Big empty classrooms and the Common Coreby Marc Severson on Jun. 05, 2012, under Education
“Sum-mer-ti-ime and the living is . . . ”
Hard for non-educators to imagine and even harder for professionals to explain. Let me try anyway.
I sat in my last classroom the other day. My indefatigable aide, Donna, had finished a marathon cleaning and clearing out while I had alternated between puttering around, sorting papers and reminiscing while watching her in mute amazement. I had given her virtual carte blanc, that is, I had told her to use the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule: if she was unsure about whether to save something, don’t ask me because I will vacillate and perseverate over the decision and therefore don’t tell me when she had gotten rid of something, because likely as not I’ve forgotten I even had it and definitely no longer need it. As a result of this dictum there was almost nothing that distinguished my former classroom from any other big empty classroom in the school.
Sitting there facilitated my reflections. It made me think of what Catherine Gerwertz writes about as one serious worry that is looming before many teachers who are supposedly relaxing and recovering from another school year: The Common Core. 1) The Common Core is like a big empty classroom. Gerwertz says:
Now, the (Common Core) standards face what experts say is their biggest challenge yet: faithful translation from expectations on paper to instruction in classrooms.
The problem is concisely restated in the article by Professor William Schmidt:
Most current teachers have read the standards for their grade level, think highly of them, and are willing to teach them, but few understand the profound changes in teaching that they will require . . . .
And my followup statement to Gerwertz and Schmidt, not uttered in the article but never forgotten by any professionals, is that teachers need to be ready to implement these changes by day one of the upcoming year. For many teachers this is a summer of transition. Some have established their teaching rituals over many years of practice and reflection. Now they are wondering if those practiced daily schedules and progressions are viable any more.
They also have clean, unwritten plan books that are like my big empty classroom. What will they write? How are teachers going to fill their days? Will they furnish their plans with exciting activities that integrate lessons into the curriculum using the Common Core as a guide or will their days be predicated upon lessons that focus on teaching to the objectives for the purpose of passing tests?
Are the profound changes mentioned by Dr. Schmidt a series of directives that will narrow the curriculum or are those changes a form of educational liberation that energizes America’s public education again and encourages our students to want to learn. It’s scary, entering the unknown territory that the Common Core represents. Teachers like to know what they are doing before they begin to do it. Believe me when I say the youngest child can sense when as the teacher, you are making it up as you go along and they will respond accordingly. It’s not pretty.
My big empty room is unidentified; without personality, like the school year to come. The upcoming year is going to be an exciting one for many teachers. Whether that excitement will be caused by positive energy, persistent confusion or abject terror remains to be seen.