Teachers of the Year and celebrated Mrs. Paige Norris as our new County's Teacher of the Year for 2017-2018.
Here's my speech:
"Maria Calla dijo:
“Esa es la diferencia entre buenos maestros y maestros geniales: buenos maestros hacen lo mejor de los medios de un estudiante; maestros geniales predicen los fines de un estudiante."
Maria Calla Said:
“That is the difference between good teachers and great teachers: good teachers make the best of students’ means; great teachers foresee students’ ends.”
Congratulations great teachers of the year! I am honored to be here on this special night dedicated to YOU and to honor you for loving what you do, and for going above and beyond your responsibilities as an educator.
Don’t ever take for granted what you do and who you are, because as an educator you hold your students key to success. Let me tell you what I mean by that.
A couple of months ago, I had an ESL student stand up in the middle of class and said: "Mrs. Francis, what do I have to do to place out of ESL?"
I went ahead and showed her the data, and gave her step-by-step what she needed to do to place out of ESL status.
However, I needed to know what she was asking this! I thought maybe she didn't like me, or my class. Or maybe I needed to do something different for her. So I asked why she was asking this. She said: "Oh no, Mrs. Francis I like you, and I like your class. Even if I place out of ESL, I still want to come to your class." I said, OK - then why the question?
She responded: "Is just that being an ESL student makes me feel like a failure."
Her words hit me to the core! I could see through her eyes that she was feeling exactly how I felt for so many years as an ESL student and as a high school dropout. She was speaking the words I never had the courage to speak.
When I tell you that you that you hold your students’ keys to success, is because you DO! Education is the key for our students to be able to rewrite their personal narrative.
A narrative that empowers them, their families, their communities, and our society!
My personal narrative before education was a narrative with failure written all over it. As an ESL student and a HS dropout, if you would’ve told me I was going to be standing here a year ago receiving the greatest honor of being named Cabarrus County Teacher of the year...I would’ve told you-you were insane.
However, OUR profession made it possible for me to rewrite my personal narrative so I no longer live with the sense of failure; I realized that as a broken crayon...I was still able to color.
When I think back on all of this, I can’t help but rejoice in it - even the hard parts. I am thankful to everyone who supported me this far. My mother, who without her strength I would have never reached the American Dream; Corey Cochran who hired me with just a GED and nothing else on the table; To Angie Power who took me under her wing and taught me right along her 1st graders or 8 years; For WM Irvin who elected me to represent our school; Assistant principal Danielle Baker, thank you for your support; The board of education who welcomed me and took into account my point of views and opinions; Dr. Lowder, I know you believe in me.
YOU highlighted my strengths and made my weakness disappeared.
Cabarrus County Schools YOU made me the educator I am today, an educator who will be for students what I didn’t always have: someone to believe in them. An educator who has so much more to give to our profession.
So let’s never stop believing in each other and in OUR profession, appreciating what we get to do and cherishing the opportunity we have to INSPIRE our students to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more!"
Thank you for reading!