WATCH: One Math Teacher’s Journey From Frustration to Appreciation of the Common Core

As a 24-year veteran of the classroom, I can still remember the day, more than a dozen years ago, when our staff was told that we would lose five days of instruction in order to administer a new state test, which would be used as one measure of accountability, based on our updated Delaware State Content Standards. I was a bit baffled and remember incredulously asking department members if they wanted to take away class time to test our students. Students wouldn’t be able to prepare for the test? Teachers couldn’t see the format of questions? We were given the broad topics covered on the test, but we wouldn’t be informed about which standards were to be tested. We may not have been able to even see the test that would be used to evaluate us based on our students’ performance. I passed through the stages of grief: bewilderment, frustration, surrender and finally acceptance. So what did we do? Our department gathered at our chairperson’s house several hours one summer and began to prepare a review packet for our students. Contrary to some people’s beliefs, [pullquote position="right"]math isn’t about memorizing algorithms. Most students need to practice. We pulled teaching resources and sample problems using websites from other states, materials from other schools, our own textbooks, and classroom assessments. We did what we felt was best for our kids using the given standards of the time, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the State Content Standards. A few years ago, the Common Core Math Standards were first introduced. I couldn’t get past the letters: HSA.IF.B.4. There were so many sections and subsections. The document was huge. Adopting the Common Core seemed like an insurmountable task. I asked myself, [pullquote position="left"]What did the new standards mean to me and my classroom? What was different now? Were non-math teachers implying that the past 20 years were of no value? I made a decision; I needed to know the Common Core. I began with the assumption that the writers of the standards wanted what was best for kids. How could I use that assumption to guide me? I read the standards for high school math cover to cover. Here is what I discovered:
  • Common Core is not a curriculum.
  • Common Core is not a test.
  • Common Core outlines what students should know and be able to do.
There is no one right way to teach math, but there are many wrong ways. My advice to colleagues is this: Read the standards for yourselves. Know them. Prepare thoroughly. Then use whatever resources you can find, and your own toolbox to choose the appropriate pedagogy necessary to offer students the best chance to master the material. It is important to reflect on what, how and why we teach the lessons we do. That is why I am happy to know that the content I am teaching is aligned to standards that detail what students should know and be able to do.
Mary Pinkston has been an educator for more than 24 years in the Brandywine School District in Wilmington, Delaware. Each year, she teaches a diverse group of young people in grades 9– 12 in courses ranging from Algebra I to Honors Calculus (non-advanced placement). Mary has served on the executive boards of numerous local professional organizations through the years including: Brandywine Education Association (Treasurer), Delaware Council of Teachers of Mathematics (Membership Chairperson/NCTM Representative), and the Delaware Professional Standards Board (Governor’s appointee). She also enjoys time with her church family (Coleman Memorial United Methodist Church), and involvement in several service organizations including Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Mary was the 2010 Delaware State Teacher of the Year, 2011 Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education (Math), 2011 NEA Foundation Global Fellow and an NEA Foundation Awards for Teaching Excellence semifinalist. She earned a B.A. (cum laude) in Secondary Math Education and M.Ed. from the University of Delaware, and completed several credits towards an Administrative Certificate at Wilmington College (University). Mary is certified as a secondary mathematics teacher and is a National Board Certified Teacher: Adolescent/Young Adult Mathematics.