I have struggled to find the right words to convey how Common Core State Standards are both amazing and important. What lens do I view them through – as a Tennessean, a teacher, a Department of Education intern, or a graduate student?
I remember taking the TCAP writing test as a fourth-grader, but more importantly, I have lived through the chills, thrills, and general anxiety tests brought my students each spring. Did my students learn enough? Did I teach enough?
I first fell in love with biology the day I walked not into a high school class, but into a “crime scene.” Class was cancelled, a case needed to be solved. Luckily, CSI (the students) had showed up just in time. Obviously after Biology I, I signed up for Biology II- with the same teacher.
Her class was about the passion to learn and the practicality of actually understanding science. Because she ignited a curiosity in me, I took classes in college, and happily followed in her footsteps as a biology teacher after graduating.
My first year of teaching, I went back to see her and asked what she thought would be on the end of course test. The test was a month away and both my students and I were feeling nervous. She told me that she still needed to mention it to her students! For her students, Biology was all about content, but for my students it was all about that end of course test. I had no idea how to reconcile the differences in our courses so that I could be a better teacher.
So, I could not believe when I had the luck that the teacher teaching AP left and I got to take her place. During that year, I spent two days of professional development investigating DNA. At training, approximately 30 teachers read and reread multiple articles about the topic, created timelines of the events, extracted our own DNA, and discussed DNA incessantly. I finally realized how my biology teacher went deep. The same strategies I engaged in at 16, I did again as an adult! More importantly, I finally had the tools to take my students deeper into a subject!
What could this anecdote about an Advanced Placement course possibly have to do with Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards though?
Well, at the end of 2013, I decided to leave the classroom so I could pursue a degree in educational policy. As a transition from running my own classroom to being in the classroom, I joined the Tennessee Department of Education’s summer staff. I loved helping roll out Common Core! As a former science teacher, I was naturally drawn to the science sessions though. When I sat in on middle school science, I realized the content was almost identical to that of advanced placement! These teachers had spent three days discussing photosynthesis! It was the same idea of digging in and really exploring the content.
Before Common Core State Standards, only a few teachers got to go to advanced placement type trainings and only select students were able to really explore the different subjects. Now, every teacher can engage in rigorous and meaningful development. More than that, every student now has the opportunity to truly explore a subject and hopefully fall in love with learning somewhere along the way.