B is for Blast Off

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 03 2011

B is for Benchmark (II)

It’s that time of year again: my classes completed benchmark testing two weeks ago, and parent-teacher conferences are this week.  Fortunately, I was able to schedule all my conferences Monday through Thursday, leaving Friday for an excursion into San Francisco with a friend from William and Mary.  While the great blizzard of 2011 hits the majority of the United States, I am enjoying consistently perfect weather in northern California.  65 degrees and sunny in February?  I may never leave.  (Love you, Mom!)

While student growth, as indicated by benchmark testing, was not as drastic as during the last six-week cycle, I am still proud of the progress in my classroom.  Halfway through the year, the average score on the benchmark test, which includes year-end material yet to be covered, is a 65%.  In fact, 40% of my students scored a 70% or higher with some already proficient and advanced.  With hard work, 100% of second grade students will pass the California Standards Test (CST) proficient or advanced in May.

The Phoenix after their last class before winter break!

This data has given me the confidence to experiment with exploratory learning in the classroom.  I recently discovered a treasure trove of math manipulatives, which has made learning fractions and multiplication simultaneously conceptual and concrete.  The results for my lower-achieving students have been extremely encouraging.  This addition, combined with guided math (small group instruction) and my soon-to-begin afterschool tutoring program, will hopefully better serve students who entered the year below grade level and who remain below grade level.

At the same time, differentiation for higher-achieving students is also a priority for many fellow math teachers at Rocketship.  Teach for America and Rocketship partnered last week to offer a professional development session on rigor in math.  How do we cultivate and train analytical thinking such that student success is not just measured by test scores but by problem solving and cooperative learning?  This, I think, is the enduring question of high-performing, low income schools, whose test scores show that they can compete with elite public school systems, but whose students are incapable of creatively attacking problems.

In general, my students and I have benefited from unbelievable professional development lately.  Our Rocketship data analysis day last week allowed me to craft productive and realistic strategies for my students.  The rigor in math workshop gave me an idea of what elementary math looks like in the United States and abroad, as well as some easy methods to increase rigor in my classroom.  I was reminded about high behavioral expectations and strategies to maintain them during a session with Julie Jackson of Uncommon Schools.  And most importantly, a Teach For America “fireside chat” in the South Bay renewed my hope about the honest conversation that corps members and TFA staff can have about the achievement gap and how to end it.  I am always so inspired and impressed by fellow corps members and so grateful that our regional staff genuinely and sincerely desires and considers our feedback.

I doubt that any time in my life will be as difficult as my first semester of teaching, but the past month has been challenging in a different and more intellectual way.  The questions are deeper: how do I differentiate for all my learners?  How do I collaborate with families respectfully while advocating for the best for my students?  How do I bring balance to my personal life so that I can actively and consistently serve my students while maintaining my sanity?

The answer to the last question has truly been answered by my friends and family, who are my saving grace.  I had an energizing winter vacation in Virginia with my family then started the new year in style with my best corps friends in Los Angeles.  My roommates and I are constantly together, eating sushi, watching romantic comedies, and running before school three times a week (marathon training, anyone?).  I spent time in Oakland a few weekends ago and am heading to my favorite farmers market in San Francisco on Saturday.  I am gradually getting more involved with my church in San Jose.  My best friend’s boyfriend recently joined her in Palo Alto, which brings the old gang back together.  I am usually exhausted and sometimes frustrated, but if I had to characterize my overall feeling, I would have to confess that I am undeniably happy and genuinely could not see myself as content elsewhere.

“Hey, teacher teacher: tell me how do you respond to students and refresh the page and restart the memory? Re-spark the soul and rebuild the energy?  We stop the ignorance. We kill the enemy.”  Kanye West, Dark Fantasy

For the Kids,


New Year's Eve in Los Angeles

3 Responses

  1. Evan Cook


    I was curious as to what you’ve been up to since the last time I saw you (4 years ago!), and this is wonderful! I am so happy that you are having such a good time while doing such important work. It’s really inspirational. Keep on fighting the good fight!

  2. Kate

    Hi Bailey,
    I was just looking through TFA blogs (withdrawal?) and happened across yours. I was your Breds and Phoenix literacy teacher last year, and I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate all you are doing for them. Read through your blog and it seems like your in such a good place with them (and with teaching in general)! Let them know I miss them like crazy- they are such an amazing group! Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help with them or any information you need– I have all their DAFs saved, just in case!

    • Kate,

      It’s so good to hear from you! They are such great kids- a little crazy, but super awesome in personality and academics. Please come visit if you ever get the chance- the Phoenix are yelling at me right now to tell you how much they miss you!


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About this Blog

Bailey Thomson, Bay Area Corps Member 2010

Bay Area
Elementary School

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