For the past several days I have been fortunate to attend the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference in Boston. Set in this amazing venue of a historically rich city such as Boston, I have been blessed to learn from and alongside many like-minded English colleagues. My life, both professionally and personally, has been enriched over the course of these past few days.
However, in my time here, I have become increasingly aware of an overall attitude toward the CCSS that I am hearing from my brilliant and hard-working colleagues. It as become clear to me, that many of us are not reading the standards as English teachers would – by inferring, analyzing, interpreting the words on the page. It seems to me that we are not reading between the lines to see what the text is telling us, not only explicitly but also implicitly. It is what is implied through the standards, and not directly stated, that I believe is so exciting about the standards. The standards do not tell us how many books students must read annually, nor do they break down the types of text that we should be having students read. Instead, the standards tell us to have students read fiction and informational text and leaves the how many, what kind, and in what way up to us – the teachers. The writing standards are similar. They tell us that students need to write narratives about real and imagined (to me that means creative!) events, informative pieces as well as pieces that allow students to practice effective argument. The standards do not tell us how many pieces, or if the informative writing should be essays or books or articles. No, those decisions are left up to us. I am so grateful that those decisions are not made for me, and that I have the opportunity to work through those decisions with my teachers in my district.
But, as I listen to the frustration of my colleagues here at this conference, I wonder who is making those decisions for them. My suspicion is that state departments and legislators, not local educators, are making the important decisions about what and when students should read and write. What else could suck the joy out of planning the curriculum and instruction that will be delivered in our classrooms? It seems to me that it is not the CCSS that is the problem. The problem is those who are doing the reading, adopting and mandating the implementation of the standards. Perhaps the real problem is that we are allowing those decisions to impact our attitudes and feelings.
To me, the CCSS is not a cold, heartless mandate that requires teachers to give up all autonomy to do right by kids. They are not asking us to abandon all that is good for kids in reading and in writing. Rather, the standards are a set of common end goals that I can have for my students. The path to get there is still up to me and to all teachers who are willing to engage students in meaningful learning opportunities.
I think we all need to read the CCSS like English teachers. We need to infer that the standards want us to create avid readers and informed citizens who write with passion about topics that matter to them. Because this is what I want for my students (and for all students), this is how I choose to approach the CCSS. It is my hope that as we continue to learn more about and become accountable for implementing these standards, we will choose to read the standards as English teachers – to read between the lines to find the opportunities that are there for teachers and for students.