First Common Myth: Common Core and the Uniformed Burden It Carries (Part 2)

As promised, I’m starting my series about the misunderstandings that Common Core carries around with it, and I’d like to start with one aspect of negativity about the core that I feel really strongly about.

Myth: We don’t need the Common Core State Standards, our standards were fine as they were. Now, this post doesn’t necessarily apply to many other states, but Mississippi surely could benefit from the new standards, and here is my evidence:

Source: Rethink Mississippi

Source: Rethink Mississippi

Just in one Facebook status, “Stop Common Core in Mississippi” could have improved their writing by following at least 7 standards. This speaks for itself. Also, if you look at the standards listed here, I can’t find any evil in them.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Common Core and the Uninformed Burdens it Carries (Part 1)

Source: dcslv.org

Source: dcslv.org

I once had a parent tell me that the Common Core State Standards were “actually created by Hitler” and “Obama’s most recent way to brainwash our children.” Trying to reason with this woman was like trying to put a cold, wet bathing suit back on, nearly impossible. Though I never did get to a reasonable conclusion with this woman, she did get the wheels in my brain turning. How have the standards become so hated?

I’ve read the standards- a lot. I’ve studied them alone, in groups, with college professors. I’ve attended conferences and read books about them. I can’t find hitler, the devil, or any other evil in these standards no matter how hard I’ve tried.

 

While I understand that there are pros and cons to every venture, and Americans are never going to agree one-hundred percent on the Common Core initiative, we have to draw the line somewhere, right? Misinformed conclusions are being drawn about Common Core State Standards constantly. In fact, someone probably just made a misinformed decision about the matter as I was typing that sentence.

This is the first post in a series about the Common Core State Standards and all of the baggage that they carry with them. I’m not going to try to persuade you either way about the standards in this series, but I would like to invite you to take a look at the documents with me before jumping to absurd conclusions from something you’ve read on the internet, or gossip you heard at the grocery store, or a speech you heard a self-serving politician make. Your opinion is valid and respected, but only if it is driven by logical reasoning and evidence.

Stay tuned for the first post. Feel free to comment below to request specific topics relating to Common Core. I’d love your input on the content of this series.

 

Proud Teacher: Openly Bragging

In response to Right to Brag by The Daily Post

I’ve recently completed the South Mississippi Writing Project’s Invitational Summer Institute. I feel like I can unashamedly brag about this because it is indeed invitational. You have to be identified as an excellent teacher of writing before the SMWP will even consider inviting you, and now I will be a teaching consultant for the SMWP and work with teachers in other schools in southern Mississippi.

One of the key principles to being a teacher of writing, is becoming comfortable in your own writing first. This is a key component of the summer institute, we did a lot of writing. I’d like to share a fictional piece that I wrote and am very proud of. Please feel free to comment for revision, praise, or other suggestions for this piece.

The Turkey Fryer

 

Our neighbors don’t believe in privacy. Year round, they leave the windows open, the front door, gaping, shielded by the glass screen door. They have no blinds, no curtains, only sheers. Their cat, his name was Tom, preferred it this way I think. I liked to watch Tom sit on the window sill, his intelligence far exceeding that of his owners.

He is a drunk, and she’s addicted to cigarettes- and something else, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Sometimes, she puts on these big, black earphones with a mysterious blinking red light and dances in the yard, like a silent disco. Wearing a faded yellow bandeau her gut spilling over the tiny denim shorts, she gets lost in her own little world and noises escape from her mouth, noises that I still can’t make sense of. And I mean she really dances, once I even saw her do the worm, while it was raining, in the mud. My bedroom window is directly adjacent to theirs, the small gap between our houses can only be a yard or so. At night, he wonders if the house is bugged, and she screams that he ruined their future.

My parents had bought this small three bedroom house when they first married, an investment in their futures. Back then, I was told this had been a nice neighborhood. My parents were fairly tolerant, though, and since the house was big enough for the four of us- myself, my sister, and my parents, they decided not to sell. Not in this market.

“Get the damn turkey out before you burn the house down, sister.” Sometimes he called her sister, and I wondered what that meant. I mean, surely they weren’t incestuous or something. It wasn’t even a muted statement, I could hear it clearly from the comfort of my bed and over Vampire Weekend playing on the stereo I had begged for for Christmas last year. I turned it off.

Thanksgiving would be smaller this year, Mom had said. Dad was going to fry a turkey at the house for the four of us. I imagined him with the $49 turkey fryer we got on sale at the local “dig store,” wearing his obnoxious orange baseball cap and a George Foreman apron, waving at the neighbors with a canned beer in his hand- oblivious.

The only detail of Dad’s attire that I had missed was his black Crocks and above the ankle white socks. Dear God, I thought. Regardless, he didn’t like it when I stayed in my room for too long. “What were you doing in there, Mary?” He would say. “Cooking meth.” I always replied, and his chuckle always had a slight hint of worry.

The worst part about frying a turkey was that it had to be done outside, and all the neighbors could see us. Dad with his cliché outfit, and me outside standing near him. I looked great of course, in an oversized sweater and skinny jeans, but that was beside the point. I measured the peanut oil while Dad finished making all the connections.

The neighbor lady was outside smoking a cigarette, and she waved her hand and mumbled something incoherent in our direction. Dad politely raised his hand in acknowledgement with his cheesy smile and lowered something metal into the fryer, pointing for me to pour in the oil.

“Dad,” I nudged his elbow, “She’s coming over here.”

She was wearing a very tight, very low cut, and very sheer top with nothing underneath to cover her body parts. Tom was following her.

“Fryin a bird?” She pointed toward the metal tube that sat on the concrete driveway in our yard.

My dad nodded, trying not to look too closely at her. I couldn’t help but stare, her greasy blonde hair, the dirt under her fingernails, the boxers that peeked out of her blue jeans.

“We got us a bird in the oven, too.” She said. Awkwardly waiting for some kind of response. My dad, awkwardly engaged in conversation with a neighbor he knew so well, but yet had never met. I watched her mouth move and her snaggly teeth disgusted me.

And sometime during that conversation is when it happened, that Tom became interested in the peanut oil. Neither my Dad or the neighbor were watching him, but Tom began to experiment, placing his paw on the edge of the bowl and stretching his head toward the enticing smell, and he peered for quite some time into the pot of boiling water. It never occurred to me that he might actually do it, but suddenly, Tom pounced from his still, safe resting spot on the concrete and into the boiling grease. He didn’t pull himself out like a person pulls out of a pool, it was like he was ejected from the pot by a strong force of will. I don’t know if he was bald, or if his hair was just greased to his skin, but a slimmer looking Tom bolted over the property line in an instant before he fell over, dead.

I was frozen, heart racing, horrified. The neighbor lady ran screeching after the cat, a moment too late, screeching “bubba” the whole way there. My dad robotically poured out the oil, rinsed the pot, and began to heat more peanut oil. I got to go back to my room.

 

Teacher Inquiry: Self Preservation

This year was my first full year of teaching, and I couldn’t have felt more prepared to teach these youngsters all things fabulous than I did on the first day of school. I had received the absolute best training, read and studied all the best and newest research, and been mentored by the most fabulous teachers during my student teaching. And for the first few months, everything went great for me, I felt like I was doing an acceptable job. That’s not to say that there weren’t bumps in the road because there WERE bumps, but overall I felt like my kids were really getting what I was teaching them.

Then, it was time to write an argument essay, and by golly was I prepared. I had mentor texts, I had highlighters, I had standards typed up, and I was ready to go! Passionately I presented my kids with all of the materials I had so carefully planned. Surely these materials would help them write arguments with ease! Boy was I wrong. The kids were confused, mouthy, and downright ridiculous. It was the first moment this year that I thought “wow, what am I doing wrong?” The year had many more similar ups and downs, sometimes things went great and sometimes they spiraled out of control so fast I didn’t know what had hit me.

Because of this year’s experience, I’ve begun looking at a lot of research on the idea of teacher inquiry as a regular practice in classrooms around the U.S. Nancy Fichtman Dana, Belinda G. Gimbert, and Diane Yendol Silva define teacher inquiry best in their article “Teacher Inquiry as Professional Development for the 21st Century in the United States.” They say “the idea of inquiry embodies how teachers make explicit and probe their wanderings, reframe and modify their questions and enlighten their perceptions and sense-making of their classroom practice.” Teachers can and should be in charge of their own professional development- it’s how we grow.

The author’s of this article point out that for a long time educational decisions have been made based off of research conducted by people immersed in a world that is far from the classroom. But, when teachers live a life of inquiry, when they ask questions about problems that occur in their classrooms, they move education forward in a way that is specific to the real problems of education. We shouldn’t blindly follow the strategies handed to us by university scholars, so removed from the classroom. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t listen respectfully to what they have to say, but that there should be a balance between teachers as professional problem solvers and university scholars as educational researchers.

This next year, I’m going to live the life of the inquirer. I will ask questions and face classroom problems head on. I do not need strategies, or a textbook, or any sort of instruction manual beyond exploring the needs of my students and catering my research to those needs.

Will you join me in living the life of inquiry?

Aside

You’re Invited

Several months ago, I received some very exciting news; I had been invited to the South Mississippi Writing Project summer institute. It is truly an honor.The National Writing Project invites teachers who have been identified as distinguished teachers of writing by their peers, and after the institute, teachers are expected to become teaching consultants. As teaching consultants, we will guide teachers in all walks of teaching in effective teaching practices, and I couldn’t be more excited.

At the beginning of this year, I would have never imagined I’d be living the life I am living this week. I am truly in teacher heaven. We’ve been reading pedagogy about teaching writing and discussing it (which is the best part), and we’ve been writing a lot, a whole lot. The premise is that to be a good teacher of writing, you must also feel confident in your own writing.

I’ve been generating a lot of fun material, some which I might share here later after some serious re-working. I’m also planning on reviewing some of the relevant books and articles I’ve been reading. Stay Tuned, there is so much more to come!

 

So this is the end… 5 Things I learned in my First Year of Teaching

The end of my first year of teaching is rapidly approaching, very very rapidly. For me, it feels like I just met my kids yesterday. I’m an emotional wreck. I’m tearing up when they bring me yearbooks to sign, I’m clinging to the papers they wrote months ago, and I’m desperate to hold on to the memories we have built in my little classroom. Oddly, I’m also more ready for a break than I thought I would be, and the kids seem to be clawing at the windows to escape the awful wrath that Ms. K brings upon them. As sad as it is that my students are going to be eighth graders next year, it is just as exciting that I have learned so much to implement in my classroom (and in myself) before the start of next year.

 

5. Patience really is a virtue.

IMG_3388

My dad always told me that patience was a virtue and he was absolutely right! If I have learned anything this school year, it is that the patience I have is a gift I can treasure. There were times that I just knew God had pushed me to my limits with these seventh graders, but I made it through with integrity and I am a much better person for it.

4. Silly is worth it

IMG_3429

F-Building teachers as “The Rugrats” for Star Day.

It was incredibly silly of my lovely F-building teammates and I to dress up as characters from the Rugrats, wear diapers, and do many other embarrassing things, but I wouldn’t trade this moment for anything. Our school celebrates academic achievement with a bang every year, and my homeroom had a blast dressing up as the Rugrats for the school-wide costume competition. We also had a blast in the fun-filled, field-day style charades that went on the entire school day.

I also learned to wear sun-screen and bring a fold-out chair to Star-day next year. I ended up with the worst sunburn EVER on my face. My face literally peeled for a week after star day, and it was still worth it.

Angelica and the Rugrats- Star Day.

Angelica and the Rugrats- Star Day.

3. Ron Clark was right

Before school started, I got the best birthday present a teacher could ask for. All 1300+ employees in our school district got a talking to from the one and only Ron Clark. Ron Clark is probably one of the most famous teachers ever, after winning Disney’s teacher of the year award, Oprah’s first ever Phenomenal Man award, and having a movie of his teaching career made, Ron Clark is now most famous for the Ron Clark Academy. Of course, he had a lot of things to say, but the one that resonated with me was not to let the negative attitudes affect you. As a new teacher, I was entirely unsuccessful at this challenge. I was surrounded by negativity, and I certainly participated in the complain fest. I learned from that, though and next year one of my goals is to surround myself with and radiate positivity.

2. Principals aren’t scary.

At the beginning of this school year, I was terrified of the administrative staff who had hired me. The transition from student to teacher really is a long and awkward process. I couldn’t get rid of the terror that 12 years of public school had instilled in me about my leaders for at least the first nine-weeks. Finally, I have realized that I work for an amazing group of administrators who provide me with a wealth of support. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better team of folks to work for.

1. I’m right where I need to be.

IMG_3409

Sentence stalking and imitating. From Jeff Anderson’s Everyday Editing.

I love teaching 7th grade English, and God put me in this position because this was his vision for my life. I could not be any happier with my job than I am right now. Teaching is the most rewarding, challenging, and fun experience I have ever lived through. I cannot wait to get ready for next year, and my summer schedule is already jam-packed with professional development, art projects, and small teaching endeavors!

We actually did win that competition the kids wrote about!

We actually did win that competition the kids wrote about!