Why I Had to Leave Behind 'No-Excuses' for the Promise of Student Agency

Sep 27, 2016 12:00:00 AM

by Ashley Roberts

When I read Steven Wilson’s blog post The Promise of Student Agency: How This Charter School Is Moving Beyond ‘No Excuses’, I immediately connected with his message on "no-excuses" schools. Having worked at one, his words caused me to reflect on why I left and why I came to Ascend Public Charter Schools. Leaving the "no-excuses" school last December was one of the hardest decisions I had ever made; I had spent a year and a half there falling in love with so many kids and co-workers. However, I also spent a year and a half feeling, with no exaggeration, miserable. During my first year there, I attributed my unhappiness to an extremely heavy workload, inability to find a work-life balance, and the difficulties of being a first-year teacher. However, at the beginning of my second year, I began to realize that I did not want to be the teacher I had to be to succeed there. [pullquote]I started to question whether the "no-excuses" model was the only effective way to teach kids.[/pullquote] The mission was to get every kid to college—I wanted that. To close the achievement gap—I absolutely wanted that. But was my commitment to closing the achievement gap any less because I hated seeing kids go home to their parents crying from constant demerits? I would sit in professional development sessions getting down on myself for not being able to fit into the mold of every teacher I was told was the best. So I made my mind up that I would leave my school—and perhaps teaching. When a friend referred me to Ascend, for the first time I saw classrooms full of the qualities I had been told to stifle at my old school. I saw teachers encouraging creativity and giving students the freedom to express their ideas. Children had the space and time to interact with one another. Teachers cultivated in their students the very character traits they read about in class. Students were tracking the teacher because they cared about what the teacher had to say, not out of fear. What I love most about Ascend is that teachers do not avoid student emotions. Helping students understand and deal with emotions is embraced as a part of learning. The combination of the responsive-classroom model and rigorous curriculum is what helps students learn from their errors and motivates them to keep trying. My students love learning, and every day I watch their confidence grow. They know that their ideas matter and that they have value. They are excited about college because it is a place where they can keep learning. Becoming a good teacher had begun to feel elusive. But moving to Ascend and working with my very supportive dean of instruction and school director have reconnected me to my passion for teaching. I believe in the way Ascend treats children and adults. I know that my students and I are in the right place to become our very best.
An earlier version of this post appeared on Ascend Public Charter Schools Blog as Beyond No Excuses: A Teacher’s View.

Ashley Roberts

Ashley Roberts is a first-grade teacher at Brownsville Ascend Lower School.

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