Elizabeth Natale did Connecticut residents a huge favor with her viral “Why I Want to Give Up Teaching” op-ed in The Hartford Courant earlier this year. In short, she crystallized the frustrations of teachers and students amid the substantial changes in public education.
Before any teacher could say, “I quit,” state leaders decided to “give school districts the flexibility to delay the new teacher evaluation system.” Shortly thereafter, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy “used his executive authority to create a 25-member task force to identify the challenges presented by the (Common Core) standards.”
While no one expects Connecticut’s education reform to disappear, all of this activity raised public awareness of a three-headed monster: the implementation of the Common Core, the rollout of tests by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), and the launch of data-oriented, performance-evaluation systems.
It was not a tranquil school year — a fact chronicled vividly by Natale. Frankly, it was the most challenging year of my 23 years in the classroom.
Even so, I am not ready to give up teaching. Not even close. There is still no other occupation that inspires and fulfills me more than teaching. So as the school year comes to a close, I reflect on my experiences. Here are my conclusions:
*The Common Core will happen. While other states like Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina are opting out of CCSS, the Common Core will happen in Connecticut. I am not its biggest fan, but I believe most teachers — and students — will adjust. Eventually.
As proponents often say, CCSS “is a set of standards, not a curriculum.” In other words, the Core doesn’t tell teachers exactly what and how to teach; it merely sets goals. Rather than argue the relative truth of that statement, let’s admit this fact: Teachers will teach what they need to teach in order to prepare students for the SBAC test. In the end, the “success” or “failure” of the Common Core will be determined by test scores.
Thus, the schools and teachers that adapt successfully will milk the best attributes from the Common Core and ignore the worst. Here’s hoping these “best attributes” still allow Connecticut students to remain among the best in the nation and the world.
*Media-literacy has never been more essential. I often criticize our society’s obsession with technology — especially cell phones — but that reality provides a unique opportunity. In fact, this has been my most satisfying year teaching Media Literacy since introducing the elective 15 years ago.
As teenagers become overly infatuated with media technology, “many young people lack the media and information-literacy skills they need to be competent communicators in the 21st century,” according to an Education Week commentary. Ironically, there is no “explicit attention on fostering critical analysis of media messages and representations” in the Common Core.
Far be it from me to criticize the Core’s shortcomings regarding media and technology. But I do know that former students have told me how helpful it was learning about advertisers’ and pundits’ “techniques of persuasion.” One current college student even thanked me for assigning nonfiction articles in Media Lit: “I have one professor who does the exact same thing!”
The Common Core endeavors to make students “college-ready.” Apparently, many high school classes, including Media Literacy, were doing just that long before the Core came along.
*Kids are still kids. I have always said that successful high school teachers share two traits: 1) a passion for their subject, and 2) an affinity for working with teenagers. I believe my op-eds have reflected my absolute love for teaching English and media-related subjects.
What has not come through as strongly, perhaps, is the great satisfaction I get from working with kids. I love conversing with teenagers and watching them mature throughout high school. So much has changed in schools since I started teaching, but the kids remain the same. Teens’ lingo, music, and fashion have changed through the years, but the kids are the same ones I taught in 1991. And I still love teaching them.
So do I want to give up teaching? Of course not. I don’t think Elizabeth Natale wants to, either. It’s just that the challenges have never been greater. As I close out the 2013-14 school year, I might feel weary, but I’ve got too much passion for teaching the lessons that truly matter to give up this gig just yet.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School. .