The process created a safe space that allowed my students to open up in their own writing. One, whose mother had died of cancer when he was young, wrote about his last conversation with her. He read it aloud in front of the entire middle school, breaking into tears and bringing many of his classmates and teachers to tears too. He received a standing ovation.
That kind of experience doesn’t grow out of skill-building, or meeting standards, or preparing for a test. But it is what becomes possible when students are pushed to think and talk with their peers and teachers, in depth, across a range of subjects. That’s what Common Core does.
Of course there are problems. We lack the kind of resources we used to have to help prepare students for standardized assessments. At my school, we’ve never taught to the test, but we did use our long experience with the yearly exams to build a curriculum that allowed our students to succeed. Now I feel like I’m flying blind when it comes to helping students prepare for their year-end assessments. We know they’re coming, but we don’t know much about them. It’s imperative that administrators understand, as my principal does, that it may take time for the benefits of the new curriculum to be fully measurable.
I’m convinced the kinks will work themselves out and that teachers shouldn’t fear Common Core. What I’m doing in my classroom now just feels so much better, and two years into the Common Core, I am a better – and happier – teacher than I’ve ever been.
Andrew Vega, a former L.A. Unified teacher, now teaches at Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Boston. He is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow. He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.