Two years ago, the state agreed to double the bonus for NBCTs teaching in high risk schools. Is this fair? I must admit, I did a happy dance when I heard the news. I am National Board Certified, and I work in a high-needs high school.
When I started teaching, I worked in a school that had about 35% free and reduced lunch. Over nine years at the same school, I watched that number climb to more than 60%. Ruby Payne’s theories on poverty might be controversial, but I witnessed the change in school climate when we hit the tipping point where the “culture of poverty” became prevalent. Up until that point, middle class values of achievement, regular attendance, and valuing education reigned. There were enough middle-class kids to carry those expectations for the entire school, and the high-risk kids tried to live up to those expectations. As our middle-class population declined, so did achievement, assignment completion, regular attendance, and parental involvement. It became incumbent upon teachers to be the single most important motivating factor in student achievement, which led to another visible impact: an increase in teacher absenteeism and turnover. The extra time and stress of working with high-risk students took physical and emotional tolls on the staff. It is way too easy to get ours hearts broken when the reason we become teachers is to help kids and make it a little bit easier for them to successfully navigate their way through life.
High risk students come to school unready to learn for a variety of reasons. One student, “Jane,” came into my classroom early on the days she made it to school. She would eat a granola bar from my stash and curl up on the sofa in my room to sleep. I would try to coax her to get her make-up work done, but she was too tired. Jane and her mom had been kicked out of their apartment and were living in a car. The time she spent in my room in the mornings was the only safe sleep she got. In a high needs school, this is not an unusual situation. Maybe I was able to make school a slightly better place for her, but I sure wasn’t able to teach her much when she could barely stay awake during class.
Another year, we had a young first-year teacher quit halfway through the year when he found out that one of his 9th-grade students, Yolanda, was prostituting herself to help support her father’s drug habit instead of doing her homework. It was emotionally devastating to him, and he didn’t know how to face Yolanda after he found out.
An economically impoverished majority, including students like Jane and Yolanda, can lead to lower test scores school-wide. With the government so willing to blame low test scores on teachers, another type of pressure is applied in “failing” schools: funding cuts, interference from the state, and the simple disappointment of having to face "failure". Why would an accomplished teacher choose to work in a school where they have to work twice as hard to help students achieve?
In trying to help my students be successful over the years, I have “helped” them pay for school supplies, food, sports fees, yearbooks, textbook fines, clothes, and field trips. I know that I will not be the only teacher whom the additional bonus simply reimburses for money we have already spend at school. My only concern with this bonus is that it doesn’t go to EVERY highly accomplished teacher, National Board Certified or not, who has accepted the avocation of working with underprivileged kids. A mediocre teacher can be successful in a school where the kids come ready to learn (not that there aren’t amazingly competent teachers in those schools and not that we don’t have any students who are ready to learn). It just makes sense as a matter of public policy that students with the greatest needs should have the most accomplished teachers, and National Boards is one way to measure that competency that the state can reward.