When I was growing up, you could find me every Saturday at the local soccer complex.
If I wasn’t playing in a game myself, I was kicking the ball around with my friends, watching rival teams play, or refereeing a few matches. A bunch of us with shin guard tans would make our Saturday meals out of concession-stand corndogs and crinkle fries and eat under a shade tree without a care in the world.
My first team was the Hot Shots, and I was No. 8. I picked that number with the advice of my creative mom who said, “Why don’t you choose No. 8 since that’s how old you are?” And the rest is history. Every season after that, my jersey number would increase by one, and the extent of the meaning ended there — until I became a seventeen-year-old senior in high school, when I decided the number on my back should mean something. So, I chose No. 17 in order to begin establishing an allegiance, an association, and a reputation with the number. No. 17 has been good to me.
Numbers mean something. Most often there is a story behind them, if we just take the time to stop and ask.
Just like the facts and figures we see printed in the newspaper or posted on a school district website, behind every number is a group of stories or a collection of faces. Ask sixth-grade teachers over at Baker Middle about some impressive numbers. They’ll tell you about the number of kids who make miraculous gains in reading but may still fall a little short on a state assessment. Strike up a conversation with any teacher over at Rigdon Road Elementary, and you’ll get an earfull of the important numbers of students who weren’t supposed to “make it” but did because of the dedication of a hard-working staff. Ask a teacher at Davis Elementary about the faces behind their numbers, and you’ll walk away a different person. Then ask me about my school. I can chat for hours about the faces behind our data.
Sure, dwindling down a school full of faces into a few numbers makes comparing schools to schools and schools to state averages much easier. But those few numbers cannot tell the countless stories. They won’t tell you about the little girl in fifth grade who has a panic attack when a math worksheet is put on her desk, who flings herself on the floor in a fit of anxiety, who needs one-on-one attention to get her to even consider adding double digit numbers, but who by the end of the year has moved on to adding triple digits. A data point won’t introduce you to the small ninth-grade English class of eight students who struggled writing a coherent sentence but could finally pen a complete paragraph after an entire focused, strenuous semester of strategic writing instruction.
A single number simply can’t be totally informative; only transparent conversation can. Only looking at the many factors behind the number can reveal the true story. Just do me and the many teachers who don’t work at the A-list schools a favor: come see us. Come by on your lunch break. Come to one of our football games or band concerts. Come sit with us in a classroom and listen to the stories. I bet you’ll walk away with a stark realization that will open your eyes to the truly amazing work ALL of our teachers are doing. I double-dog dare you to come see us.