The beginning of the school year is getting close. As a matter of fact in just eighteen days our first group, sixth graders, arrive and begin their year. So many things are in the wind and perhaps the largest is the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Common Core is currently under fire from many communities, especially those within the education community.
For those outside of education, let me give you a brief overview..."The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy." So overall this sounds good...I mean after all, we want our students to be competitive in the global economy, but are we willing to give up? Right now, it feels like we are giving up a student's opportunity for a well rounded education. I am not trying to be political, I am speaking from my view.
Here are a few things that tell you where I am coming from...
1) Students and families are different than they used to be...In my 21 years, I have seen a major shift in the family structure. Many more children are being raised in single parent households or have parents working two jobs to make ends meet. Many children are helping raise their younger siblings.
2) The instance of children in poverty has raised...My school serves approximately 85% (or more) children that are under the Federal Poverty Line. They come to school hungry and may be hungry all day. Their hunger affects their ability to learn.
3) Children do not have the same respect for adults or rules for rules sake as they did in the past...When I was in school, we did what the teacher said because that was expected. Very few wavered from this party line. Young people now (even in elementary) routinely defy adults because they think they can.
I love teaching and I love my job. I used to only be responsible for teaching the content area, but now am expected to do much more. This further expectation is almost unwritten...I am expected to do some degree of parenting as well. For many of my students, I am one of the best examples of a healthy adult that they may have in their life. I came from poverty, but because of a variety of things, I graduated from high school, went on to college, then completed two masters degrees. I made it...and I feel that it is part of my job to talk to them about how they do these thinks as well. They are confronted by many things...poverty, illegal status, academic struggles, non-native speakers (or parents that are non-native speakers), but education is the key to the next step.
Sadly, there are many elements of our education system (primarily standardized testing) that actually work the opposite way of their proposed use...these tests tell our children that they are failures from a young age. Unlike other countries that use a standardized test three times (or less) during their academic years, we practically test our students to death. In the eighth grade alone (what I teach), we spend approximately 3 - 4 weeks testing and, because we test every year, we don't have opportunities to teach to mastery...we must move on, even if very few are ready. It becomes a self-defeating proposition.
I am looking forward to the beginning of the year, but I can't say I am looking forward to testing. My desire for this year is that I take the opportunities to connect with my students as they come, that I am an example to students of where education can take them, and most of all that I encourage and nurture a lifelong love of learning.