Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Thank a Teacher

During my first year in college, I could not write an essay. I spent 11 years in the gifted program, graduated high school with highest honors, entered the Honors College at LSU, and I could not write an essay. I had no idea how to form an opinion and support it with evidence from the text. I didn't think for myself. I was ill-prepared. And I should have been one of the brightest kids in my freshman class at a state university. I was not college ready.

Fortunately for me, I am a go-getter, a self-started, and I sought help. I spoke with my professors, asked English major friends to read my writing, and worked my butt off. I graduated college four years later, a little wiser, and ready to enter the workforce. My final year of college introduced me to the term "Comprehensive Curriculum" in the same way college students are now learning about the Common Core State Standards. As a first year teacher, I analyzed this state curriculum with my recent college experiences in mind. It sucked (pardon my French). This curriculum was filled with silly activities that involved the teacher dressing up and grouped "learning" all.the.time. It was lame; my students deserved better. Our parish worked each summer to "beef up" the curriculum and improve the activities and rigor of learning, but I still knew better. Even though my students were in 6th & 7th grade, I wanted to begin making them college ready. So, we read challenging titles; we formed opinions; we found evidence to support those opinions; we talked, discussed, and learned together.

Years pass. Enter the Common Core State Standards. Everyone, give a collective gasp when you discover that these standards involved things I was already doing in my classroom. Finally! My standards/curriculum caught up to what I knew was important to success in college and careers. How did I know it was important? Because I experienced it! Today, I implement Common Core Standards in my classroom....we read challenging titles; we form opinions; we find evidence to support those opinions; we talk, discuss, and learn together. Sound familiar?

So, what's changed? With all of the recent outcry against these standards, something's got to give, right? Well, our texts are changing, but who says that's a bad thing? We are attempting to put a greater focus on non-fiction, but my students have read a novel, short stories, and poetry already this year. We haven't forgotten about the love of fiction! My curriculum does look different. We are currently using a curriculum put out by the state, but it's not required. I am planning an awesome unit for the third nine weeks revolving around study of World War II and the Holocaust which is rooted in Common Core Standards, but the choice of texts and instructional material is ALL MY OWN because I am a professional and am fortunate to work in a parish that recognizes that fact and allows me to make instructional decisions.

Why do I write this? Because, as a teacher, I'm tired of the outcry against Common Core that shows up on my Facebook newsfeed. I can't help but ask if there was as much outcry against the watered down, lame Comprehensive Curriculum we were using a few years ago. It wasn't proven to work either!! When have we in Louisiana implemented curriculum that WAS tested and proven effective? (I don't know the answer to that question...if you do, please let me know!) So many people seem so wrapped up in the political agenda of the Common Core, I can't help but wonder if they have actually looked at the standards for their child? Have you spoken with your child's teacher about he/she is implementing those standards? I'm not currently interested in the politics, or the data, or the DRAMA of Common Core. I'm interested in what is actually happening in classrooms - what our teachers are actually teaching and what our students are actually doing and learning.

I'm going to stray away from my educational commentary a bit to try to get to the point of this post. Last week I received an e-mail from our assistant principal with protocols for an intruder drill. I read through the e-mail with tears in my eyes that these drills are a reality for my students. That in the coming months, we will have practice what to do if there is danger on our campus. That we will not necessarily know if these moments are a drill or the real thing, and we will experience fear as a result of the unknown. Those students...those messy, hormone-driven, inattentive, sweet, funny, and hard-working twelve year olds that I would protect from danger at all costs are the reason for my hard work, not a curriculum, not a bunch of standards, not my VAM score or the NIET observation rubric, but those kids. All around the country, teachers are working hard to implement these new standards in a manner that is best for their students - the students that they spend hours with every day, that they love like their own children, and that they will protect from danger. I'm afraid that their hard work is going unnoticed amidst all of the drama surrounding Common Core. Here's my point - no matter your stance on Common Core, your knowledge of the standards, your belief about curriculum, please remember the teachers and realize that we are working so hard to guide and teach your children as best we can. We are here after school; we stay up late and rise early; we are researching, collaborating, planning and doing our best for our students. If you know a teacher, take a moment and show him/her some gratitude. It will mean more than you can imagine.

Here is a link to the Common Core State Standards:

Here is a link to curriculum put out by the Louisiana State Department of Ed:

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