By Brittany Morse
I began my teaching career in a rural town in New Mexico on the border of a Navajo reservation and then went on to teach at two different charter schools in Boston. While my third graders in New Mexico were expected to read, write, and solve math problems on a relatively low level, my Massachusetts third graders were pushed to challenge themselves as learners. The disparity in expectations was striking. What message are we, as educators, sending to children and parents if we say that kids in Massachusetts can do more than kids in rural New Mexico?
When I first heard about the Common Core standards, I felt inspired and encouraged. As a nation, we are starting to figure out how to provide a quality education for every student, regardless of geography or socioeconomic status. This means pushing students beyond memorization by instilling an understanding of concepts. For example, instead of having students memorize a formula to find the perimeter, we teach them what perimeter means, so that they can figure out how to find it with any polygon. However, I was concerned about how I would actually change my day-to-day teaching in response to the new standards. While - according to a 2013 survey of Massachusetts teachers conducted by Teach Plus - most educators in my state agree that the Common Core will benefit students, many share the doubts that I had about how effectively they and their schools were prepared to implement the standards.
Since then, I've taken part in professional development opportunities such as Massachusetts Teachers' Association Core Collaborative run by Teach Plus, where teacher leaders guide other educators in effectively implementing the Common Core. I am increasingly aware of big and small changes that are within my power and can have a profound effect on the quality of my students' learning. For example, I consistently ask my students to articulate why a procedure worked whenever they explain their thought process in solving a math problem. I am convinced that if I maintain a sense of openness, flexibility, and humility, others with more experience and knowledge will help me to guide my students toward success.
To me, embracing the Common Core standards means pushing students to think more deeply, and preparing them to meet the demands of a rapidly changing world. It also means acknowledging the fact that we, as educators, are figuring this out together as we push all students, regardless of geographical location or socioeconomic status, toward the same high bar for success. The transition to the Common Core will not be instantaneous and it will not always be smooth, but it will be worth it for our kids.
Brittany Morse is a 4th grade teacher at UP Academy Dorchester in Boston, MA, and a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow.