Sunday, July 28, 2013

I'm Blaming It ALL on Common Core

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!


  1. I hear ya! I am delving into AVID as we implement it into our site and even they are trying to align Common Core to's everywhere! Are you at all worried about the existing state test? how do we teach to THAT and still implement CC? yikes! why can't summer last just a little bit longer?

  2. I learned a long time ago..last year to be exact..that CCCS are actually similar to our State standards. I am coming up on 32 years....I decided not to fear this change..but rather embrace it. There are so many TPT products out their for all grade levels including 6th..that have the Core broken down into Kid may want to check that out.
    No worries..enjoy your ice cream! I just did!


  3. You could always move to Texas. We don't do Common Core like y'all.

    Hang in there!

  4. My state was an all-in a couple of years ago. I am getting ready to start my third year of common core. Our biggest problem and concern is that there was no gradual introduction of CCSS, so you have HUGE groups of students who are missing key foundational pieces in mathematics when the standards shifted down one, two, or (gasp) three grade levels. We did full accountability the first year of implementing CCSS. Not fun, but we are working through it. My motto for the first year was that we had nowhere to go but up. Good luck! As school gets to rolling here soon, I am hoping to post on my blog how much department is going through the Common Core. Hopefully, I can help out some.


  5. I was where you are two years ago! It's obvious you are a caring and concerned teacher. You do what's best for your students. I can see that you challenge them. You have done more than your part toward learning CCSS. Now, just breathe and close the door and teach like you have for 30 years. Remember all the teaching fads that have come and gone? Well...

  6. You are not alone, Kim. I think EVERYONE who has tackled Common Core has been right there in your shoes. Heck, I've been plugging along with CC for over 2 years and some days I feel the same way. But, those days get few and far between the good days. Promise. What I applaud is that you are THAT focused on being your very best. I applaud that after 30 years. You inspire me. This post just reminds me of why I admire you so much. Chin up, friend. It will get better!

    Fun in Room 4B

  7. This sounds exactly like me as I have been mulling over the new Texas Standards for Math. I'm planning out some material a grade lower than what I most recently have taught and have been shaking my head like crazy saying "My kiddos didn't have a clue when I tried to introduce this last year much less be able to master it at the highest level of Bloom's."

    Jennifer Smith-Sloane

  8. I'm just glad to know that other districts out there haven't fully implemented common core yet just like mine! :) Math or ELA!!!!! And virtually NO TRAINING! Or talking about it!!!

    So see-we are all in this together!!!!!! I've been reading like a mad woman this summer, and I'm going to be teaching 6th grade everything-YIKES! Never taught math, or science, AND I'm changing the way I teach reading, writing, english, vocabulary, spelling. You name it-it's new for me!!!

    BUT-we are going to rock this year! I feel like with all that I have learned and all that I am going to learn it's going to be an awesome year!! Yours will, too!!

    Now put on those organizational hats and show us what you've got!


  9. I totally agree! I would love curriculum that supports Common Core!

  10. Never stop blogging Kim, even if it is only every few weeks in between. I LOVE your posts. You always make me laugh and smile. Getting your posts in my inbox is a huge blessing!

  11. We aren't supposed to implement it until next year because the CST is still being counted this next year. I am so freaked out about it! My kids are lacking in basic math skills now, I cringe to think what it will be like in those "between" years of full implementation.

  12. Oh gosh, this was a great post. I love your honesty! We are just starting to dip our toes in the common core waters. Our primary teachers had several days of professional development 'training' regarding common core last year. This year it's intermediate's turn. I keep telling myself change is good. Now if only I can truly buy into that.


    Life in Room 24

  13. I can totally relate! This year my grade level is adopting Common Core for the first time. New standards, new textbook (for Math), and new grade! YIKES.

  14. You just summed it all up! It's nerve-wracking, but we have to dive in and make it work. :) Good luck, friend!

  15. I so hear you, Kim!! I spent an hour at a workshop on Friday trying to decipher Lesson 1 and 2 of the NYS math module for 4th grade! Lesson 2 really had me hung up and the presenter finally said, " Oh, that is a lesson that has caused an uproar across the state (after I officially decided I will NOT teach it the scripted module way). Ugh! We have NO math materials except for the modules (and resources teachers might happen to have on their shelves or buy on their own but they are not consistent grade to grade). Module 1 is 256 pages for 25 days of school. Wow! I am beyond overwhelmed and that is only math...Cheers to relying on fellow teachers for support:)
    Math Module 1 in case you want to torture yourself a little more:
    Fourth Grade Flipper

  16. My dear sweet friend, any teacher who can engage her students by eating "dirt" and celebrating "pie" will NO DOUBT rise to the challenge of the common core. And I don't mean that you will simply be able to meet the challenge ... I KNOW you will do it in a way that inspires, teaches, challenges, and engages your students. Do you know how I know this? Because you care ... probably more than anyone else I know. ♥

    Runde's Room

  17. In Texas we opted out of CC but that doesn't mean I'm not there with your anxiety. As they change our standard, they make them standard one year and test them the following. Now I'm stressing over what my 6th graders will miss this year but be required to already to know next. You seem to care too. It will be ok as your whole state changes.

  18. Kim, I just found your blog (love it! you rock!), and when I saw this entry I had to comment (even if it's a few days behind). We're about to fully adopt the CCSS here in SC and I have felt lots of trepidation too. I am an ELA-teacher so I can't speak much about the math piece, however after reading Pathways to the Common Core and talking with state dept. educators and other teachers, I am feeling much more at peace with it.

    One thing that helped me was the reminder that many of the social studies, science, and math-oriented texts on those lists are supposed to be used by social studies, science, and math teachers; ELA teachers are still expected to teach fiction, poetry, and all the fun stuff! EVERYONE is now expected to support literacy in their classrooms so ELA doesn't bear the brunt of it.

    No matter what, when you shut your door and start your class, you are the expert and should make the final decision about HOW to teach your standards. CCSS tells us what to teach but leaves HOW up to us, the experts. You are clearly an awesome teacher and I'm glad you are coming to peace with CCSS.

  19. This year will only be my third year teaching and luckily all I have had to teach is CCSS so I am not learning a "new" set of standards I am just learning to teach. :) One thing that I have come across while working with more experienced teachers at my school is that they haven't really had to change much about the WAY they teach, they have just changed some of WHAT they teach or what evidences they are looking for. Not to mention that the CCSS have a lot of implied learning progressions that teachers have to just use their professional knowledge to recognize and fill in so there are probably a lot of familiar strategies and lessons you will be able to pull out and use even if they don't seem like they directly correlate with CCSS. Good luck with the change and thanks for sharing your experiences with others, especially with "newbies" like me!

  20. LOL!! I stopped by to stalk you as you have been ignoring my emails but now I see why! I was just whining...err... discussing CCSS and how the standards are ridiculously low in 3rd grade. I am beyond annoyed and frustrated. It just seems to me that some of it is WAAAAY to easy and some of it is WAAAAY to hard and rarely is it developmentally appropriate. Its funny I am only CCSS trained (never taught any other way) and its driving me batty! I couldn't imagine teaching for 13 years and then have to change it all up!



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