Friday, August 30, 2013

Talking About Common Core

Attending my two boys' Back to School Night is always interesting to me, having been on the other side of the desk, so to speak, for the last 18 years. It's a nice change of pace to sit all relaxed in too-small chairs and not have to worry about what I am going to say and how to fit it all in in 30 minutes.

Last night, I found myself nodding in agreement as my six year-old's teacher talked about the need to train her 1st graders to use the bathroom at recess (I could tell her many still won't have that mastered by third grade), the importance of reading and returning homework, and how wonderful Daily Five is.  My nods of agreement soon turned to ones of sympathy, however, when she reached the part of the presentation I knew I dreaded when I presented at my own Back to School Night two weeks ago:  the part where she had to talk about Common Core State Standards.

Teachers have been put in the uncomfortable position of having to talk about something that many of us still know little about.  In my district, we had a couple of inservices last year that totally inundated us with information and left me at least feeling completely overwhelmed.  Other than that, we have been left pretty much on our own to make sense of it all.  My district did create and distribute a PowerPoint to all teachers that we were required to present to parents.  Although the PowerPoint contained little information that was actually useful, because I had spent a good part of my summer on Twitter and familiarized myself somewhat with the standards, I had a bit more to say on the subject than I had expected.  Even so, I felt like I was bluffing my way through.  I was surprised when a parent came back after the second presentation (she had attended the first) and told my teaching partner and me how happy she was that we were up on CCSS.  My surprise turned to dismay when she went on to explain that she works for an agency that goes into schools in need of turning around.  But I don't know anything, not really, was all I could think.  Last night that feeling of discomfort returned as I listened to my son's teacher explain that CCSS was an international movement that would make it so that all the states and countries like Japan would be learning the same things in the same sequence.  I prayed that I was the only one in the room who knew there was much she did not understand about Common Core.  

We teachers are so used to speaking with authority and being the "experts" in our room, that it is difficult to stand in front of parents and talk about something so new that we don't know much more than they do.  In many ways it feels like we're groping around in the dark, trying to find something to grasp on to, something that makes sense and will lead us out of the darkness.  After last night's experience with my son's teacher, I suspect I am not entirely alone in feeling this way.

I don't have a problem with the standards per se.  I would love it if we had time and plenty of support to figure out how to implement the new standards and really work toward improving instruction for all kids.  We need freedom to experiment and try new strategies and incorporate technology without fear.  But as always we have standardized testing breathing down our backs, reminding us we don't have time.  My greatest disappointment regarding CCSS is that the main focus is on testing, not instruction.  My district began talking about testing even before we began to look at the standards. For some reason every time I hear people talk about standardized testing, I think of numbers, not kids.  And that is neither why I went into teaching nor why I stay.  For the creators of the Common Core, for politicians, for the media, and yes, even for administrators, education seems to be solely about the numbers.  For teachers it's always about the kids.  

So, while I understand that my son's teacher isn't an expert in Common Core, I'm not in the least worried.  She has plenty of knowledge about kids and what they truly need to know and an abundance of enthusiasm for teaching.  She showed me last night that she is there for the kids.  My son is going to do just fine.


  1. The previous comment was from my husband not me!! Lol

  2. Nevertheless, excellent writing. Did you happen to see the 2 hour show called 'Teach' the other night? Interesting portraits of 4 teachers and their successes and failures over a year. One of the schools was integrating Khan Academy courses as part of their teaching. Anything like that where you are?

  3. Thanks, Jim! I did not see Teach the other night, but I did read an interesting review that suggested it contained some subtle propaganda. I have heard of Khan Academy on Twitter, but I don't know much about it. Something else to learn about! What was your impression of the film?

  4. I liked it. It was very well done and definitely thought provoking. Here's a review:


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