I spent all last week at a Common Core workshop for teaching Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry. If you're not from Oklahoma or you don't keep up with education news, you might not realize the irony of the previous statement. At the beginning of this month, Governor Fallin signed HB 3399 which repealed Common Core in the state of Oklahoma. Instead, we are going to revert to our old standards for two years while we write out own new set of standards which will be more rigorous than Common Core. I'm scared to even think about what those will look like.
When I entered the teaching profession, I knew next to nothing about Common Core. My professors in college told us that it was on the horizon, but they did nothing to prepare us for the upcoming change. They assured us that our school districts would have a transition plan and provide training. Ha. Ha. Ha.
I ended up accepting a position working in a school district whose Common Core transition plan involved hanging posters of the standards on the walls and saying we had transitioned. Meanwhile, I had coworkers who had never even heard of Common Core. When you mention Common Core to a math teacher and get a blank stare in return, that's not a good sign. The English teachers in my district assured the administration that there was no difference between Common Core and what they were already teaching. I was regularly told that no action or changes on my part were required. After all, Common Core wouldn't be around for long. We didn't really need to worry. I guess they were right in this case... But, won't they just say the same thing about the next set of standards? Will my district ever embrace change?
Meanwhile, I am looking at the CCSS Math Standards, and I am overwhelmed. The topics I am teaching my Algebra 1 students will soon be 7th and 8th grade standards. The topics I am teaching my Algebra 2 students will soon be Algebra 1 standards. Some of the standards ask my students to prove things that I don't even know how to prove off the top of my head.
With no support from my district, I sought out my own Common Core training. I listened to webinars. I read blog post after blog post. And, when I heard about a week-long training program through the Oklahoma Geometry and Algebra Project, I jumped at the chance to attend.
Since I teach in a low-performing district, I knew that the transition was going to be rough. Our high school offers no math remediation classes. So, I have to fit that remediation in during the school year or my students won't have access to it. This slows me down and means that I can't cover as much curriculum as I would like. If a student is struggling in Algebra 1, there is no other place for him or her to go. There is no Algebra Concepts class or extra support class. It's a sink-or-swim environment. I will openly admit that I teach to the test. If a topic isn't tested, there's a 95% chance that I don't teach it. I just don't have enough time. If I had a room full of students on Day 1 who could add, subtract, multiply, and divide positive and negative numbers, I would be in heaven. There is no Pre-Algebra class to send them back to to learn this. If my students can't work with integers, it's my job to teach them that. So, yeah, my Algebra 1 students are the students that Geometry teachers complain about because they enter their classroom having never used the distance formula or the quadratic formula. Sorry, but it's not on my test. And, if you are going to tell me that my students can't graduate without passing the Algebra 1 EOI, I'm going to do my best to make them pass the test. I owe that to my students.
When I talk to teachers in larger, more urban districts I get jealous. If a student isn't successful during the first semester of Algebra 1, they are pulled out and placed in a support class for the rest of the year. This student is then not required to take the end-of-instruction exam, and the school's report card will not be affected. Teaching in a small district, we do not have this luxury. I see technology and resources that they are able to provide their students that we just can't afford. I teach in the type of district that has been re-buying the same textbooks since 2004 so they don't have to throw away the old copies. If you looked at my school's report card you would see a C-. As someone who has made a grand total of 1 B in her life, a C- is hard to stomach. Average the three schools in my district together, and the state of Oklahoma deems us a D district.
(To be fully honest, there are perks to working in a small district. But, that's another post for another day.)
As hard as I knew it was going to be, I was ready and up for the challenge for teaching Common Core. I was ready to raise my expectations and push my students to their limits. After working for the past two years to prepare to transition to Common Core, I feel like I've been slapped in the face by the state legislature. With one bill, they've thrown out countless hours of hard work by teachers. And, that doesn't even begin to mention the amount of money the state spent on the transition.
In a way, I was dreading this week of Common Core Training. I thought it would be 5 days of complaining about the repeal. But, our facilitators reminded us that good mathematics teaching is good teaching whether we call it Common Core or not. Since the workshop was grant-funded, the workshop had to continue to focus on Common Core since that was what the grant stipulated. Common Core was helping to move me away from teaching the way I was taught. Just because our standards are going backwards, it doesn't mean that the way I teach has to. I can (and should!) still provide my students with questions and problems that promote higher-level thinking and perseverance. We can still attend to precision and choose appropriate tools to solve problems. Higher expectations don't have to die with the repeal of Common Core.
It was amazing to get together with other teachers and look towards the future. The overall attitude of the conference was upbeat and positive - something I definitely needed!
This week, I hope to get my notes from each day typed up. It's a way for me to reflect on what I learned. It's a way for me to share resources with others who are looking to improve their teaching of math. And, it's a way for me to be able to search back through my notes - something I can't do if they're stuck in a notebook or binder.
In the meantime, if you're hungry for resources, feel free to look through the resources I posted from last year's week-long workshop.