Tomorrow is the first day of a new school year. This year, the students will not be arriving until Thursday; normally the students start the second day. This has traditionally been an exciting time, with both teachers and students ready to start off anew. The students arrive bright eyed in their new outfits with their new notebooks and pencil cases. The teachers return with renewed enthusiasm and ideas to make this a productive year.
Almost every teacher in the building in which I teach are hard working, dedicated individuals who spend countless hours of their time preparing, planning and collaborating. They also spend their own money on items to make their classrooms appealing, organized and useful for the students.
We have very successful results with our students. The students in our school district go on to the best universities in the country and they time and time again prove themselves to be valuable members of society, and we as teachers are very proud and we celebrate their accomplishments. I have found in my own personal experience, with my own children that have graduated from the district, that they are more than prepared for the college experience.
Yet there is a cloud looming over the atmosphere of our new school year. New York State has quickly adopted the new Common Core Standards for grades 6-8, and they have also contracted to have a New York State version of testing this spring on these new standards. Most states are transitioning into the new standards at a slower pace; I can attest that many teachers from many other states are already studying and preparing for the new standards, even though they will not be responsible for adopting the sum total this year. There is a tremendous pressure that is felt in the environment in New York state and we really are in fact racing, at breakneck speed, to the top.
I am a huge supporter of the Common Core standards and the emphasis and intent of the initiative. With that said, I am not a huge supporter of the manner in which it is being implemented. I have been working all summer on planning my curriculum based on the new standards, and myself and a colleague had made decisions on which concepts to teach in which order. We were just informed last week, the end of August, that some of the concepts will be “post test” concepts and others will be “pre-test” concepts. This may require us to reevaluate what we are teaching and when we teach. All at the same time that we are teaching new content with different emphases than in the past. It does not make sense, and it is not conducive to educational excellence.
With that said, I should get back to the “Race to the Top and the start of a new school year”. The first days of school set the tone for the whole school year in my classroom. I know this to be true, after so many years of teaching, and from my reading and studying Harry Wong’s book “The First Days of School”. So therefore, I carefully consider what I present to my students and I am careful to exude an atmosphere where the students feel welcomed, where I can convey to them a sense of esteem for them as individuals, where I assure them that they are capable of succeeding, and that I am there to help, support and cheer them along this journey.
Is that too much to ask for, that the teachers could be given that same message? I like to imagine a start to the school year in which teachers are given an inspirational talk or presentation. I like to imagine a start to the school year in which we are told that
1) We are hard working, dedicated professionals
2) We can meet any challenge
3) There is faith in us, that we are a talented, creative group of caring educators
4) That if we just keep on long history of the path to excellence, we will succeed
5) That it is recognized that teaching is more than a career; that in fact it is more a calling
6) That we should NEVER center on a TEST, but on providing the best lessons and opportunities for our students to learn to love to learn
But, alas, our first two days of this school year will not be so. These days will be centered on legalities. The second day will be an entire day centered on, and I quote, “Race to the Top; Annual Professional Performance Review”. My heart aches. The teachers I work with are an excellent group of dedicated professionals. We care very much for the success of each of our students. I just wish that our year could start off with a positive kick off and an energizing start to help us to meet the coming challenges; instead, I am afraid it will add to the anxiety that is so prevalent in the environment already.