If you ask an educator or even a well-informed parent who lives in Florida about the New Florida Standards, there will probably be a very intentional groan of frustration followed by a rant or its opposite—dead silence and a mournful shaking of the head.
One of the many reasons I’ve stopped writing so much stems from the state of Florida’s new standards. I’m a teacher who’s lucky enough to help my students meet those standards. I wouldn’t say I’m using the word “lucky” sarcastically, and I love to be sarcastic—just ask my students. I’d say I use the word “lucky” with a paradox in mind. It’s a paradox because I met Jeb Bush in 2009. His organization awarded me an Excellence in Teaching honor. The organization also asked teachers who won the award questions about our success in the classroom.
The Paradox and Jeb Bush
I speak of Jeb Bush in relation to the new standards because he’s been a very active voice in promoting the common core standards that created such a controversy in Florida. And, now, parents and educators have been adorned with the New Florida Standards, which claim to correlate to the common core but are more detailed and focused for Florida education.
That remains to be seen, so back to the paradox. I feel like in the grand scheme of Common Core Standards, I helped in some small way to create them. So I feel both lucky and unlucky at the same time. My mantra as a teacher has always been to hold students to a higher standard. By that I mean, in very concrete terms, that a sixth grader can do anything a college student at your local public university can do.
Now, many people laugh at me, but Jeb Bush and his team of educators did not. They rewarded me for it.
However, the paradox of “lucky” insidiously slithers through those ideals to condemn the idea of challenging students. When you scrutinize the training tests that the Florida Department of Education plans to impose on the students, teachers, and administrators, you step back and think of the student who will have to take the test. I’ll put it this way.
I have a friend who’s a journalist, well-educated, and one of the smartest people I know. He took one look at the training test and told me to quit. Of course, I snapped back with a resounding, “No! Never! They need me.” He told me to quit because I will be held accountable for children who can barely write and these students will be required to not only write but perhaps type their answers.
I assume that over their catered breakfasts and suited meetings, the politicians didn’t think about how, yes, technology is relevant, but kids type with their thumbs. So, on top of teaching them to reach a modicum of college-level writing, teachers and administration need to make sure they can type, and quickly.
The teaching that should be happening in every classroom will happen, but these are kids in a modern society. When I announce that a sixth grader can do anything a college student can and possibly better, I mean it, with the passion of a teacher who plans to meet that goal and then some. I plan to infuse into that student all the tools to get them to that point by the end of the year. But, teachers everywhere know that no matter what we do, many students won’t get there even when they try with all their mighty souls.
Why won’t students achieve their goals?
Let’s start with a reality check that’s very distinct to Miami and Florida and our country in general. Many students are still acquiring the language, so please don’t expect them to meet those standards right away—even though as a teacher I will nudge and push them as long as they’re my students. Then, many students go home and find exactly the opposite of what I taught them. There’s no support for doing homework, reading, or even caring about any of it. They might even be told that the material doesn’t matter or that they’re too stupid to do it so just do enough to get by, if that.
I made all of this clear to the researchers from Excellence in Teaching during the question and answer sessions. I’d like to think they took it into consideration. But, it doesn’t feel like they did, so I keep asking myself if I’ve joined my imaginary list of unforgiveable hypocrites in society today.
Before I received the Excellence in Teaching Award, I got a brownie and lots of coffee. Later, at the dinner, I got to meet teacher and author Ron Clark. He dazzled and freaked out the teachers by jumping, quite literally, from table top to table top speaking about how exciting it is to teach kids.
It was inspirational and a little disturbing.
I got a free book of his and read it. I even agreed with some of it. However, I returned to my classroom feeling frustrated because I was nothing like him and I never cashed in on the 10-day cruise prizes that The Foundation for Excellence in Teaching offered me. I never had that kind of time, except for during summer, and by then I was too tired to think of how I would pay for the plane trip to Alaska.
Then, before I knew it, I was hearing about the Common Core Standards. I saw some interesting videos and teachers promoting it. It appeared to be not just a great idea, but a solution to the mindless standardized tests our students were subjected to year after year.
But, as with most issues associated with politics, the basics have changed—a lot.
Deals were being made. Testing companies started vying for contracts with different states. It wasn’t just about educating kids anymore. Nothing’s ever that simple when money’s involved. Take money out of the equation and everything might be more simplified, more sensible.
Now, however, here we teachers are scrambling to prepare our students for a test that was flung at us only at the end of last school year. There’s nothing practical or helpful about a surprise attack on teachers and their students. Education exists to help children make their way in the world and teachers teach to help them do that. Is that idealistic? Isn’t education supposed to help children, not cause problems for them?
My solution: I’ll be posting about how I’m handling it from both a teacher and a parent’s view. I’ll be rooting for all of our students and for their teachers. And, I’ll sometimes rant or shake my head mournfully when people ask me about it. Written by Lisa Chesser