When Common Core was first introduced, I was a fairly new teacher. I started reading up on it right away because I wanted to fully understand how Common Core would impact my teaching. At the time, I was teaching language arts, and my district department lead told us Common Core would come and go so we would wait and see how it played out—until then, it would be business as usual. The thing was, with everything I had already read about Common Core’s mission, I didn’t want to continue teaching according to business as usual. I was so excited about Common Core and couldn’t wait to get started.
Doing What’s Best for Students
Common Core supports all of the best skills and challenging academics we have always wanted for our students, and we would be setting our schools and our state back if we repealed the standards in Nevada. As teachers, we want our students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. We want to both inspire creativity and build logical, evidence-based reasoning skills. Common Core affirms my abilities by granting me the autonomy to find the best ways to help my students reach their full potential. It is not a set curriculum pushing my students into a box. I am currently teaching social studies and although the Common Core only focuses on math and language arts, the standards are applicable to other subjects as well. They are the guiding expectations that drive my instruction. When I consistently have students, year after year, recognize their own growth and improvement and finally feel successful, those student testimonies keep my faith in Common Core. I know I am doing what is best for my students.
A New Teaching Style
During my first year teaching social studies, I had eighth graders. My new school followed a team looping model where students would work with a specific team for their two years of middle school. This model supports the philosophy that a team can build stronger student relationships and identify students’ individual needs. My new eighth graders were used to their previous social studies teacher’s teaching style and I had a completely different one than what they were used to. At the beginning of the year, my students thought I was crazy. They wanted to know why we were studying vocabulary in social studies. They complained about all of the reading and writing we did in history class. They rolled their eyes when I answered their questions with questions, and always expected them to support their positions with evidence and reasoning. At the end of the year, one student, Kayla, thanked me for what was a tough and often frustrating year for her. She said she worked harder for a B in my class than she ever worked for an A her entire life. That same year, one of my biggest doubters contacted me as a junior to say he was still learning from me. One day in his AP European history, his teacher provided him with a graphic organizer to help students outline their essay writing. He told his teacher he recognized the graphic organizer, and his teacher replied that her friend created the writing tool. My former student passed both AP tests in American and European history and is at the top of his class. Another student of mine, Branden, was with me both his seventh and eighth grade years. He was below grade level in reading and writing and because he struggled, he often acted out to avoid work. By the end of his time with me, Branden often asked to read out loud and contribute to class discussions. He told me one day, “Ms. Dixon, I have noticed I’m a better reader. I don’t stumble over my words as much. You made me a better student!” One of my units is on the Roaring ’20s. I always teach the Harlem Renaissance by analyzing poetry by Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Adding poetry to my instruction gives me creative freedom. Poetry analysis is some of the most difficult work my students engage in throughout the year. Of course, it never fails—students always question why we learn poetry in social studies. But at the end of the unit, students want to know if we can study poetry in every unit. I see how the implementation of Common Core standards have improved student achievement and helped me grow as a teacher. I believe in Common Core.
Temoca Dixon is a social studies teacher at Clayton Pre-AP Academy in Reno, Nevada.