When it comes to the debates around the Common Core State Standards and how best to educate our children, I have a unique perspective: I am a parent of school-aged children, a high school English teacher, and an adjunct college instructor. Every day, through these lenses, I am reminded of how important the Common Core standards are to our students. I’ve seen and experienced the effects of the implementation of the Common Core here in New York, and for me, it’s all added up to a clear picture: the Common Core State Standards mean a better present and a better future for our children.
It’s frustrating that groups that don’t have the right facts are trying to damp support for the Common Core. We must start preparing our students for future success in college and careers now, not in two years, not in nine years or any other delay under consideration in New York state. Frankly, a moratorium on the Common Core frightens me. I want my students and my children to have access to the best education we can provide for them.
As a high school teacher, I am amazed at the ways in which Common Core helps my students to think deeply about complex topics. I’ve been teaching for 14 years, and I have been energized and excited by the changes I’ve seen in my students since we started working with the new standards.
I enjoy watching students generate their own ideas and make meaning for themselves. For example, after reading, annotating and discussing the first five chapters in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, as well as four challenging poems including Sylvia Plath’s “The Bee Meeting” and Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask,” my students held a scholarly discussion about their interpretations. I did not speak for the entire period.
“Both Kesey and Dunbar portray society as being built of willful ignorance and use metaphor and imagery in order to further develop this theme,” one student told the group. Another argued, “Kesey and Plath both utilize imagery and figurative language to further enhance their repetition of the colors black and white which represents false innocence.” Each provided evidence from the novel and poems to support their claims. I hadn’t heard anything like it since I was in graduate school.
Teaching as an adjunct professor helps me understand the importance of the critical thinking and communication skills my high school students will need after they graduate. Some of my college students are not as prepared for college as they deserve to be, and they still struggle to grasp concepts that my high school students have already begun to master under the Common Core. But I can already identify a remarkable shift under the Common Core. Now, my high school classes look more like college classes because of the higher level of literary critique and scholarly discussion. This, in turn, will allow my students to be independently successful in college classes because they will be adept at analysis, synthesis and both verbal and written communication.
Finally, I have three children who are learning under the new standards. Like many parents, I help them with their homework and cheer them on in school, and I also keep a keen eye on the rising cost of college. Knowing how rigorous the standards are puts me at ease: I know my children will be less likely to waste time on taking remedial courses, which will help our family save money. I am excited to see them learn in engaging classrooms in which they are more invested in the topics and focused on student collaboration and participation while they are learning. I know they are getting the best education possible; one that will help them mature into intelligent, capable adults.
As a teacher, adjunct professor and parent, I know how important these standards are for our students, and I know there are many others out there like me who need to set the record straight. Make no mistake, this is challenging work, both for students and teachers, and we need support to continue transitioning to these new expectations, but I cringe at the thought of how impeding the Common Core would impact our children. We cannot halt the tremendous progress that has been made nor make our children wait longer to learn the skills they will need to be successful in college and career. I agree with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, stalling this important work would be cheating our kids – I urge our legislators to hear from educators as they make critical decisions about moving forward with the standards.
Andria Finch is a high school English teacher at Franklin Central School in New York.