What teachers really want (hint: it’s not an apple)

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Currently, I am a 7th-grade Writing and ESL teacher at Rhodes Middle School in San Antonio Independent School District. Additionally, I am a part of the district’s first cohort of Master Teachers. This experience has been one of the most fulfilling of my teaching career and is the best form of appreciation I can think of: trust and positive professional growth.

A Teacher Incentive Fund grant supports the Master Teacher Initiative in SAISD. With these extra funds, the district can recruit talented teachers from outside the district who have demonstrated exceptional success with student learning and retain high-achieving teachers already working in SAISD. All in all, the goal of the Master Teacher Program is to leverage outstanding teachers to lead school transformation across the entirety of SAISD. At my campus, and at the district level, the goal is to use the leadership abilities of our best teachers in developing the next cohort of Master Teachers.

This cohort of Master Teachers went through a rigorous, multi-step selection process that culminates with on-campus interviews with principals. Prospective candidates must also submit data or supervisor testimonial of their effectiveness in leading student achievement. Furthermore, a video lesson is presented to provide a sense of what instruction looks like in a teacher’s classroom. Master Teachers are compensated with a $7,500 Master Teacher Extended Workday Stipend for extended day teaching. Also, we receive a $7,500 Master Teacher Additional Days Stipend for twenty days of required professional development and student engagement.

In my particular role as a Master Teacher, I am responsible for providing students with extended opportunities to master grade level writing and prepare them for the STAAR writing test. To explain the impact of a program such as SAISD’s Master Teacher Initiative, I will tell you a story about Gilbert, one of my current 7th-grade students. Gilbert wanted attention, at all costs. I probably called his name more in the first half of the school year than I’ve said anything before in my life. He seemed to run on a motor dedicated to distraction. After two parent conferences and dozens of one on one conversations, I felt no closer to making a connection with Gilbert. When I reached out to his father at the beginning of this year, I presented the idea of Gilbert attending my after-school Master Teacher session. His father was very supportive of this, and I began working with Gilbert for an hour after school each day.

At our campus, the Master Teachers have a period each day that they can use to observe, coach, provide resources, push-in to support other teachers or pull groups of students to direct targeted instruction. In addition to spending extra time with Gilbert after school, I often use my support period in Gilbert’s English Language Arts class. Because of the amount of time I have been able to spend building a relationship with him, he is an entirely different student. Gilbert went from being in danger of failing 7th grade to demonstrating one of the most significant jumps in writing between December and March. I attribute this growth to the challenge and opportunity presented by the Master Teacher role. Today, Gilbert and I have friendly conversations in the hallway between classes, he continues attending after school even though he is caught up on his classwork, and he now also brings along a friend to participate in the further learning.

At the school level, I hear students commenting on being taught by “Master Teachers” in a reverential way. Parents are excited to hear that not only did we already have teachers on campus qualified as Master Teachers but that Rhodes was able to bring in teachers from outside the district and even the city to give the best to their best. Before taking on the Master Teacher role, I taught at a charter school. It was a tough decision to a school community that I loved, but I felt compelled to take advantage of the fantastic opportunity to be part of an exciting new wave of transformation that is taking place in SAISD.

As Master Teachers, we also have an opportunity to make an impact on our schools. I’ve had the opportunity to conduct professional development on my campus, formally and informally establish coaching relationships with colleagues, and collaborate with teachers from all content areas in best practices to encourage student learning. It’s inspiring to know that we already have teachers at our schools who are ready to take on the role of Master Teacher and create an even more significant impact on student outcomes.

The Master Teacher program is elevating our district too. The position has inspired a more collaborative effort district-wide. Master Teachers in varying content areas, grade levels, and teaching styles are sharing resources in a dialogue that is infectious. What we hear in our Master Teacher professional development sessions is also communicated to inspire creativity across our schools and classrooms.

Finally, the Master Teacher program is impacting the teaching profession in San Antonio, and how teachers can think about our career paths. Now, more than ever, I realize that it is not necessary to leave the classroom to transform outcomes more broadly. A teacher can remain in the classroom, feel the pulse of the current education environment, yet also have the opportunity to contribute to transforming a system that has made progress, but needs every possible resource to make sure all students have access to the education they deserve.

This might seem scary to some people, but the Master Teacher position has been evolving as we try it for the first time. We have been challenged to determine the scope of the role for this year and beyond. It is exciting to contribute to the vision of a project that we hope will fundamentally improve outcomes across the district and become a model for how the best teachers can lift the sails of all whom they collaborate.

When we give our best teachers the time and support to do what they know best for children, we can ensure that talented students like Gilbert do not slip through the cracks and are empowered to reach their full potential. That’s the kind of appreciation teachers deserve.

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