Telling Exactly What Teachers Should Do Is Demoralizing?

Sarah Brown Wessling is a high school teacher in Iowa. With the introduction of the Common Core in the United States K-12 curriculum, Wessling is one of the teachers who is grappling with the new standards. Her recent article in the Huffington Post, "Does the Common Core Demoralize Teachers?", summarizes some of the common criticisms against the Core:

  • Teachers already have too many things to worry about and no one will take something away to make room for these standards.
  • The standards were written by people who aren't in the classroom; they have no idea how difficult it is to get kids to participate in class, let alone join in on the intricate skills determined in the Core.
  • Fewer standards means narrowing the curriculum and forgetting about the whole student.
  • It will take away all of a teacher's creativity and ability to engage her students. It's trying to standardize teachers and take away autonomy.

Very reflective of her role as a teacher and her relationship with the students, Wessling is able to reach the conclusion that a Common Core is not the one that demoralizes a teacher. Rather, it is how the Core is implemented, how it is interpreted and put into action inside the classroom. With this realization, Wessling offers the following advice:
  • "Let go", This is in fact a gateway to learning once more, a renewal, a refocusing of one's efforts. 
  • "Less is more so go deep", The Common Core emphasizes not breadth but depth. 
  • "No degree of standardization will replace the teacher", A good teacher still delivers a prescribed curriculum with his/her own personal touch. It is the teacher's own understanding and impression of the subject matter that puts flavor in the lessons inside a classroom. A good curriculum does not really tell a teacher exactly what to do. It simply opens the door for an imaginative and innovative teacher.
Of course, Sarah Brown Wessling is not an ordinary teacher. 

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In her recommendation documents for the National Teacher Award, the following was mentioned:
Ms. Wessling provides unique and challenging assignments that help students develop both life skills and skills for success in advanced studies. For example, her AP English students go through an innovative exercise where they make grant requests to a fictitious "Society for the American Dream." The assignment requires the students to work together in teams, research real life situations, and develop carefully-written plans and budgets following the guidelines of the assignment. The students are required to present their proposals to a panel of professionals from the community. The panel provides feedback to the team and relays the decision on whether or not their project would be funded. The students are not graded on the funding decision, but are evaluated on their teamwork, analysis, preparation, written and visual documents, and oral presentations. All of these skills are critical as students leave high school and enter advanced education or the workforce. The exercise also draws upon the expertise of community members and builds a bridge between young people and adults in the local area.
This particular project has also been featured in the Teaching Channel: