Teacher Appreciation Day always makes me think of Mrs. Holland, my third grade teacher. I switched mid-year into her classroom, and the transition was challenging. But Mrs. Holland was with me every step of the way. She made special arrangements for me to be able to sit with my older brother during the day so he could calm me down when I became overwhelmed. She realized I was ahead of the third grade class (it was a third/fourth blend) and she put me with the 4th graders so I was academically challenged. One day I was supposed to walk the two blocks home to my house by myself. But I exited out of an unfamiliar door and found myself wandering outside school with no idea where to go. Mrs. Holland found me outside and drove me home.
I love that we have a day to recognize Mrs. Holland and the countless teachers like her. But the day also concerns me a little: we spend one day thanking teachers for caring for our nation's children, but we don't always expend the same energy thinking about how to support them as professionals. You can see that reflected in the survey findings recently released by the American Federation of Teachers. Three out of four of AFT teachers support the Common Core State Standards, cleaner, higher and simpler standards that will better prepare our kids for college and the real world.
This is unsurprising news. We know that teachers want to hold students to high expectations. These are teachers like Indianapolis teacher Ken Insgar, who spent years mentoring four teenage boys from tough homes in Indy. Against all odds, the boys graduated from high school and were accepted into Indiana State Universities. But, tragically, not one of them lasted more than a semester in college. In high school they received straight A's without doing much work (one, who got an A in AP Philosophy, says he never read a single philosopher). When they got to college, they couldn't keep up. Ken is so frustrated by the low standards in Indiana that he is now one of the lead teachers in his school's transition to Common Core State Standards.
But are districts supporting teachers like Ken to be successful? On that, the data are more concerning: 53 percent of teachers say they have received inadequate training, or no training at all, on how to teach the new standards.
This needs to change. The Common Core State Standards are, intentionally, left up to states and districts to implement. But there are only a few states that are already taking steps to do it right. Kentucky, for example, has established "Leadership Networks": regional teams that provide curriculum maps, gap analysis, pacing processes and guides to help teachers meet the rigor of the Standards. North Carolina has combined professional learning communities, face-to-face training, online modules and empowered school and district teams to train educators around the state. We should have support like this in every state.
To truly support the Mrs. Hollands of today, we need to offer more than a once-a-year thank you. We need to support them to be successful in this innovative transition. And making sure all teachers are prepared to teach with a goal of clearer, more focused academic standards is a great start.