Teaching Common Core

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"Why aren't you using all the resources?"

That was the first question a district coach asked me in my rookie teaching year. She wanted me to use the nearly 60 teacher books that went along with our structured textbook series. I would also have to find a way to make this strict program interesting to my students. Now, 45 states have adopted the Common Core Standards and will begin implementing them next year. The entire way I teach is changing, and I just started my fourth year.

I welcome these changes because it means recalling the educational styles of teachersI most admired. I find novels that matter to my students and work with my colleagues to design real world projects around them. I find narrative nonfiction and news articles that allow students to dig in, discuss, take a stand. I ignore the 60 dusty teacher guides on my shelf and make English matter for my 100 eighth graders.

Common Core demands a greater depth and breadth of understanding. The old textbook materials, with their excerpted pages from epic novels, don't allow for that. If students are never asked to maintain interest for more than 15 pages, how can we expect them to succeed in college and in the workforce, when they will be asked to analyze how problems develop and are solved over years? Lawyers slog through thousands of pages per case. Doctors delve into months' long research to help their patients. Vineyard workers in our valley must learn to read the vines over many growing seasons.

I, too, must learn to think for myself. I have moved from being told exactly what to teach and when to teach it to creatively designing engaging projects for my students. Goodbye, outdated texts. Hello, computers. Teachers have received some training to help with this massive shift, but not as much as we received to follow the outgoing strict methods.


I'm still a new teacher, and these changes are both exciting and frightening. I am leaping into unknown territory. These changes unsettle veteran educators, too, and as we implement them, I ask parents to be patient. We want to do right by our students, but we need time to adjust to both new freedoms and new demands.

With a Perspective, this is Sarah Knutson.

Sarah Knutson teaches eighth grade English Language Arts and physical education at American Canyon Middle School.