A Christian College of the Liberal Arts & Sciences

Issue: Spring/Summer 2014

From Fear to Freedom

Katharine Maitland '11

As a first year teacher I was fearful of the Common Core. As I witnessed how the Common Core made some veteran teachers doubt themselves and their abilities, I began to doubt my own. The intimidation was almost paralyzing. I didn’t know how I could possibly accomplish everything that needed to be done and still determine how to address Common Core, all while responding to the unique needs of my students. As I pondered all the changes that were coming at me with mind-numbing speed, a thought came tome with God-given clarity; I remembered something President Mullen said when she spoke to my senior class. She said that we can only help others seek and know freedom to the extent that we ourselves are free. In that moment, my focus shifted; I began to seek out truth with a new found clarity.

I was introduced to the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) as a junior at Houghton. It didn’t take long to recognize that these new standards would place increased academic expectations on teachers and students. Later, as I began my teaching career,I encountered the Common Core learning modules firsthand, a set of scripted lessons that delineate what the teacher must say,along with the acceptable student responses.Suddenly the profession I had worked so hard to be a part of seemed to be reduced to a blur of scripts, devoid of knowledge of my students and their culture. 

At the very start of my career, I needed to reclaim my authority as a teacher. Instead of doubting myself in the face of the Common Core, I choose to focus on effective strategies, student interests, and “teachable moments” to help my learners gain access to the content. We will teach each other; we will think deeply and “outside the box;” we will say “I don’t know” and then work to find the answer; we will problem solve and respond to one another’s questions; we will use what we already know in order to process the new information we are encountering. I will model for my students what autonomy looks like in my own decision-making, how to acknowledge and fix mistakes, and how to celebrate success. I will help my students realize their own independence and freedom by choosing to embrace this liberation myself.

Choosing freedom allowed me to take a deep breath just in time for the next question to settle: How do I bring my own beliefs and style to the classroom while still meeting the expectations set forth by the CCLS? I chose to face the unknown, the unclear, and the sheer immensity of the standards and modules with the peace and assurance that I know my students; I know what they need. I can choose to use all, some, or none of the materials before me. My students do not need to bear this weight; the responsibility for delivering an engaging and responsive curriculum is mine. 

As a special education teacher, I collaborate with educators and students in many classrooms throughout the day. Each teacher I work with responds to the CCLS and modules differently. One teacher uses the modules and adapts them by creating guided notes which include spaces to define vocabulary, make connections and work through problems. Another teacher does not use the modules at all. Instead, she revises her own previously-crafted materials to teach principles found in the CCLS. In these classes I am a sounding board; I work closely with teachers to discover new ways to present and practice content, and I interact with students to build on known skills in order to assist in accomplishing new tasks.

In my daily teaching, I use both the CCLS and modules. I view the standards as goals for my learners to achieve. I reference the modules to determine the breadth, depth, and content language that my students will be expected to know on Common Core-aligned assessments. As I plan units of study, I consult CCLS and the modules for third through eighth grades to see how a particular skill is addressed at each grade level. I consider the ultimate goal articulated in the standards and integrate my own knowledge, what I have gained from my college education, and my awareness of my students to inform my instruction. I consider learners’ interests, their developed and developing skills, their collective and individual cultures, as well as the redemptive parts of the modules, and I synthesize this into a cohesive learning experience.

The journey of teaching is a never-ending learning experience. The CCLS and modules still present challenges for my colleagues and me; however, this challenge will not take away my choice. I choose joy in my career. I acknowledge and work through the challenges and I celebrate the successes. I choose peace. I know nothing is perfect, but I rest in the assurance that my students and I work hard, and we grow. The journey from fear to freedom is never-ending, but I choose freedom.


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