We Were All New Teachers Once

I just returned from the Texas math conference (CAMT to those of you in the know).  It has always been one of my favorite events as it gives me a chance to catch up with old friends and colleagues and is a vibrant conference (7000 attendees this year) that draws top-notch speakers.

This year, I ran into a woman whose child I taught in my first year as a teacher (18 years ago, ouch!). I knew her well as a teacher and we spent a dinner reminiscing about how the students ate me alive my first year (a favorite prank of her son and his best friend involved placing various pieces of furniture in the bushes while I was monitoring the hallway between classes).  Several students from that class have recently friended me on Facebook and I told the mother that part of me feels I should write a letter of apology to all of those students as I know I could have been so much better.

In those first couple of years as a teacher, I was just trying to stay sane.  My principal and department chair may have given me incredible instructional support, but it likely went straight over my head.  Both wonderful educators, they frequently picked me off the ground, brush me off, and help me figure out how to manage my class more successfully.  I survived.

Fast forward a few years, I am at a new school and Marzano’s Classroom Instruction That Works had just been published.  Again, I was fortunate to have an incredible principal.  She set incredibly high standards for our instruction.  She also provided the training for teacher leaders and common planning time to give us the support we needed to meet those high standards.  As a rookie, this would have been overwhelming and I would have missed most of it.  At this point in my career, I was ready.

The Common Core standards are a new reality for many teachers.  Implementing the standards for mathematical practice as well as integrating technology into instruction will be daunting for many.  My first two administrators showed me a path that I can now apply to help others.  Like my first principal, know what your teachers can handle.  Implementing the Common Core cannot be done by throwing a switch.  Leaders need to create a long-term plan for full implementation and be prepared to adjust the plan based upon the needs of individual teachers.

Implementing the Common Core is more than announcing that students must now learn from this list of standards using these mathematical practices.  Leaders should hold teachers to high standards, but just as my second principal did, they also need to provide the support needed by teachers to meet those standards.  That support could be workshops, online courses, mentoring, coaching, book study, common planning, or any combination of these things (or countless other possibilities I have failed to mention).  Once the support is in place, then teachers can fairly be held accountable for meeting the high standards set by CCSS.

We all survived,and probably enjoyed at least a little of our first year as a teacher (except maybe when I had to fish my desk and office chair out of the bushes).  With appropriate support, we will come to survive, and enjoy, teaching with the Common Core.

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