I feel like compared to a lot of classrooms I was presented with during the teacher certification process I have done a really good job of innovating in the classroom and putting into practice a lot of the neat ideas that we are presented with at any number of conventions and seminars we attend as teachers. I wouldn’t call my classroom cutting edge or overly progressive, but I would put myself further on that continuum than the old fashioned, sit and get methodology that we know to be archaic and outdated. Recently though I’ve had a tough time marrying the big, new ideas of the people attempting to revolutionize teaching and the reality of the classroom that I have to teach in.
I see a lot of educational bloggers and authors talking about how we should do away with learning standards and how we should end the push for a common core. I would tend to agree with the idea that we for sure have too many standards and that standards tend to make us teach to the lowest common denominator, not push our students to achieve more. I would love to be able to throw out all standards and just teach what is best for kids. There’s only one problem with that, I would probably lose my job. The administration at my school and even my district is among the most progressive group in the wonderful state of Texas. On top of that, we are among the highest performing districts in the state as well. With all that being said, if I didn’t teach the state standards to every kid in my class, my administration would find a way to get me out of teaching…and they would have a good reason to. We can all debate the points of state standards, standardized testing, and how they should be reformed, but until that day happens I will be teaching the standards that are put in front of me by the state I teach in. Knowing the content that you are expected to teach well enough to relate it to kids in ways they with receive it and have it change the way we look at the world is the essence of teaching. I’m not in the business of making kids read a history textbook, take endless notes about the reading they did, and test them over it in by having them regurgitate exactly what I told them the previous few days. I am in the business of teaching kids the big ideas of history, the cause and effect relationships in history, the amazing stories of epic people in history, and having the kids internalize history to make it real to them in modern times. All this is done keeping the state standards in mind so that I can be above reproach with my administration and teach the kids the topics and ideas the state wants them to learn in my classroom.
As my brain wandered through these ideas, I started to imagine a school where the teachers all taught what they thought would be best for kids and completely disregarded the state standards. I imagine the super-artistic teachers completely going off on tangents that have little or nothing to do with anything the kids need to cover during their tenure at our middle school. I see the overly political teachers standing on their soap boxes going off on their political tangents that make them look like talk show host. I see people that cover only a chapters worth of material in a school year because their belief is that the state got it all wrong. Call my cynical if you like, but without some sort of standards we are doomed to the whims of people who have taken up the mantle to teach. People tend to be fickle and that is exactly why we need some standards. Not to mention if everyone taught their particular passion in life, the kids across the country would get vastly different educations which would be very difficult to measure in any quantifiable way.
The problem with the modern day idea of state standards is that we have seen them as the bar for teaching. Our outdated attitude is “all kids need to know are the standards” and once they have those committed to memory our job is done. Speaking as someone who has only been teaching for four years, the standards gave me legs to stand on my first years of teaching. I luckily teach in a district that does not prescribe exactly what I need to teach and at what pace, I am given the ability to teach things how I see fit and how it would best make sense to my kids in my classroom. We walk a fine line calling for teachers to forget the standards and completely teach with passion alone. While I’m sure there would be wild creativity and imagination there will also be far less new teachers with much stamina in the teaching field.