Do you ever just feel stuck... sort of like that Winnie-the-Pooh image of being half in and half out of Rabbit's window?
And if I didn't think the copyright police would hunt me down and kill me, I would post a Winnie the Pooh image to give you a visual... Instead, I will provide this image:
I haven't blogged in weeks. I just don't know what to do with myself. I start a blog post. Then I read a blog post. Then I follow a link to a book on Amazon. Then I check Pinterest. Which brings me to another blog. With another link. And that's not even counting Facebook! I can't seem to stay focused on anything because my mind is spinning.
I'm blaming Common Core. You should know this about me: I've been blaming "them" for everything lately. Today I burned not one, but two batches of chocolate chip cookies. Charred beyond recognition. Why? Because I was mulling over Common Core.
Distracted driving, incomplete conversations, bumping into people in stores, spilling my coffee, getting up in the middle of dinner (or the middle of the night!) to investigate or write something down. Yes, I'm blaming Common Core for all of that.
California, in general, and my school and district, in particular, are just getting their proverbial feet wet with Common Core. In fact, it is safe to say that at my school, we have only put a few toes in the water.
I began the summer delighted to have time to "learn all about Common Core" in order to be ready for the "switch" in September. A few days later, my delight turned to mortification and things have been headed downhill since then. Common Core is beginning to haunt my thoughts. Why? I think I can synthesize my concerns into three points (Or twenty-eight points, but I am going to let you choose...)
1. This is my thirtieth year of teaching--as in three followed by zero or three groups of ten. Yes, I am that old. Thanks to Common Core, I feel like it is my first year of teaching. It's as if I don't know what to teach. Or, worse, how to teach. I've been reading (or, in some cases, just BUYING) numerous professional books... all related to Common Core. I've become obsessed with mastering the "new" way to teach reading, to teach writing, to teach math. And I remain solidly bewildered. I haven't learned too many specifics, but I do know this: Heaven help you if everything you do isn't discussion-driven, pre- and post-tested and grounded in the real world!
2. I am more than a little concerned about the suggested texts from Appendix B! I gasped when I looked at those texts. I was so excited when most of my sixth graders finally decided they liked to read! For some of them, it was not an easy acquiescence. How did it finally happen? By finding books they loved... Whether it was Dork Diaries or How to Train Your Dragon or Conspiracy 365, my struggling or reluctant readers needed to find a book they loved enough to try on another. They needed a portal into more complex texts. Matching books to kids is a delicate business. One of the suggested texts in Appendix B is Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, a book I read in ninth grade. And I won't even go into my dismay over "Churchill's Address to Parliament on May 13th, 1940." While I applaud the integration of literacy and science/social studies, we don't generally (okay, never) cover Churchill during our focus on ancient civilizations. I understand (and applaud) the goal of deep reading and I applaud the intended rigor! But I fear for my reluctant readers. What if they decide they don't want to become better readers. What if they get discouraged? What if they stop wanting to read?
3. Some of my math standards are pretty tough. Here's one that I've been pondering:
- Use variables to represent two quantities in a real-world problem that change in relationship to one another; write an equation to express one quantity, thought of as the dependent variable, in terms of the other quantity, thought of as the independent variable. Analyze the relationship between the dependent and independent variables using graphs and tables, and relate these to the equation.
Yeah, okay. I have had many sixth graders who are up to that level of thinking. But I have had several sixth graders who couldn't count by fives and an increasing number who don't know their multiplication facts or have the stamina to use a system to access them. Oh, I don't think that I missed the real-world application part.
The one thing I have always appreciated about "my way" of teaching math is that we have lots of fun. We eat pie on Pi Day and we eat "dirt" when we examine d=rt (calculate distance by multiplying rate by time). Don't worry: We don't really eat dirt. But the kids think that I am eating dirt when I have a bag of potting soil in front of me, and I take a bite of what looks like dirt, but is actually crushed chocolate wafers with a few pieces of parsley strewn about for good measure. In the end, we all have a treat sprinkling the dirt on top of ice cram. And kids come back years later saying, "Remember when we all ate dirt..."
See, I'm rambling about dirt. Why? Because I am worried about Common Core! What if the kids become math phobic (again) because the content seems too hard? (I'm always worried that a new system won't allow "catch up time" for those who haven't been taught the "new way" and are, therefore, behind.) What if so many new things at once make it too difficult for kids to have fun and enjoy math. What if I really can't figure out some of the new standards and what if there isn't a structured curriculum to help me teach math well enough to engage kids while I am still a little (or more than a little) confused? I think I am so afraid of failing at Common Core, I've lost my way.
I don't mean to misrepresent myself: I understand my role in scaffolding and differentiating and making it all work. I WANT to learn. I WANT to be a better teacher. I WANT my students to be successful in school--and in life.
I just want Common Core to stop chasing me in my dreams.
So after three weeks of pondering (thus the absence of a new blog post!), I have made a decision.
I need to make peace with the Common Core. I cannot be responsible for teaching myself everything there is to know about Common Core and learning how to implement it across all subject areas by September! I can be curious, I can be motivated, I can even search/buy/read whatever I can, but there will always be more to learn. And I have to have faith that, in time, my school, my district, my state will step in and help me along.
And I have to remember that teaching is more than standards and curriculum. The "heart part" about teaching has always been--and will always be--the greatest priority for me.
So... I am letting go of Common Core for a little while. It is time to start readying my classroom for the new school year... and my new sixth graders. It is time to think about buying new Sharpies and organizing my library and putting those new purple bins to use. And I will begin planning for that first week where we learn routines, and build community and maybe, just maybe, start talking about Common Core a little bit.
This is my turning point! This week I will start posting about Getting Ready. In fact, I've got a blogging plan... You could even call it a "mini-series" detailing my organizational strategies. Ahhhh. Now there is something I know how to do.
And if you've made it to the end of this woe-is-me saga, thanks for "listening." I hope you will leave a comment about how you overcame your Common Core fears or about your plans to get ready for the new year. And for those of you who are already back, Congrats! Your adventure is already underway. Good for you!
JOY! My energy is renewed. My focused has shifted... Time for ice cream!