Sarah Wysocki is currently a fifth-grade teacher at Hybla Valley Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia; this is her fourth year of teaching in public schools. Prior to making the move to public education, she taught environmental education in Northern California, Oregon and Washington for five years.
You will hear this in a bunch of these entries, but I honestly believe that education is the foundation for a good life. A quality education should be available to every child regardless of race, gender, or economic status. I do truly believe that all children have the ability to learn great things if they are challenged by engaging materials. I believe that our society — now more than ever — needs strong minds and creative, intelligent thinkers.
If I believe all of the above, the only calling for me can be education.
I spent my first two years as a teacher in a DCPS middle school; it was a fairly tough environment, especially for a newbie. After my second year in the classroom I was fired due to a new controversial teacher evaluation system called IMPACT. While I believe that my students worked incredibly hard all year and made tremendous gains in both reading and math, I was unable to show this growth on the end of the year assessment, known as DC CAS.
Many of my students entered my fifth-grade classroom with standardized test scores (from the end of fourth grade) that far exceeded their true abilities. I was worried about showing growth on the DC CAS test; I spoke to my administration frequently — and even some DCPS admins. Consistently, I was told “Don’t worry about it,” and that if I was performing in the classroom, I should be fine.
After the school year ended, I received a separation letter from DCPS. The stated reason for termination was a poor final evaluation, which was caused almost solely by my students’ test scores.
I viewed this as an injustice, and it was important for me to convey to my students that I didn’t give up on them and their school. I reached out to them to let them know that if I had my way, I’d still be at the school, continuing to build the community we established together.
At the time, I remember also feeling this very strongly: As much as my students needed me, I needed them. When teaching, I felt like I was doing something to contribute to improving our society. I felt like, even after just two years, I had found a calling. I didn’t want that calling to be taken away.
I was able to land a new position in Fairfax County; while I miss my students from DCPS, I managed to carve out a niche for myself in a supportive, diverse community where I am still needed.
Ultimately, I teach because it’s my way of lighting a candle as opposed to cursing the darkness — but it’s a great deal more than that. It’s one of the rare professions where you are legitimately shaping future generations, even at a micro level. I am excited to continue as a teacher, and am excited that I’ve found a calling for myself.