Districts must give teachers the time, opportunity and guidance to develop Common Core

Susan Carle / commentaryJune 3, 2014Susan CarléFifty years ago, employers sought workers who were proficient in reading, writing and math. Today, they are prioritizing abilities like teamwork, problem solving and communication. The Common Core reflects this shift, which should change not only how students learn, but how we teachers learn (and, of course, teach).
Michael Fullan gets it. As the worldwide authority on education system change said at the EdSource symposium last month, collaborative culture is of utmost importance in the enhancement of teacher learning
This didn’t surprise me much. I am fortunate to work at a school in which teaching and learning are collaborative processes. I teach at the California Academy of Math and Science, a Long Beach Unified math and science magnet high school. Our school was conceived and developed in a collaborative manner, and teamwork is the basis of how we function. We teach our students the skills of teamwork and collaboration through systematic, rigorous cross-curricular and interdisciplinary projects.
However, this is not the case at every school. I attended the EdSource symposium with teachers from across California at the invitation of the Center for Teaching Quality, a national nonprofit whose mission is to mobilize teacher leaders to transform schools. Much of our conversation throughout the day revolved around the need for teachers to have more time to collaborate. My school has grade-level teams with common planning time—but many teachers at the table did not have this kind of setup. They have to squeeze in a moment here and there when they want to collaborate with their co-workers.
Schools like mine shouldn’t be the exception. All teachers need time to collaborate.
In order to fully buy into the Common Core standards, teachers also need time and opportunities to create and/or adapt our own lessons.
I am quite distressed by the preformulated, scripted lessons that are being offered by many districts. These lessons are meant to save teachers planning time, but they are so generic that they do not address the specific needs of any class. And they don’t promote ownership.
Districts should get creative. They must find ways to give teachers the time, opportunity and guidance to develop their own Common Core lessons.
One way to do this is to offer teachers time and instruction to collaboratively write grade-level interdisciplinary projects. Working in teams—as teachers at my school do routinely—helps us practice and model the skills we hope our students will develop, while also getting invested in Common Core-aligned lessons and assessment techniques.
I’m feeling a little impatient—with administrators and even with my peers. It’s time for teachers to stand up and claim the right to write our own curricula and plan our work collaboratively. We are the ones on the front line. We evaluate the needs of our specific students. We know them well. We can ensure that our lessons are culturally and geographically relevant to them. And given the opportunity, we can coordinate with our colleagues down the hall to maximize our students’ learning.
As standards and teaching techniques change, it is up to us as teachers to push for what we need to help our students to succeed.
And it’s time for our districts—all districts—to support California’s teachers in creating new lessons to meet our students’ needs and modeling the kind of collaboration their future employers will expect.

Susan Carlé is a National Board Certified teacher who teaches English Language Arts and AP Psychology with the Long Beach Unified School District. She serves as a mentor to new teachers and is a member of the Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory.
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