MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We move now from politics to education and the impacts of teachers on the young people in their classrooms. Teachers in D.C. go through a lengthy evaluation process each year. And the best of the best, the top 17 percent or so, can receive bonuses of up to $25,000. This year, some teachers are also getting a base salary increase of up to $18,000 so what is it about those teachers that makes them worth all that dough? Education reporter, Kavitha Cardoza, visited the classroom of one superstar teacher who earned an extra $35,000 this year and brings us this story.
MS. TIFFANY JOHNSON
Then we look for multiplying and dividing, but we move from what to what?
MS. TIFFANY JOHNSON
Say it again.
MS. TIFFANY JOHNSON
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
Tiffany Johnson teaches math and reading to students with disabilities at Ron Brown Middle School in Northeast D.C. This is her eighth year as an educator. Nine pairs of eyes are on here as she explains the day's lesson.
There's no idle time. I plan to work from bell to bell.
Johnson moves around the class, helping students individually even as she watches one child solve a problem on the board. She jokes and hugs them, frequently checks to see whether they've understood and lavishes praise when they get an answer right. Phrases like you're the best, you sizzle, and yes.
I see those brains turning, so good luck.
Johnson says she understands the chaos some of her students live in. She grew up near a crack house in New York and her family was so dysfunctional, when she was 11 years old, she was sent to live with her grandmother. Johnson says this makes her even more aware of how she sets the tone in the classroom.
Teachers can do a lot, having a stable classroom. If they're having troubles at home, I always tell my students well, this is the difference between your home life and your school life. School, you're supposed to be safe, there's order here.
Part of the reason Johnson earned the title of highly effective teacher is because she was able to show impressive gains on the D.C. standardized tests.
When I first got my students, they were two percent proficiency rate, two percent. By the time they left me, I was at 30 percent proficiency.
Johnson's students are all in the seventh grade, but that's not where they are academically. In fact, one tested at the kindergarten level. She says it's frustrating that, for years, they've been passed along.
When I first get my students, I'm asking them so what did you do when you were in elementary school? They'll say, sit in front of their computers, crossword puzzles, coloring books, play games. And it's, like, how do you sit a child in the classroom and do absolutely nothing with them?
Johnson says the secret to her success is her colleagues and administrators at her school with whom she frequently collaborates. She dismisses those who say there's so much to cover and so little time.
August 22 to June 17, that's 10 months of instruction. You have more than enough time. And by the time you get to me, you should start teaching them the standards and skills for the next grade level. There's no excuses.
Not all her work happens in the classroom. Johnson works four hours more each day in school then she's expected to and that's not counting the time calling each students home or planning the next day's lessons.
My kids know if they want to come to school early, I'm here. If they want to hang out after school, I'm here. I do home visits. Sometimes I even go to the house on Saturdays and the parents are just as shocked as well as the child. So, you know, I'm really invested in my students' future and their education. I take it very serious for them.
Johnson says she spends a lot of time reflecting on her teaching and trying to improve. If a child curses in her class, she makes a mental note to ask him later what's going on at home. If one walks out in the middle of a lesson, she tries harder the next day to show her she's valued. And if another one tunes out, Johnson tries to change the lesson so it's more interactive.
It's extremely stressful because you have a lot of pressure on you because everything is test, test, test, gains, gains, gains.
Johnson recently received a $20,000 increase to her $62,000 salary. In addition, she's received a $15,000 bonus.
That is a lot of money. That is definitely a lot of money. That's a lot.
When she heard the news...
It was just, like, okay, I'm going to stay. You don't have to beg me. I'm going to stay right here. So it was just a reward, like nothing is done in vain.
Johnson says she excitedly called her principal, colleagues and family with the news. Everyone, but her children.
I didn't tell my children because you know how kids can be. Can I get this, can I get that? No.
Johnson spent some of the money on buying her students uniforms and class supplies and she's paid off some of her mother's bills. The rest, she's saving for the future. For now, she's concentrating on whether her students understand today's lesson.
Oh, (word?), you had a great teacher. What's your teacher's name?
What's your teacher's name?
Say it again.
Johnson says she wants every child to know, she cares about them.
I want them to see outside those gates, outside that fence in their neighborhood. I want them to see the other side of life.
I'm Kavitha Cardoza.
To see Tiffany Johnson at work with her students in the classroom, head to our website metroconnection.org.
Time now for a quick break. But when we get back, research shows our street traffic is already the worst in the nation. And now, our bike trails are looking pretty congested, too.
MR. GREG BILLING
The end of the Custis trail and Mount Vernon trail in Rosslyn and Arlington tends to see a lot of traffic. And the Mount Vernon trail, all the way down into Alexandria can get pretty backed up in the morning.
That and more, coming up on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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