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Shields: Where every teacher is an English teacher
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Schools have received their grade, and now Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, wants to "Move those gifted teachers into lower-performing schools" (Tribune, Sept. 4).

These grades do not illuminate the challenges faced at high-poverty schools. Are teachers only "gifted" if the school is high-performing?

I teach in the Salt Lake City School District, and rare is the veteran teacher who applies to my school. Student population is 42 percent English language learners, 92 percent low income, and 83 percent minority.

Information for all Utah public schools can be found at the Utah State Office of Education website. Statistics bear out that schools in high-poverty zip codes have the lowest performance

Urquhart says "so what," move the "gifted" teachers to low-performing schools. According to his statement, the only "gifted" teachers are at high-performing schools. He insults educators across Utah.

Our school grade does not reflect the educators at my school who, year after year, bring student test scores up while teaching English language to all students. In my classroom last year, five different languages with varying levels of English proficiency were spoken.

Children do not learn academic language in one year. They learn playground language. Before beginning a simple fifth-grade science activity, the words jar, lid, vinegar, gas, and liquid had to be defined. Many students do not have a high vocabulary in their home language. Consequently, learning new vocabulary is difficult because there is no word or experience for comparison.

What happens to a child's education when the family moves more than once each school year? What impact does living in a shelter have on a child's ability to learn? How does chronic parental underemployment or joblessness affect student learning? How can a parent help a child when the parent is functionally illiterate? These are real challenges faced by many students in high-poverty zip codes.

High-poverty schools have higher numbers of new graduate and second-year teachers because we have the most job openings. Several of my colleagues have applied for teaching positions at non-Title I schools. These veteran educators have test score data showing every year that a majority of their students are passing year-end testing. Their data show student growth in language arts and math. In every case, a new graduate was hired over the veteran teacher from a Title I school. Why is that?

Why don't schools with higher-income zip codes want teachers who have worked with such challenging populations? We are seen as ineffective, burned out, tired, wanting to "rest" because students in higher-income zip codes can almost "teach themselves."

Baloney. Principals and faculty interviewers at these schools often have no idea how teaching in a high-poverty, high-language learning school is different. We work at stating, restating, and finding yet one more way to demonstrate, draw or explain a concept to help our students understand.

Using data to track student learning is nothing new at my school. Weekly grade level meetings discussing student learning and sharing teaching methods and techniques are the norm. Test scores in reading and math monitor and maintain student learning. We reteach when necessary. We celebrate when students succeed. We evaluate and adjust our teaching when they do not.

The work that educators accomplish at high-poverty Title I schools all across Utah is unbelievably difficult. Do we have room for improvement? Yes. We must continually strive to find better methods of teaching.

I challenge Sen. Urquhart to spend not an hour, not a day, but a week at a high-poverty Title I School. Come on up, senator. We will put you to work.

Cindi Shields is a teacher in the Salt Lake City School District.

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