[Walter Reed, photo by Tiffiny Federico]
I started teaching English at Walter Reed Junior High in 1993. I taught 7th and 9th grade. This was a few years before we became a true middle school, 6th - 8th grade. I loved it. I didn't realize just how much freedom I had... This was before STANDARDS based education.
Imagine... t's the week before school starts and your department chair tells you to look in the textbook room and pick a textbook to use, because there is more than one available. I asked what I should cover, and she tells me whatever you want. Complete freedom to design a curriculum; that seems so unimaginable today.
Fast forward to the late 1990's and the implementation of the California State Standards for Language Arts. This meant one standards-aligned textbook for all. This meant weeks and weeks and days and days of trainings. All of the sudden everything had to align with the standards or else.
I was a literacy coach at the time and I got kicked out of an administrative meeting downtown. The powers that be were sold a bill of goods by the textbook company who basically told them that if teachers didn't exclusively teach the textbook, they weren't teaching to the standards. What about novels? No time for that. No room for that. Doesn't fit with the standards. You can imagine my outrage. After a heated back and forth, the moderator asked me what school I was an administrator at, when I told him I was a literacy coach, I was asked to leave. Loved my principal's reacting to the whole thing. She told me not to get so hot and bothered. That if I felt that we should be teaching novels, then we would be teaching novels.
[My classroom, photo by Tiffiny Federico]
Fast forward a few years and a new president to the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Out went everything associated with the California State Standards and in came material for the CCSS. Although, with the current budget crisis, no new textbooks, not week long trainings, very little PD, and a lot of scrutiny. This time, the standards have a huge focus on college and career readiness. What does that mean? It means 70% nonfiction to 30% fiction. It means an all encompassing focus on expository writing and expository reading. It means a crazy focus on testing and test scores. It means little to no freedom or creativity.
As an English teacher, this is very disheartening. The heart and soul of English class is NARRATIVE. Narrative reading and narrative writing. Finding places to keep this in the curriculum was becoming more difficult and felt quite rebellious. My struggle with the content and the CCSS was just a reflection of the conversation happening all across the nation.
[Reading Time, Photo by Tiffiny Federico]