At 9:00 a.m. on a Monday morning, I find myself walking into a South Memphis classroom taught by a second-year middle school English teacher who is determined to “make a difference in the lives of children.” My initial thought was that within the fourth week of a new school year, I would hardly see any progress, especially now that teachers are trying to figure out how to implement more Common Core State Standards into their lessons. I am happy to say, though, that I was pleasantly surprised at my findings. Within five minutes of sitting in the room, I could tell that there was an uncommon culture of learning, a core of urgency, and intrinsic motivation. Moreover, I could tell that this was driven by an adherence to Common Core..

My current role in education provides me with the opportunity to promote educational equity by supporting new teachers in the classroom as they enhance the educational experience of students. That support includes guiding them to realize what’s at stake for their students, fostering leadership among both teachers and students, and cultivating a long-term passion for this work that we do. However, when I work with these new teachers, I am often consumed by the talks of Common Core implementation and its effects on classroom instruction.

We hear a multitude of opinions about what Common Core standards will mean for student success. It is even more crucial when we learn the harsh reality that only a small amount of Memphis students are ready for college by the time they graduate. This is a stark reality for Ms. Lewis’ students as well. Whether for or against it, the majority of Memphians simply want education here to improve. For that reason, much is expected from all the new teachers who enter the classrooms each year. This year, especially, we want strong teachers who understand how to maneuver through the standards to get students college-ready. So, how are they doing?

The second-grade teacher mentioned above is just one example of many. Her classroom is guided by her implementation of Common Core. All over the city, new teachers are stepping up to the plate, tackling the standards and effectively delivering them to our kids. Just like in the South Memphis classroom, I am witnessing average students discuss literature in an above-average manner. I am witnessing elementary students using math as a social inquiry, discussing a math problem and debating all sides just to get to the correct answer. More importantly, I am feeling the joy, energy, and passion within the classrooms. Kids are not just learning; they are being equipped with tools that will help them not only in post-secondary education, but also in life.

New teachers are raising the bar for the type of learning that should happen in classrooms. When I asked the teacher the level of difficulty in teaching Common Core, she replied, “It takes me thinking in a more detailed way about what my students need. Any teacher must be willing to work and put in the effort from day one.” By no means is she an expert at this craft with only one year of experience under her belt, nor does she proclaim this. But, there is something to be said about incoming teachers who, at the very beginning of the school year, are willing to deep dive into the standards for the purpose of moving students towards a pathway of opportunities. This is the new era of education in Memphis, and I believe it will change our city. 

This blog was originally posted at on September 4, 2013.