I'm not sure exactly when it hit me, but I recently realized that my roller-coaster ride experience as a teacher watching and experiencing the Common Core State [sic] Standards has been like the stages of grief, but in reverse. The five stages of grief, according to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. These stages are familiar to most of us by now, and that is perhaps why I thought of them-- in backwards order-- when I thought of a way to relate my experience of the Common Core.
Before I get to the stages of reverse grief, I need to tell you where I was "at" as a teacher when the standards became unveiled. First, I'd had it with standardized testing (in the form of the FCAT here in Florida) and its arbitrary, ever shifting cut-scores; its penchant for sticking kids in "intensive" classes to remedy their low scores; its narrowing of the curriculum. Anyone who's been in teaching anywhere in the U.S. for any length of time knows that the litany could go on. And on. Second, Florida's Sunshine State Standards were too many in number, contained several redundant or unnecessary standards, and lacked standards that should have been there. Don't get me started on the way they're numbered (Let's cover LA.18.104.22.168 today kids!). Third, and most importantly, school systems had become obsessed with curriculum maps and everyone being on the same page and following the script-- my system and my subject area included. I'd always figured that as long as you were teaching the "what," the "how" should be up to you if what you did "worked." (The fact that only acceptable way to show that something "worked" was to see if it raised test scores was one more strike against standardized tests.)
Keep testing, standards, and standardization in mind as you read about the first stage of my Common Core journey.
STAGE ONE - ACCEPTANCE
Into this era of standardization came my first exposure to the Common Core. A couple of things struck me upon a first reading. First, the standards themselves seemed plainly stated and mostly common sense... upon a first reading. I looked through them and though, "Already do that... Already do that... Do that all the time... Do a whole lot of that..." So, no problem there. In the introduction there was a sentence that said, "A focus on results rather than means."
The section stated, "By emphasizing required achievements, the standards leave room for teachers, curriculum developers, and states to do determine how those goals should be reached and what additional topics should be addressed." It went on to say that it didn't mandate a particular writing process or thought process and ended by saying, "Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgement and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards." To someone who'd been getting a "teach this workbook" message, the language of the Common Core was a breath of fresh air. It promised me... autonomy! What's not to like?
And the idea that "additional topics" might be addressed also appealed to me. The writers of the standards seemed to admit that there might be things they'd missed. I then stumbled across the section titled "What Is Not Covered by the Standards." The standards don't, apparently, tell "how teachers should teach." I can get behind that. The standards focus on what is essential, but don't "describe all that can or should be taught." They are not a "set of restrictions that limits what can be taught."
My initial reading, I now realized, was biased by reading for what I hoped to see-- hope that this major new initiative might rescue me from the forces that seemed intent on crushing the creativity, life, and fun out of my teaching.
My first reading of the Common Core Standards was not, apparently "close" enough. I saw the standards as limiting their own scope, seeming to have humble, reasonable aspirations, and rescuing me from the nightmare of testing and standardized curriculum in which I found myself. The writers had done a brilliant sell-job-- I'm not an easy sell.
But of course, the carpet was about to be pulled out from under me. Which lead to the next stage of my Common Core experience: