They parked on curbs and grass islands. SUVs and minivans clogged bus lanes. They were teachers, administrators, librarians, and professors, and they had come to Freedom Middle School in Franklin on a midsummer’s day to participate in TNCore training. 

While pre-teens trudged to summer school in shorts and flip-flops and the marching band practiced formations in near-triple digit heat; while the cafeteria staff fired up vats of mac ’n’ cheese and the assistant principal’s sons hawked candy bars and sodas for the general fund; through all this commotion, 500 educators from across Middle Tennessee filed into classrooms. Armed with caffeine and chocolate for the upcoming engagement with complex texts and qualitative rubrics, they formed clusters around lab benches, sitting expectantly in student desks.

They formed but a trickle of a massive statewide influx, part of the largest teacher training in Tennessee history. By the end of July, 705 Core Coaches — teachers chosen through a competitive process — working at 40 sites across the state had trained approximately 32,000 educators on the Common Core State Standards for mathematics and English language arts. In the process they used 39,600 sheets of chart paper and 80,220 interlocking 1-centimeter cubes.

But in Franklin, the massive numbers gave way to personal moments for teachers. Their insights provide a sense of just what the new standards will mean for Tennessee’s students.

On morning one, teachers shared hopes and worries: excitement about a renewed focus on students owning their learning; fear that new standards would simply mean a new test prep curriculum. Then they got to work.

While completing a performance task that involved reading complex informational texts and writing analytical essays — the same type of work students will do on Common Core-aligned PARCC exams — participants experienced the rigorous, college- and career-ready expectations of the new standards. Afterwards, someone quipped, referring to her students, “Now I know how they feel.” A science teacher admitted, “There were times when I wanted to give up.” All recognized that students would no longer be able to get away with saying “I don’t know.”

Eleventh-grade teachers were excited because, unlike with previous state exams, students would now have to prove their points with “actual facts.” One teacher confessed that she had never thought to give her students an audience to write to. “I need to stop assuming so much!” she said.

By the second day, insights sparked. A middle school English teacher realized that the Common Core State Standards change the traditional model where students learn a few standards each unit and move on in a constant race to cover everything. Teachers will now consider the entire year as the timeline for developing higher-order skills.

High school social studies educators had a spirited discussion about argumentation. As one participant noted, a lack of critical reading and thinking skills is reflected in our political climate, where often people only listen to what they want to hear and assume everything they read on the Internet is true. The new literacy standards emphasize seeking multiple points of view and evaluating the strength of arguments based on credibility and evidence. A history teacher made the connection: Common Core isn’t just about the classroom; it’s about “getting ready for civic life.”

By the end of day three, we were exhausted yet exhilarated. Sixth-grade teachers noted the irony of discussing articles on the benefits of sleep. Participants discussed their key takeaways: “collaboration, collaboration, collaboration!” “More writing.” “I am going to have more time to teach my kids to read better.” “I’m thinking of getting a key shifts tattoo.”

And as the final day ended, a teacher gave her Core Coach one of the highest compliments an educator can get: “She worked us to death and it was all worth it!”