May 19, 2017

Micah Nelson in Class  

Over the past year, I have had several opportunities to reflect on what
makes me a good teacher. There are many factors, but the most important is that
I feel empowered every day to make the decisions I know are best for my
students. I know that I am an expert at what I do, so I have the confidence to
try new lessons or projects with my students. If they don’t work out, we try
again next time. Micah Avatar


Too many teachers in today’s educational climate don’t feel empowered,
and therefore live under enormous pressure to “get it right.” They are nervous
to take risks or allow students to drive inquiry. As we rely on more
standardized data, teachers may not be confident enough to trust their own
authentic assessments to give them valuable feedback on student progress. Some may
feel like they don’t have the freedom to create meaningful, engaging learning
experiences for their students.


I don’t fault teachers
for feeling this way. I blame the high-stakes testing culture that has been
created by the educational climate in our state, which results in a narrowing
of the curriculum, hyperfocus on test preparation, and loss of quality
instructional time. This culture has led teachers to feel less empowered as


As the 2017 IPS
Teacher of the Year, I had several opportunities to express these beliefs to
our state legislators, and it was one of the most discouraging points in my
career. The legislators who agreed to meet with me were not open to hearing an
educator’s point of view. They tried to convince me that their views should be
adopted in education.


However, it is how
we deal with disappointment that matters.


For me, I needed to
have a lot of processing conversations with colleagues and mentors. I was motivated
to speak out even more and to anyone who would listen. We have a legislative
agenda that continues to elevate high-stakes standardized testing as a way to
“monitor” schools. Now more than ever, teachers must have a voice in shaping
the educational landscape of our community. Serving as Teacher of the Year has
given me more of a platform to share my beliefs, for which I am grateful.


Being Teacher of
the Year has also given me the chance to meet so many talented educators in our
district. Through leading professional development, serving as a recruitment
teacher leader, and as a member of our Building Leadership Team, I have been
encouraged by the direction our district is headed. These are times of change
for IPS, and I am excited to see how we can continue to shape our city.


As we get closer to the end of yet another
school year and my tenure as 2017 IPS Teacher of the Year, I am reminded of a
quote from Todd Whitaker, an American educator, writer and motivational
speaker: “The best part about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest
part about being a teacher is that it matters every day.”