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Assessment Opinion

Tony Mullen, Teacher of the Year, Offers Core Knowledge for Teaching

By Anthony Cody — September 08, 2013 2 min read
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Guest post by Tony Mullen.

You may have read 2009 Teacher of the Year Tony Mullen’s classic post from a few years ago, Teachers Should Be Seen and Not Heard. Today I am sharing a short essay he shared with his classmates at Mercy College.

Millions of teachers and students will be returning to school this week to begin another year of teaching and learning.

This year will be more challenging for both teachers and students because we have become a nation obsessed with standardized test scores. Curricula and lesson plans will be modified to accommodate Common Core Standards and the federal government will be hoping that U.S. students outperform Finnish students on math and science tests.

Academic standards are a critical component of quality teaching and student learning, and the adoption of a uniform set of national standards could transform American education. Sadly, America’s teachers and parents and students had little input developing a common core of national standards, but they will be held accountable for the results of this latest federal education initiative. Politicians come and go and point the finger of blame at every point on the compass, but teachers are doers and know what is best for their students. That is why this generation of teachers will work harder to fulfill new federal education mandates but, unlike politicians and bureaucrats and policy makers, teachers will not forget what is most important to each and every child.

I tell our current and future teachers that whatever uniform set of academic standards eventually makes its way to their classroom doors the following set of core knowledge must be included:

Mission Statement
What I teach is not as important as whom I teach.

Math Standards
a2 + b2 = c2 is a useful math concept, but understanding that the sum of all a child’s yesterdays does not equal the value of just one tomorrow is critical core knowledge.

Geography Standards
The origin of the Nile River is a piece of practical information, but understanding that a child’s origin is not their destiny is critical core knowledge.

Reading Standards
Students should read sonnets, a beautiful form of poetry that derives its name from the Italian word sonetto, meaning “little song.” But the ability to read a child’s story and know that each and every student arrives at your classroom door with a unique and intriguing and incomplete story is critical core knowledge.

Writing Standards
A sentence must include a subject and a predicate, but knowing how to script confidence on the blank pages of a child’s story, how to edit the mistakes, and how to help write a happy ending is critical core knowledge.

Science Standards
What goes up must come down is a useful concept, but the ability to catch a falling student is critical core knowledge.

How artists work and what tools do they use to create is concrete and useful information, but understanding that the hands of every artist were once held and guided by a teacher is critical core knowledge.

Knowing the three branches of government is useful knowledge, but understanding that the greatest institution for social change is a school and the greatest instrument of change is a teacher is critical core knowledge.

Tony Mullen

Teacher, Greenwich Public Schools
2009 National Teacher of the Year
2008 Connecticut State Teacher of the Year
Mercy College Alumnus

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.