Some thoughts after letting Las Vegas percolate for a week or so- assisted by massive helpings of turkey and pumpkin pie. Doc Z threw down her thoughts here the other day.
1) As always, it’s really exciting and energizing to be part of a larger community with a sense of common purpose focused on complex and meaningful tasks. So much of the public debate around teaching misses the sense of excitement teachers have about their jobs. We feel beat up and demoralized about policy, or bad leadership, or the commercialization of the education space, but we are excited to teach, excited to work with children, excited about learning. That’s really fun to be around for a few days. That energy will carry me into the new year with renewed energy and commitment, and I needed that.
2) My faith in what is at the heart of our part of the teaching profession has been renewed and strengthened. We do teach reading and writing, but at the heart of reading and writing is helping young people connect with themselves, their communities, and the world. That is what literacy does. We’re in the connection business.
3) While I’m still not a huge fan of the common core (I refuse to capitalize it- it is not deserving of that), I’m a bit less leery. Jeff Wilhelm offered an interesting take in a session he and Bruce Novak did on ‘teacher maintenance.’ He showed how the units he was doing with his students covered all the common core standards, and still went beyond that overly mechanistic view of education to get at what we are really about (see #2 above). As a practical matter, I like that approach. The common core does not preclude the important stuff.
However, it is still of grave concern to me that the important stuff is not included in these documents. And while I, and Jeff Wilhelm, are pretty good at making sure we do both, and live in work contexts where that is possible, I am worried. I sat next to a first year teacher in that session, and her description of the circumstances of her working life were so awful that it was all I could do not to counsel her to quit. And by awful I am referring to the heavy-handed, top-down, test-score driven management she was subjected to- not the fact that she teaches in a low SES school with struggling leaners.
The problem with the common core is not that you can’t do other things as well, it’s that it doesn’t require you to do those things. And as a result, whatever assessment gets used to keep us ‘accountable’ will also not check for those things- so they won’t get done. Not on the scale they need to get done. Not in the way they need to. Pre-service teachers won’t be systematically trained in how to do them, new teachers will not be coached in how do do them better, administrators will not be looking to see that it happens in classrooms, professional development won’t focus on it. What we write down is what we claim as important. And the common core standards do not claim as important that which is what we agree is important in education.