As I finish my twelfth year in the classroom, I am forced to look back and reflect on a year unlike any other. A year filled with many rewards and a year filled with many frustrations. For every gain we made in the classroom this year, the state, as a whole, took two steps back. Teachers like me are clinging to the new standards with vigor, terrified that they will be taken away. I advocate for myself and teachers like me, who believe in their students enough to push them further, to question them deeper, and to support them more than ever before.
Believing in Students
Over the course of this school year, I’ve seen my students develop into critical thinkers who loved reading and discussing texts to which they previously would never have been exposed. I saw them develop a love for learning through the use of connected texts that focused on a singular topic, like the Middle Ages or Cajun Folktales. My students, who could barely write a coherent sentence at the beginning of the year, can now write two- to three-paragraph essay responses to explain their understanding. My third graders can easily explain to anyone the importance of using evidence to support their opinions. Since implementing the Common Core State Standards, I have seen students make connections between texts they read months apart, something I never saw when I taught from a textbook. I have seen my students make connections between themes and characters that I myself failed to see. I advocate for myself and teachers like me, who believe in their students enough to push them further, to question them deeper, and to support them more than ever before. This year, I have also seen my students develop a conceptual understanding of math that I have never seen in my twelve years in the classroom. I have heard my students refer to a difficult math skill as “easy,” even though in previous years I had struggled to teach it. I have been delighted when my students got excited about completing math “exit tickets” to prove their understanding of a concept. And I have been blanketed by the trust of my students’ parents who never once questioned this new and different way of teaching their children and embraced it as being what was best for their child.
But along with these triumphs in my classroom have come some tough times, as well. Every time I make a stand for quality for my students, I am forced to suit up, to put on my thick skin. I have been personally attacked by people in public forums for my role as an advocate, and I have been called names and had my contracts posted on social media. I have been threatened, bullied, and harassed for believing that Louisiana’s students deserve better. My teaching abilities have been criticized and questioned by an angry public who have never set foot in my classroom or any classroom for that matter. Many of my colleagues have also suffered this same abuse from a misinformed public.
Why I Fight
So why do I continue to advocate when it means putting up with this treatment? I advocate for my own children, who deserve an education that will serve them well beyond the years they will spend in our small northern Louisiana community. I advocate for my students, who deserve to show they are just as capable of being critical thinkers as any other student in this country. I advocate for the thousands of teachers who have spent countless hours planning, writing, and creating high quality materials for students, only to be told their work might be in vain, due to the political whims of lawmakers who don’t have the best interests of my students in mind. I advocate for those teachers who desire the freedom and creativity for which the standards allow. I advocate for the parents who understand the need for higher standards because they want their children to have the same opportunities to get into good colleges as children from other states will have. I advocate to inform the public that we need to build a generation of thinkers, not just memorizers. I advocate so that textbook companies will start creating instructional materials that properly align with the standards, instead of the hastily published resources teachers are forced to teach from right now. And finally, I advocate so our politicians know that our state can make this transition, but we need more time, and so they don’t vote to take us back ten years to standards that had Louisiana ranked 49th out of 50 states. The Common Core State Standards have given me my love for teaching again. The standards have shown my students that learning can be fun and it doesn’t always have to come from a textbook. The standards have shown my students that learning can happen in and outside the classroom. I will continue my fight to keep these standards in Louisiana. I will continue to put on my armor every day and advocate for what I know is the positive change our students need.
Meredith Starks is a third grade teacher in Bossier City, Louisiana. An original version of this post appeared on Stand for Children's blog.