Because I was also drawn to this article, I’d like to further the discussion and point out a few connections that I made while reading. It seems that not only is Dan Brown’s story a heartwarming narration about life as a teacher (that reminds us all of our own experiences with great teachers), but it also provides us with a unique opportunity to view the Common Core that we have been discussing in class through a more personal lens. A lens that will perhaps allow us to view the curriculum not as a set of standards designed simply for results, but as a rulebook or guide that can help “build” a great teacher – just as Brown suggests.
No one can deny that the text of the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts and Literacy feels more or less dry and even sterile at times. At certain points it feels as though these standards bind and restrict educators simply for the sake of results (results that may also seem unattainable in certain circumstances); but when approached from the angle of personal experience, as in Brown’s article, there are direct connections to be made between these standards and the elements and qualities that make a great teacher, which reminds us that these standards are not constructed to restrict teachers, they are, in my opinion, designed to promote the growth and success of both student and teacher.
Take for example Brown’s first point about what makes a great teacher: supportive faculty and perhaps more importantly – a great principal. This reflects the sentiments stated within the “Key Design Considerations for the Standards” within the introduction of the Common Core, which states: “The standards insist that instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language be a shared responsibility within the school.” This is demanded to be a “shared responsibility” not only for the sake of results but because learning environments are more successful when everyone works together. It is not simply about splitting a daunting workload, making sure that each teacher carries a fair share; no, I believe that this point works in conjunction with what Brown reports and helps build a supportive environment, which will then assist in shaping great teachers.
Continuing on the notion of support, the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts and Literacy clearly states in Guiding Principle 10: “An effective language arts and literacy curriculum reaches out to families and communities in order to sustain a literate society.” This point directly connects with Brown’s second point, which also highlights strong connections with families and communities. Yes, the standards set out in the curriculum recommend that teachers engage and involve the community for the sake of producing a literate, and therefore successful society, but when we look at this from Brown’s perspective we know that by building relationships outside as well as inside the school structure, teachers are more likely to succeed. In this way, this objective benefits everyone. Which I believe is what we’ll find if we continue to read the curriculum with Brown’s perspective in mind. Yes, these are created and defined to achieve specific results, but they are not rules simply for student success – these guidelines can also be looked at as rules to help build a great teacher.
In addition to these connections, I also found Brown’s article connected well with another piece I was able to locate through the NCTE website titled “Supporting Beginning English Teachers: Research and Implications for Teacher Induction,” which asks the question: “Why do some early-career English teachers leave the profession while others stay?” Unfortunately, I was not able to gain full access to this particular article, but I believe that Brown’s personal illustration of his time as a teacher sheds light on certain aspects that help answer this question as well. Perhaps early-career English teachers lack the support system that Brown describes during his first point or they are not able to build relationships outside of the classroom with families and the community, as Brown suggests in point two. Both articles investigate what it means to be a great teacher by looking at personal experience, which I believe will be useful as we continue to analyze the standards laid out in the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts and Literacy. These articles have (for me, at least) provided a means of understanding the curriculum in a way that makes it more personal and in a way that highlights the growth and success of both students and teachers.
– Abby Thibodeau