The Common Core Cannot Lack in Common Sense or Compassion

The Common Core Cannot Lack in Common Sense or Compassion or it wont work- A stressed teacher speaks out
Where have you been Katie?
I know you have been asking that, right?
Where is our friend Katie?
Well, let me tell you! I started school. I started school, I tell you! I love my kids and I love my new Zen-self. I am trying to be a little more Zen and balanced with my life. Well all of that was fine and good until I heard this word uttered.
I saw the modules for the first time 4 weeks ago. Modules of Study. Units of Common Core skillfully created by teachers in our district and put into a labyrinth-like web site that one day I will understand, but today is not that day.
Yes, my district has created AMAZING Modules for us, and we are Common Coring it up. I am a tad overwhelmed by the site, just a tad…. There are so many words on my computer screen. So many links to click on in the Module website and I get lost, then my eyes water and cross and itch. I walk away from the computer and come back. I try to find “that page” I was on in “that tab” of the Module and I can’t find it cause now I’m in the wrong “box” of the Module from the drop down menu. Did I imagine the text dependent questions page? What happened? I panic and no one cares.
I must retain this Zen state I have tried so hard to achieve. I can do hard things. This is not the end of the world.  I have time to figure out this site. I am a good teacher, an engaging teacher, and I understand the Common Core, so I just need to deal with this Module-thing-a-ma-giger. I am Zen. If my name was Jennifer, you could call me Zen-Jenn.
So I decide no more getting lost on the site. I am going to print the Module. No more clicking. I am going to print the whole thing, then I am going to highlight and tab things that are important… Let’s do this old school! I might even put some stickers on it to make it pretty. OH EM GEE. I’ll use markers, and I’ll color code the BIG stuff like text-dependent questions, essential questions, and really evaluate the heck out of this.
I click the “print” button.
“Printer out of ink.” flashes across my screen.
The Zen is evaporating from my body, and I am getting sweaty and upset. This could be in part because my grade level created an amazing ELD/RTI rotation, used it for 2 months, and our admin said it’s rubbish. Not really, but he said he did not like it, change it, like change it tomorrow. “You will figure it out ladies. I don’t like what you are doing now.” he said. “Do this instead. Put aside what you think works for your kids and do this smaller groups model.” We hashed it out for a while and then promised to obey him. I wanted to say, “ Why didn’t you tell us TWO MONTHS AGO?” But I held it in. So it’s Wednesday and he wants a new plan in action Thursday (when I have a sub).  So I was already kind of upset, but I was not going to let ELD/RTI ruin my Zen. I was not going let ink ruin my Zen. None of it is a life changer.  Just buy ink and change ELD/RTI. No problem. I can do hard things.
So I drive to Staples. I buy black ink. I come home only to see this…..
Yep that blue C means the computer wants blue ink. Not black, blue.
Zen is dead. All used up. I felt the last of my Zen come out my ears in the form of steam. Steam I tell you. BUT IT GETS WORSE!
I drive back to Staples. I call my bestie on the way. She responds with the appropriate amount of compassion for my Common Core/Ink Crisis. She does this because she is a teacher and loves me.
I go into Staples and think, “You know what? For good measure I will buy all 4 colors in the mega pack because you know the minute I put blue ink in the printer, it will want magenta!” Someone should write a book along the lines of If you give a Mouse a Cookie, but title it, If You Give a Printer Red Ink.
if you give a printer

So I’ll buy the mega pack of ink. Look! I am ahead of the game. I am finding Zen again in the isles of Staples. I am also finding Mr. Sketch markers. That’s right sisters! Zen is back! I have ink! I have markers! I have ZEN!
I get home, unwrap the ink and I see it. What on Earth! I bought 125 ink instead of 126! 
SHUT UP. SHUT UP UP UP ! SHUT UP! This did NOT happen! At this point Zen has left the building. It has gone somewhere to hide from me. Zen is very afraid of me right now. I think my dog might be afraid too because he left the room.
And you know what. It’s 8:56pm. Staples closes at 9pm.
Crap. Teacher to the Core is pissed. Pissed to the Core. Pissed at the Common Core. Pissed at Modules and change, pissed at ink and printers. Pissed that the ‘97 Standards are no longer cool. Pissed.
Zen is not dead. It is hiding. I try to find Zen. I need to find Zen. Who cares about ink? Who cares about modules. I need to be peaceful again. I am going to go to bed, maybe Zen is there?
I wake up. Zen was not in my bed, or dreams. I am thinking of making signs to post in my neighborhood. “Missing Zen. If found, please call.” Then I remember I don’t have any ink, so I can't print the signs.
I get dressed and I go to the Module training on how to use the new Math Modules to go with the old curriculum- this should be super fun. There was no sarcasm in there. I love trainings! I have a sub and I have amazing teachers to work with and a great set of presenters and we start dig in. We are having a great time. And then it happens.
Our trainer is asking me a bunch of questions as I am trying to explore this Module and plan with the team. I am supposed to be presenting to our team on the two danged hardest standards and how our math series does or does not address the standard. I am supposed to use a brand new 48 page flip book given to us on site to help.  People in the room are starting to call it the “flipping book”.  And our presenter is telling me “Oh those are the hardest standards, so what are you thinking? What have you noticed? What do think about addition and subtraction being taught together? I am trying to explain myself and defend my belief that addition and subtraction should be taught together, only kind of together, not really though.  Subtraction should be hinted at but not mixed in too much until the end of the year. 
Here is what I mean for right now in September of first grade….I have five cookies and get 1 more. That’s 5+1=6. My cookie group went up. I eat two cookies my cookie group just went down a little bit. Yes, groups go up and down. Now back to addition.
I mean they should be taught in a very organic mixed in way at this point. Hinting at subtraction, but just a hint, a tease, cleavage, but nothing more ‘cause it’s September.
I can tell maybe this is not really what she wants to hear. I can tell she kind of wants to hear that they should be taught together-together. I might be wrong. I can’t really tell anything. She is delightful, but she is a stranger and I don’t really know what she wants from me.  I keep explaining myself and she starts to wave her hands in that circular motion that people do when they are trying to lead you to an answer. I am mid explaining, as in the middle of a thought,  and she says… “Right! So we call that_______________. And she stops. She is waiting for me to respond. Fill in the blank.  Crap.
I hate this Common Core engagement/struggle until you want to die kind questioning. Explore, figure it out, give me your big idea, but it better be the right one or you *might* look like an idiot. All of this happening at a training is really annoying.
I think the kids don’t like it either. At least not in the large doses it seems to be heaped on them these days. “Let the kids figure it out” “Let them EXPLORE, let them struggle.” For how long?
In this moment before I tell you that I kind of freaked out on the trainer let me tell you that there seems to be a whole bunch of Common Core misconceptions that I think lack in compassion toward the learner.
  • We need to facilitate them coming to right conclusions quickly. It should be this IMHO:  They do (explore, learning together), we do (teaching maybe even God forbid “I do”), and then you do (practice) Practice can also include learning together as long as they are taking turns and articulating their thinking so there is still some semblance of individual accountability.  But too many teachers seem to be focusing on exploring, thinking about thinking, building their thinking, and not moving into the teaching part fast enough. I am not saying I have to be the one teaching all the time. I love removing myself from the sage on the stage position. They can learn so much from a peer articulating, but at some point there needs to be an answer, consensus. Exploring in the woods is fine for a time, but we need to arrive back at camp or we are all going to die in the woods of hunger. Kids, especially young ones, need to explore and then be brought around quickly. Floundering or exploring endlessly can become quite uncomfortable and a waste of time. At some point a circle is a circle, a square is a square, and 4+5=9.  Let’s get this going.
  • Let’s talk for a second about how much time we are spending on things too. Some standards are high yield standards. Spend time on them. Engage the heck out of them. Use all your engagement tricks. Use your Kagan! Use your Engagement Cube, use your SIOP skills.  Thinking map that standard until it surrenders to your awesomeness and your students rock it like a boss!  BUT some standards are the kind where you get in, get out, and take some extra time in your reading groups that day.  Do not ENGAGE/EXPLORE the heck out of everything. Your kids can’t take it. You can’t take it. You probably don’t have time to plan it. Not every lesson has to be a symphony. Some lessons are just scales. This makes sense to my musical friends. I am not very sporty, but I’ll try. Not every lesson is a full basketball game, some lessons are just shooting free throws. My point is please have compassion on the children and yourself. Allow them to breathe, allow yourself to breathe. Planning for the Common Core cannot lack in Common Sense and Compassion. Please use both in planning and teaching.
So that is my compassion rant.  I rant because I have a son in the Common Core right now. He is a 2nd grader. His very formative years are right now. As we fumble along in the Common Core and he still needs to be taught stuff. Luckily his teachers are rocking it.  But at times this notion of “Let the kids figure it out” kind of irks me because I have to hope and trust that his teachers don’t let him figure it out too long, or let him take his thinking too far in the wrong direction, or fatigue the joy of learning right out of him because it becomes exhausting and he is tired of “Think-Pair-Sharing” with the child next to him. Rant over. I promise.
So are you ready to hear about the freak out?
So here I am. All that rant {above} is built up in me. The Zen never came back, I never did get ink in the printer, and my sweet-as-apple-pie facilitator is waving her hands at me and wanting me to find some answer in the woods.  I can’t explore any more. I am in a MODULE TRAINING FOR PETE’S SAKE. TELL me. TELL ME what the word you want is,  because I was in the middle of a sentence and you started waving your arms. Now I am lost and tired from the exploration. I am fatigued and I have NO INK in my printer. Just tell me Module Maven because I KNOW you know.
So I tell her empathically . “Please stop. I don’t like this kind of Common Core questioning. I don’t like the “you know the answer and I am exploring to find it”. I don’t like that kind of questioning when I am in the thick of Module Mania. And now you are waving your arms at me. This is tricky and trainers treating the trainees like kids is not my favorite. Instructional styles in the Common Core can’t forget compassion for the learner. I am the learner here. I don’t know what you want me to say”
I said it you guys and now I don’t know how to feel.
I feel like it was not the best manners. I feel like she is doll and sweet and we would love each other if I had not just gotten feisty. I feel like it needed to be said.
Of course, I waved her back over 15 minutes later and asked her to forgive me for having been so heated.  She did. I asked her not be afraid of me and that I was really a super nice person.  But, at this point with the Modules, our district wants us to use, with adopted curriculum that does not support the Common Core, I need Module Direction.  No more wandering in the woods. I need the map (Modules), training on how to use the map, and a canteen filled with vodka. Cause tomorrow I have to teach this and understand it myself.
I am pretty sure she forgives me. I am pretty sure the ladies at my table survived seeing this. (Apparently, I made quite and impression on them. They all work at my husband’s school and ran to his room this morning to tell him they “had no idea Katie had such a feisty side!”)
trainings can be really hard
I am going to survive the roll out of the Modules. I am going to keep creating along the way because the consensus was you CAN’T use the math program for a couple of these standards. I am pretty sure my son will survive all this too. 
For now I am going to add as much common sense, compassion, and engagement to the Common Core as possible.  And I am also going to go find the Zen that ran away and hid during the ink crisis. I am pretty sure I saw it hiding in my bathtub. I plan to add bubbles and water to the Zen and soak all of it up.
Please tell me, do you experience more crisis over the Common Core or your district’s interpretation of the Common Core?  What do you remind yourself when you start to feel twitchy? Do you have a Zen-ism… please share!