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Common Core: Letting Go of Control


Lauren Hill
The philosophy underpinning the Common Core Standards demands that teachers let go of control in the classroom and give it to students. I love this. It is exactly the right thing to do. Can't you remember your own teachers ardently reminding you that they will not be with you at ... the testing center, college, work, the supermarket?

As educators, we value independence but teach in ways that foster dependence. We must stop. I adore explaining a new idea and watching students gain understanding of it. But it's even more rewarding when they can explain that idea to me.

The only way for students to "write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts ... " (W.CCR.1) is if we inspire them, from the start, to discover concepts and processes for themselves.

The difficulty is that we must do this in an environment that holds us accountable for test scores. That is, we must allow students to take responsibility for learning, yet simultaneously accept responsibility for the results.

Short of group therapy, how will teachers make this paradigm shift? How will we combat the fear involved in a dramatic change that may seem to threaten our livelihood? Here are some preliminary ideas:

• We must work with districts and state leaders to establish reasonable timetables for implementation and assessment.

• We must demand the professional development and time to collaborate around the standards, creating lessons, and units suited to our teaching strengths and our students' needs.

• We must see the standards more as a philosophy and less as a laundry list.

• Teachers must, in the end, accept the challenge of asking more of our students and ourselves.

In actuality, I don't think teachers are afraid of the common standards. What we fear is others holding us accountable for the standards and for how our students perform on tests we did not write, operating from brains we cannot control.

We have always been afraid of accountability, not because we are stupid or ineffective, but because we do not want to be accountable for children we cannot raise ourselves. This is not unreasonable. My daughter is nine and I cannot control her, either. Of course we are apprehensive.

But we also cannot let fear keep us from embracing necessary change. We have to rely on the best part of our teacher natures, the part that can always make something out of nothing, that never teaches anything the same way twice, and that loves and believes in our kids. Hold me accountable to that, and to them. The rest will follow.

Lauren Hill teaches AP Language and Composition and 9th grade English at Western Hills High School in Frankfort, Kentucky. A National Board-certified teacher, Lauren works with the Implementing Common Core Standards team at the Center for Teaching Quality.

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