Why I advise new teachers to avoid Title I schools

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I do not want to be responsible for Mark Jones. I do not want his test scores to affect my salary. I do not want his behavior factored into my teaching evaluation.

As we begin to base staff evaluations and merit pay on student behavior and test scores, I shudder slightly. This shift toward using student actions to determine teacher status serves as a potent argument not to work in urban or underfunded schools. All the research shows a direct relationship between poverty and test scores, despite exceptions that are sometimes cited.

Mark appears slightly less motivated to learn than my wheaten terrier. Many teachers have tried to fix this lack of enthusiasm in the past. Mark listens sometimes but his books never leave his locker. His homework is usually stuck in one of those books.

In the absence of parental nudging, some kids are barnacles on the driftwood of life. While many kids ooze intrinsic motivation, others do not. Some appear to have missed the motivation bus entirely, presumably asleep on another self-declared snow day.

I had to try to run down a student this winter to plead with her to come to school. She had not yet done the speaking portion of the ACCESS test, a vital measure that might allow her to exit the bilingual program. Unfortunately, it had snowed heavily the previous night; this girl and her sister often stayed home when that happened. At first I thought maybe they walked to school and found the walk too arduous after a heavy snowfall. No, they took the bus, like most of their friends. They were simply in the habit of declaring their own snow days.

Having my performance judged by the performance of students makes perfect theoretical sense. But student motivation and learning levels remain only partially in my control — at best. In a microsense, I am judged on factors that are often beyond my ability to manage. If parents don’t insist their children attend school, what can I do? In a macrosense, my best move unquestionably would be to take a job in a district where most of the students will go on to college. That fact implies motivated students and parents, my best chance for success.