Opinion
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor

Nancie Atwell on the Common-Core Debate and Her Advice to Aspiring Teachers

June 08, 2015 2 min read
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To the Editor:

A letter to the editor “written collectively and in partnership with the Collaborative for Student Success” and signed by a group of former and current state teachers of the year opined that “false statements on the common core have been perpetuated by some of our profession’s most respected teachers, such as Nancie Atwell, the winner of the first Global Teacher Prize, who recently discouraged today’s students from becoming tomorrow’s teachers.”

I would like to respond.

For more than four decades, teaching has been my pride and my passion; I have never advised anyone not to consider it as a career. But since the Common Core State Standards turned from theory into practice, I have listened to the voices of expert teachers from across the country who are no longer permitted to do what they know is best for their students as readers and writers. Instead, they are mandated to focus on unproven practices of questionable merit: cold close readings, text-complexity formulas, the dismissal of poetry writing from the K-12 curriculum and narrative writing in high school, and an imperative that all children must—as David Coleman, an architect of the Common Core State Standards, said in a speech in 2011—read like detectives and write like investigative reporters. Such essential goals as engagement, purpose, compassion, and love of literature are nowhere to be found.

As for smart, creative people who aspire to be teachers, I empathize. They enter the profession seeking to light fires, but instead may find themselves consumed by prescriptive programs, data collection and analysis, and test preparation. A five-year attrition rate of 40 to 50 percent of teachers, as reported by the Alliance for Excellent Education in 2014, should be the cause of concern to anyone who cares about public schooling in this country. What I encourage aspiring teachers to do is to seek out positions where they’ll be able to act as professionals: to exercise autonomy, read educational research and conduct their own, develop knowledge of how children learn, and create methods.

While these conditions do apply in many independent schools, there are still public school administrators who regard teachers as reflective practitioners and support their initiative and innovations. New teachers might also look for like-minded mentors—veterans who have created wiggle room within a prescribed curriculum to afford their students authentic experiences as readers and writers.

Teaching has never been a lucrative career choice, but it must be an intellectually and emotionally rewarding one if our schools are to attract and retain the best and the brightest. I am grateful that the Global Teacher Prize has given me a voice to raise in the ongoing conversation about the frustration that many teachers, administrators, students, and parents are experiencing with common-core practices and assessments.

Nancie Atwell

Founder

Center for Teaching and Learning

Edgecomb, Maine

A version of this article appeared in the June 10, 2015 edition of Education Week as Nancie Atwell on the Common-Core Debate and Her Advice to Aspiring Teachers

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