Teacher Voice

A Teacher Gets Honest About Common Core: ‘Standing Still Will Never Get Us Anywhere’

No one can argue the value of higher standards. Who wouldn’t want kids to be college-and career-ready? Thus, I have always wondered why there are drastically different opinions on the Common Core. In a recent post on my own blog, called What’s Your Problem with Common Core?, I explored the resistance to the standards, mainly from a parent perspective. Most feel anxious and often misunderstand the intentions of the standards because they have been so politicized and poorly presented in the media. But how do teachers feel? I asked my colleagues. As a third grade teacher for over 13 years, I have seen standards go through many changes. It always seemed like they just put new labels on the same things, but Common Core feels different. This is the first time there has been a complete overhaul of what and how children should learn. And it’s about time, because our world is different now. With the ability to just Google anything, kids have a world of information at their fingertips. Tony Wagner, author of the bestselling book ”Creating Innovators,” writes, “The world doesn’t care what you know, it is about what you can do with what you know.” Education is no longer about regurgitating facts, it is about critical thinking and problem solving so we can develop a future generation of innovators. Common Core gives teachers and students the chance to dig deeper into concepts and apply skills to real life.

What Works for Teachers

Heather Gauck, a 20-year resource room teacher from Grand Rapids, Michigan, finds Common Core to be effective when helping her K-3 students fill in the gaps. “Common Core is like a set of stairs, so it makes it easy for me to go back down...find the base of what they need to know first, and build up from there,” she says. “The standards have pushed me to have higher expectations for my kids.” Dan Polleys, a sixth grade language arts teacher in Boyne City, Michigan, enjoys the opportunity to be creative and innovative through Common Core. He sees a huge improvement in his students’ writing skills as well. “There is more emphasis on writing and using writing in different ways,” Polleys says. Instead of just a skill, he says that his students now value “writing for a purpose and an audience and becoming passionate about real issues.”

Looking for Support

The only resistance from an educator’s perspective is that we do not feel fully supported to implement the standards. Teachers are desperate for more resources that align with the Common Core in a way that is smooth, practical, and makes sense for kids. It would be most effective if the resources were teacher-designed—because if you want to know what works best in a classroom, ask a teacher. While I’ve seen the Michigan Common Core State Standards website and I think it is a great start to providing resources for teachers, it is definitely lacking—especially in math, where my colleagues and I have had the most frustration. We do not have any textbooks or materials that are well aligned with Common Core math. Our current program, Everyday Mathematics, has many gaps and several concepts that are woven into the materials that are no longer part of our grade-level standards. We are constantly teaching around unnecessary materials and constantly searching for activities to fill in the gaps. Our district has been trying to pilot other Common Core math programs, only to find that they’re not fully developed yet and won't be for a while. Many teachers I've spoken to feel stuck in limbo between old the textbooks and materials and the new standards. Perhaps the resources that are available have not been communicated to us well enough. Or perhaps we have not been given adequate time to explore the resources that are available. Right now, many of us feel pressure to search and piece together resources we can find or even create our own, which is a huge task in addition to the daily responsibilities of managing a classroom. We know the standards. We believe in the standards. But we need lesson plans and hands-on materials to teach the standards.

Time to Move Forward

Overall, though, teachers are in favor on Common Core. Maybe knowing that will make parents feel more comfortable with this transition. Maybe people will see that this change is truly in the best interest of children. Maybe we can put an end to this debate once and for all and move forward. Standing still will never get us anywhere.
Melody Arabo
Melody Arabo has been a third grade teacher at Keith Elementary in the Walled Lake Consolidated School District since 2002. She has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in teaching and curriculum, both from Michigan State University. She has been married for 13 years and has three children—an eight-year-old daughter and five-year-old twin boys. In 2008, she was named ...

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