Hate Mail from Math Teachers

I like the Common Core Curriculum Standards. 

You’re rolling your eyes, muttering, if not swearing,  “She teaches English. Duh, no wonder she likes the Common Core.  But what about those of us trying to seat kids at the periodic table or draw them into angle construction? Huh?  Our instructional time is already spread too thin. There aren’t enough minutes in our class periods to get to all the things our curriculum demands and now we are being required to teach reading and writing, too?”

So before I start fielding hate mail from math teachers, let me explain.

Reading well and writing clearly are at the core of the Common Core (apologies for the bad pun–an occupational hazard).  Literacy is essential to every discipline.  In order to complete geometric proofs, kids have to be able to read carefully.  To write coherent lab reports that require more than the fill-in-the-blanks, kids have to be able to write concisely.

But even more than these basic skills is the thinking that close reading and crafted writing nurtures. When kids are asked to scrutinize passages, extracting details to support original assertions, they are developing intellectual patience and experiencing the frustration/success associated with providing evidence for their ideas.

And yes, the shift to the Common Core is less overwhelming for English teachers than for algebra teachers or chemistry teachers.  Our curriculum is skills driven as opposed to the sequential natures of math, science and even social studies where my colleague must guide her students from the Age of Exploration to this year’s presidential election.  English teachers can devote two days to a text by redesigning the core reading for the quarter. We are more able to trade depth for breadth. But make no mistake, it is a definite change for us, too.  We have to find the companion informational text to correspond to our other “literature.”

I am not saying it is easy for everyone to love the Common Core.

But occasionally giving kids logic games to solve or  reading an article about pros and cons of hydro-fracking as part of an Earth Science class  or perusing an excerpt from Common Sense in American history are examples of reading within the content areas that can be used to support the objectives of the Common Core.  No doubt that this is a shift in how we all approach instruction and no doubt it is very challenging to find appropriate and relevant readings.  But isn’t it possible that a little reading will go a really long way?

On Vacations and New School Year Resolutions

A week at/in the ___________________.  Fill in the blank: shore, lake,the islands,  the mountains, country. For most of us, our couple of weeks away from it all represent peace, freedom from the mundane.

For us, being by the shore is vacation.  When our kids were little, we spent the last week of  every August at Ocean City, Maryland.  Though we did take them on the quintessential American family pilgrimage to Disneyworld, it is OC they remember. Disney may have had Space Mountain and Epcot, but OC had the Tidal Wave and the Jolly Roger Water Park. OC is where their childhood vacation memories reside.

And if you ask them, they will probably remember anticipating that week away and mourning the finale.

For weeks leading up to the six-hour car trip, we created diversions.  We crammed an ancient industrial black lunchbox (think Fred Flintstone) with activities.  Vacation bingo scrawled on big index cards: car colors, road signs, random sights.  Lanyards. Crayons.  Self-narrated books on cassette tapes. We read Misty of Chincoteague and vowed to see the wild ponies up close and personal. The kids redeemed bottle deposits and counted their pennies, dreaming of  dollar treasures in boardwalk souvenir shops.

And when it was time to pack up and head for home,  saying good-bye to vacation was never easy.  Even with the tunes of Squeeze and Jimmy Buffet on the radio, the trip up the Jersey Turnpike was somber and mournful. Thoughts would soon turn to brand new school sneakers and backpacks, but for now, every mile toward home was another mile away from the shore.

When I interviewed for my current teaching position, one of the administrators on the panel asked me to talk about the worst vacation experience I ever had.  “Worst vacation? Isn’t that an oxymoron,” I asked.  I described the year we rode out Hurricane Emily but insisted it wasn’t  really bad, that we just made the best of it. We played games and learned how boardwalk workers secured the rides during bad weather and saw sea gulls flying backwards. No, there really is no such thing as a “worst” vacation experience because, like every other one of life’s events, it is what you make it.

And so, while we were kayaking at the shore today, I realized that too often we focus on the destination at the expense of the journey. It isn’t how fast you paddle or how far, but the sights you see along the way, the conversations you have with the people you are with.

And how does this translate to the Joy of Teaching?  Simple.

My new year’s resolution for the 2012-2013  new school year:  enjoy the journey.  Someone take note and please hold me to this.