No need to fear Common Core

All kids have grit, teacher says

Grit is a term we should be using a lot in education, especially when discussing the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I am completing my ninth year of teaching; next year I will again be in a first grade classroom. I have previously taught second and fifth grades but I’m excited to continue my work with first graders. I have found that, with Common Core, I am able to develop even the youngest students into critical thinkers who will find success in the face of adversity along whatever path they choose. My students have shown plenty of grit at every grade level I have taught. It is critical that we educators do the same.

In her now famous TED Talk, Angela Lee Duckworth says that the most successful students tackle academic challenges with resolve and do it repeatedly despite possible failure. She says that we as educators have to be willing to join in this process. “In other words, we need to be gritty about getting our kids grittier.” When it comes to the rigor of the CCSS and the standards’ implementation, I couldn’t agree more.

A union in New York (among others) recently challenged the implementation of the Common Core standards in the state. And yet, when I looked to the Engage NY curriculum to help me teach math in my classroom, I found it incredibly well designed for instruction and rigor of the new standards. My students have been successful with it despite their initial protests of the curriculum being too hard. The emphasis on deeper understanding and critical thinking within concepts can indeed be frightening for students and educators alike. But if educators dig in, students will rise to the challenge.

I began using the Common Core standards three years ago in my second grade classroom for all of my instruction. The standards hadn’t been fully implemented and I was scared. Among other challenging concepts, the standards ask second graders to understand and use the US algorithm strategy of adding and subtracting three digit numbers – a highly conceptual piece of learning that I had previously introduced at a fifth grade level. In fact, my students were so successful with this curriculum that half of this inner-city class earned a coveted spot in the Boston Public Schools’ Advanced Work Class program. My students showed amazing grit and taught me what it really means to have resolve.

Every time I read about another state reversing support for the CCSS, I think about that gritty second grade class and how all kids inherently have grit. If I go out at recess and ask my students if they would like to race, I invariably have a line-up. In my classroom, when I say that I am about to give a challenging assignment from the grade level above, my students give me an ear-to-ear smile and run back to their seats to conquer that task. They do this while dealing with a host of other issues ranging from homelessness and removal from a parent’s care to lack of glasses for severe cataracts.

Can you imagine what these students will accomplish if we teach them now to solve issues critical to their lives and our nation’s future? By supporting the transition and implementation of CCSS, we are also teaching them to succeed in a highly competitive global economy. These students will dig in and show the grit necessary to create positive change in their world and ours.

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And this means that we as educators have to have the same resolve. Rising to a higher standard is the right thing for kids and therefore the right thing for teachers. If we don’t, where is our grit? What kind of example are we setting for our students? Children love a challenge when supported successfully — whether it’s running the fastest lap around the playground or solving a math problem beyond their level. That’s grit. Let’s take a lesson from our kids and show some.

Colleen Considine is a first grade teacher in an inclusion classroom at the Lee Academy Pilot Elementary School in Dorchester and a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow.