This fall, I am teaching two sections of 12th grade. These students have been working with curriculum designed to meet the Common Core State Standards for three years. Within the first two weeks of school, I am looking at my plans and hoping they will be challenged enough. Their writing, critical thinking and reading comprehension is stronger than any group of incoming 12th graders I’ve ever taught. And I’m excited!
Enter the paradox of the common-core debate.
Good things are happening in schools. But Common Core critics insist that the standards are a hindrance to student growth, teacher autonomy, and the welfare of the educational system as a whole.
This just points to the unnerving trend towards politicizing education. It seems that everything in education requires a person to take sides. Testing, charter schools, teacher evaluation, and standards are common topics of conversation among pundits and news anchors. Strangely, I’ve yet to hear teachers called to offer their perspective.
This is because those who are teaching don’t have time to philosophize about reform initiatives. We are, instead, focusing on the learning and growth of each of our students as best we can.
For me, the standards have simplified that process.
I used to have to teach novel-based units. Now, I have the freedom to choose what literature and non-fiction I want to use to teach students the skills that they will need to approach any complex texts that they will come across.
I used to have to ask my students to write papers that only required them to use basic thinking skills. Now I get to ask them to write arguments that utilize textual support to back up their claims and analysis.
I used to have to teach a laundry list of terms and ideas, but never had to ask my students to utilize their knowledge in a practical way. Now, I show them to how to tackle vocabulary in a variety of contexts and help them to apply their knowledge to a variety of contexts.
With the standards as my benchmark, I am creating curriculum with my peers that will provide students with tools for learning that will apply to a variety of tasks and undertakings once they leave our classrooms.
I am sad that so many people—people who haven’t been in a classroom since they were students—are trying to shut down this kind of learning. If we step back from the standards, we will be doing our students a disservice.
I encourage those who are hesitant about the common core to read the standards and talk to a teacher—or better yet, observe what is happening in classes like my 12th grade. I bet if that happened more often, people would realize that our debates are of little value. Then maybe we can leave the paradox and get on with teaching and learning.
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Jessica Keigan teaches English Language Arts and is an instructional coach at Horizon High School in Thornton, Colo. As a teacher leader with the Center for Teaching Quality, she is passionate about exploring and creating teacher-leadership models to improve Colorado’s schools and encourage her peers to be active leaders of their profession. She is also a member of Adams 12 Five Star School’s District 12 Educator’s Association, which allowed her to participate in the NEA, betterlesson.com Master Teacher Project for the 2013-14 school year.
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