A Teacher's Perspective on Teaching the Common Core

Getty Images/Kevork Djansezian

The Common Core State Standards will be fully implemented beginning in 2014-2015. As the implementation date nears schools, administrators, and teachers are preparing to make the transition from their current state standards to the Common Core Standards. This is not an easy task, particularly for teachers. Teachers have the largest responsibility in this transition. Many will not only have to revamp what they have taught, but also how they teach the material.

One of these teachers is Bobbie Faulkner. Bobbie has ten years of teaching experience in Oklahoma. She has taught kindergarten, second, fourth, and fifth grades in four different Oklahoma districts ranging from one of the largest urban districts to a small rural district. Bobbie has been a district teacher of the year and typically produces the some of the best standardized test scores in her district. She has been invited multiple times to provide professional development focusing on standardized testing to other districts around Oklahoma. She has spent a lot of time making the necessary transition to the Common Core.

I recently conducted a question and answer interview with Bobbie via email concerning the Common Core State Standards. The interview contains a lot of valuable information from a teacher’s perspective on the Common Core. She touches on several aspects that can be beneficial to other teachers as they go through this process.

Derrick Meador: How are the Common Core Standards in comparison to your state standards?

Bobbie Faulkner: The Oklahoma C3 Standards are set up to teach what the standard is. There may be a variety of methods in teaching a specific skill, but ultimately the skills get taught. Now the CCSS is designed to extend a student's thought process and take it to the next level. Adding in depth critical thinking, processing, and relation to life experiences. Essentially making each grade level's expectations harder than before. Even though most states have adopted the CCSS, it is supposed to make a transition easier if a student switches schools within the same state or another state. Still every school is different and teaching styles throughout are very diverse. With a broad spectrum and without a set curriculum, I believe there will be gaps on what "should" be taught.

DM: How have you made the transition to the Common Core in your classroom?

BF: I have been transitioning for the past few years in the classroom. It has been a harder transition than I anticipated. I have incorporated writing into every subject that I teach. I have integrated and crossed curriculums, by bringing in supplemental material that pulls in whatever subjects we are discussing. I have used nonfiction materials as my main source of teaching writing versus the ordinary prompts using creative imagination. I have found educational websites that have been linked to the CCSS and am using them to my advantage and as often as I can. I am constantly thinking and searching new and innovative materials to incorporate into my lessons. Having a lower academic class was harder, because there were so many academic holes that put a damper on the skills needed for my particular grade that those gaps had to be filled. It was a lot of extra work to pull material to help fill those gaps, plus change the way the lessons are taught to meet those in the CCSS.

DM: What has been the most difficult part of the transition to the Common Core?

BF: Writing everything! It gets extremely tedious teaching writing, explaining how to write analytically and analyzing things from other perspectives other than their own. Trying to make them see outside the box and do more critical thinking is a hard concept to teach. Plus as a teacher, grading all the differences in writing can get frustrating. Rubrics have become my best friend in writing. Also, just the unknowing of what is to come. As teachers, we are still not sure how these assessments will be set up. There are samples available, but they are just that. Each subject area is exceedingly broad.

DM: How have your students responded to the Common Core type lessons?

BF: At first it was a battle. They would complain just at the thought of trying something that was not "normal" to their traditional way of learning. Once we started with baby steps, and I introduced it, it has become somewhat easier, but some are still not huge fans of the extensive writing and the complexity that comes along with each subject area. With all the skills getting harder and more advanced, it puts a great deal of pressure on the students. Some have a hard time understanding why we have to do the change. Some have a mind set that if they do not understand and grasp something immediately, they give up and refuse to try and build those skills up because it is not normal for them.

DM: How do you think the Common Core will affect the next generation of students?

BF: Ultimately, the students will be gaining knowledge and information at a younger age. So the goal is to better prepare them for college and future life long careers. As a parent, I like the strict guidelines increasing my child's academic wellness over the years. I like the idea that my child will be writing more and explaining their thought process in depth. I like that the use of technology will be incorporated into the classrooms more regularly using innovative items and extending their understanding of why things happen the way they do, or why they are they are. However, with the guidelines changing so drastically that some students are not going to progress at the rate that Common Core believes that they should. More students will be retained at least once and possibly more, therefore, making them older for each class after that. I feel that the high school drop out rate will increase as these standards are put into place. Students will have a great amount of pressure and stress with the multiple yearly assessments. It will be too much for some students to handle. The increased drop out rate will hurt those students from attaining their high school diploma and possibly any chance to attend college to better their future.

DM: How has the Common Core affected you as a teacher?

BF: It has been reassuring to learn about CCSS and attend workshops. Hearing other perspectives and getting newer ideas to use in my own classroom have been terrific. However, there is not a set curriculum for the CCSS. It is left to the teacher and the district on how to teach the standards. Every teacher is different. We act and think differently, therefore making teaching styles altogether different. Some of the activities shared in the workshops are excellent for teaching the skills, but are extremely time consuming. I am a self-contained 5th grade teacher. I have to prepare my students for five tests. I am on a time restraint in class. Sometimes I do not have the time to do these activities thoroughly enough for a full understanding. Having the time restraint can be added stress on the teacher. You have to stay on top on the game, and be open and willing to accept change and go with it. Coming into the CCSS with a closed mind will not be beneficial to the students nor a teacher's outlook and methodology. I know I have spent hours researching and trying to increase my awareness and knowledge so I can help shape today’s generation of students. The skills are much more complex than what us as teachers or students are used to. Complications have happened. We have hit bumps in the road. We have scratched lessons and started from the beginning. This is also a learning experience for me. I want to make sure that I am doing everything in my ability to help every child succeed. If it takes a few trial and errors, then that is okay as long as they understand the new complexity and changes.

DM: What are the benefits of the Common Core that you see as a teacher?

BF: I can see students gaining a lot more knowledge and a better understanding of things at a younger age. Making classroom discussions more in depth and rigorous where they will be able to rationalize answers and use critical thinking skills to process information. Having a bright, educated class is exciting and fulfilling. Teaching higher standards and having your students grasp a concept and run with it is tremendously rewarding. Making students more conceptual thinkers will be useful in their future. Raising the bar of expectations is a superb thought to shape the youth.

DM: What are some negative aspects of the Common Core that you see as a teacher?

BF: Not all students are the same. They do not learn in the same way or share the same interests. Not all students will be able to think critically and understand concepts on a higher level. With the added stress of multiple assessments to be given throughout the course of a school year, we as educators are putting way too much emphasis on testing. Without a doubt, not all students are exceptional performers on tests! If these tests are supposed to reshape our future...wrong! We should not be teaching to the test, and it seems as if that is what it is coming too. These CCSS assessments are much more complex than the normal state standardized tests. Much more intensity added to them. Students already feel the amount of pressure these assessments impact on their lives. I see a lot more students being retained because they do not pass these higher academically assessments. Making class sizes larger and making the students older and more mature than other classmates. Having those older, mature students in the same class with younger and less mature students marks a red flag for me as a teacher in a middle school building. I can see problems arising socially, mentally, and physically. I also think that there will be a higher high school drop out rate because some students will not be successful as students and the complexity of the CCSS.

DM: How do you think the typical student will perform in 2014-2015 on the first CCSS assessment? Explain.

BF: I would love to see every student pass those assessments, but that is not realistic. I feel that most students will be totally overwhelmed with the rigorous assessments and the differences that these bring to the testing procedures. They will not score as well as they have on the previous state tests. The tests will be designed on a much higher level thought process, and for the lower struggling students this will be an even harder concept for them to grasp. When those students do not have the cognitive ability to think that way, it will make their challenges academically more of a struggle for them. They will be more disappointed when they are not showing the progress that they should. Average or even higher level academic students will have a hard time adjusting to the complexity of the assessments and expectations. Unfortunately, I do not think the typical student will pass the first CCSS assessment regardless of how much their teachers have prepped them and taught the skills.

DM: Do you believe that the CCSS will be around twenty years from now? Explain

BF: No. I do not believe that the Common Core will still be in effect 20 years down the road. As a teacher, I think that too much negativity will come out of the assessments that will be given. The assessments will hurt the success rate of the students and also the success rate of the teachers. I know a lot of fantastic effective teachers, and some will not be able to take the criticism of their students not testing as well as they believe they should. Too much emphasis is being based on testing and passing those tests. It takes the fun out of teaching and learning.