Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Core Thoughts

I spent 4 weeks this summer (and two looong) weekends in the spring as a Common Core coach for the state of Tennessee under their TNCore department, and I have some thoughts I need to get out there after a day of decompression.

As I make this post, I want to get out there the idea that I approached this with a bit of trepidation.  I am in general against heavy corporate manipulation of Education.  There is definitely some conflict here.  As one of my participants noted, of course the new standards with help with ACT, those folks were involved with Common Core.  That is an enormous point, and I could probably rant about it for a while, but I won't today.

Let's instead focus on the actual experiences and just briefly hit some bullet points (the core one might say):

  • This training was enormous, and I give the state DOE enormous props for pulling it off so smoothly and I think very effectively. Large bureaucratic agencies usually rank with corporations for me, but even when things hit a snag they were resolved swiftly and efficiently.
  • Many participants approached it as though it were going to be indoctrination, and that definitely was not the case.  It was a sell no doubt, but a soft sell, no gimmicks, threats, mandates, etc thrown down by the state (or the feds for that matter).
  • Several folks over the three weeks of my presenting noted that most of what we were talking about was "just good teaching", which can be nebulous and encompass a lot of things, but I would agree, the Common Core lessons and tactics we talked about were all "good teaching", I think specifically under the umbrella of "student-centered" teaching that is going to continue to be my focus.
  • Testing, be it the PARCC that is upcoming or just our usual suspect End of Course exams occupy way too darn much of our teachers' braintime. As expected, perhaps 50% of worries were how to find time to do this stuff when the All Seeing Eye of EOC was bearing down on them. If teachers are afraid to spend time doing the stuff we discussed because they have to "cover content" then our students aren't getting all they should. (I totally get why, just saddens me)
  • Teachers are jaded as all get out. Anyone with 10 or more years of experience (me included) has to restrain the eye rolls as new things like this get rolled out, because we want to know if it will last beyond 4-5 years before the "next new thing" comes along (and we suspect it won't).  That may very well be the case, but see bullet 3...if this stuff is just good teaching it doesn't matter what we call it.
  • Overall, for me, the best part of the training was just seeing teachers really engage in material that will help their students, to see them see the value in it.  I, like many of them was skeptical at first, but warmed as we went through it.
Finally, I still have some concerns about the text selections, about continued training and development (RTTT money was used for this), and as with my fellow teachers the expectations and wondering when anything will be removed from an overloaded plate to make room for all the new stuff.

At the same time though, I love the idea that so many people across the state are making a focused effort on raising literacy in a variety of subjects.  Not in a lockstep manner that I would immediately reject out of hand, but in many ways specific to their students, but within a common framework of ideas that I think is more about successful "good teaching" than the specific idea of Common Core.

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