Monday, October 12, 2015

Guest Post: The Way We Used To Teach Math Isn’t Cutting It Anymore

Today, Joe Payne, a teacher at James Lane Allen Elementary and a  Kentucky Hope Street Teaching Fellow, shares his take on Kentucky's standards and effective learning: 

Early in my teaching career, when asked what I do, the response to me being a teacher typically included, “That is so admirable,” “My ____ is a teacher and he/she loves it,” or “You must be crazy!” In the past two years, almost without fail, the response of non-educators almost always includes two words, “Common Core.” Having spent a significant amount of time exploring and implementing the standards, and immediately recognizing the positive impact on the students, those comments initially frustrated me.

After seeing the impact the Standards have had on my students’ conceptual understanding of mathematics, I now embrace those moments with citizens as an opportunity to share my first-hand experiences in the classroom and dispel the misconceptions around teaching and learning in Kentucky.

Just days ago, while on a field trip, our fifth grade was taking a tour of a famous Kentucky landmark when our tour guide pulled me aside. “I don’t know how anyone can be a teacher anymore. I hate that Common Core stuff. That stuff is crazy. I try to help my granddaughter in third grade with her math, and I don’t understand any of it. What a waste of time!”

While comments like these are not atypical, the setting and timing most certainly was. Knowing my time to respond was limited, I simply said, “I love the Standards, and I assure you, if they are being taught correctly, your granddaughter will have a much deeper conceptual understanding of math at a young age. In order for our students to be prepared for jobs that don’t exist yet, they have to learn to think deeply and critically.”

“Wow. You are really passionate about this aren’t you?”

I smiled, “Yes, ma’am, I am.”

She smiled back, “I haven’t ever really talked to a teacher about it. Maybe I need to give it another chance.”

Misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Standards are running rampant across the country. Common Core and standardized testing are almost always coupled together in the same breath. Examples of math problems are shown without context. Anytime there is a fundamental shift in thinking, there is going to be a level of discomfort. The fact of the matter is, the way we have been teaching math isn’t cutting it anymore.

My greatest takeaways from interacting with citizens around education issues are that:

1) With snap judgments being made on claims from media outlets, social media posts, and informal conversation, with little to no context, policy implementation of the standards is being greatly misinterpreted and misunderstood, and

2) Those of us in the education field need to share our classroom experiences with the standards with the public, shifting the focus back on the students and their learning.

Do educators need to continue to improve our practice and collaboration with parents to increase their understanding?


Do teachers need to engage in thorough high-quality professional development, so they are better prepared to teach the standards?


Will there be a steep learning curve before the Common Core standards are widely accepted by the public?


But should we get rid of the Standards because they do not mirror the way we used to teach or how we taught when we were in school?

Absolutely not!

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