by Tracy Hauser
As a former educator in the state of Maryland, I believe strongly in students learning skill-sets which will prepare them for higher learning. However, more and more administrators are placing stronger pressures on students meeting the criteria for the state standards: middle and high school assessments.
I began teaching for the love of reading and writing- I merely wanted to spread the “word”, have my enthusiasm catch-on. At first I spent countless hours creating lesson plans for my classical favorites: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Joy Luck Club, Fences, and a variety of British and American literature.
As a teacher in the inner-city I attempted to incorporate “advisory lessons”- those made to address problematic issues at home in attempts for resolution. While studying To Kill a Mockingbird for example, we read it side-by-side with Night, and Farewell to Manzanar, to study the theme of prejudice within all societies. You’d think comparative literature would be a substantial lesson for a day, but it wasn’t.
I began to feel the demands from my administrators to teach certain aspects of the test. First we’d study the “skills” we wanted students to learn: “students will use before-reading strategies appropriate to the text and purpose for reading.” Before I knew it my colleagues and I were studying our students’ test scores and only concentrating on the skills where they needed improvement. Often, however, we were torn. Our school’s curriculum demanded that we teach certain strategies while our administrators asked us to teach different ones. I therefore felt caught
in the middle. If I did not teach directly from the curriculum then my instructional support teacher (IST) would complain during formal observations. On the other hand, if I was not teaching to the tests’ skills-sets then the same would happen. Somedays I just felt like there wasn’t enough time in one period to get across to my students all of the information that they needed to know. And even if I did get it across to them, which on some days did happen, than how could I be certain that they remembered it all? I gave quizzes to gauge whether they had retained any or all of the information I had taught. I’d grade the results at home however, feeling defeated and void of any success.
The question is “So what should we teach the students?” Now that our new political administration has taken over a new goal, I see the future of education heading towards the “Common Core”. Nearly 40 states have recently adopted its curriculum. I feel that it is important for students to study English as a whole, for its many and varied content areas. (For more information on the common core, visit: http://www.corestandards.org/)
I have found myself volunteering in educational circles where I make up creative writing projects with the students. At the start of my teaching career I created several of these lessons, watching how my students grew and admired their own personal writing. I hope however, that this new “Common Core” curriculum embraces all aspects of writing. It is terrible to think that even one student may be turned away from reading or writing due to the outcome of his or her test scores. Let’s reach out to our state governments in support of “higher learning”, but the open-minded kind.