Apis mellifra, commonly known as the honeybee, plays an integral role in agriculture. I remember sitting in Ms. Falls’s AP Environmental Science class as she explained that species that disproportionately affect the maintenance of an ecosystem are called keystone species. She sat on the paper-strewn table in the front of the room, notes in hand though she didn’t need to look at them. Her eyes met the gaze of her students’ as she continued to describe that the bee population was declining at an alarming rate. Humans rarely realize that without the honeybee this process would be dramatically altered, so much so that Albert Einstein stated, “If the honeybee goes extinct, we have four more years on earth.”
Though Ms. Falls realized the significance of honeybees, she didn’t realize how similar she was to these tiny creatures. Much like Mother Nature depends on these tiny, often overlooked insects American society often neglects to see one of her keystone species – the teacher. The teacher population was once abundant, providing each child with the nourishment of knowledge. They planted millions of seeds that have gone on to blossom into thriving doctors, lawyers, mothers and fathers, advocates, business people and dream chasers. No doubt each person has come in contact with a teacher and benefitted from a lesson that he or she taught them. Who is responsible for our ability to figure out to double the cups of flour we need to make twenty-four cupcakes for a birthday party instead of making the recipe for twelve twice? Who is responsible for our ability to read the “Do not enter” and “Speed Limit 55, men at work” signs on the highway? Likely either a teacher that you have had or a person who learned these skills from a teacher.
While the teacher once thrived, free to decide which lessons were most important to teach students based on their individual needs, this environment has recently been constrained. North Carolina (along with all other states that wished to receive federal funding) adapted Common Core Curriculum Standards (CCCS) in 2010. Common Core claims that they “do not exclude any requirements for teaching methods,” that they are “compatible with play-based programs,” and that they “specifically endorse differentiation and attention to students’ individual needs.” (see whole article here)
While Common Core does not directly exclude various teaching methods or require all students to learn at the same rate, many teachers with whom I’ve talked to share Jane Grey’s, a kindergarten teacher of twenty-five years, thoughts that “there is way too much curriculum for Kindergarten that is not age or developmentally appropriate.” In order to accomplish the CCCS demands, which are outlined in the sixty-page long “Quick Reference Guide for the North Carolina Standard Course of Study” manual (link here), students must maintain a pace that does not allot time for customization or experience-based learning. No longer able to wander about in the realm of outside-the-box lesson plans, the teacher is confined to a strict list of topics, set by a governing body with little to no interaction with students. While some teachers, like second-grade teacher Mary Mackenzie, “understand where they’re coming from,” the larger issue is “they don’t realize how much we do in a day. We don’t have time to add teaching cursive (a new demand in the 2016-2017 school year) to our writing lessons, but we have to do it.”
It’s not just cursive that the mother of two must find time for. The district demands that detailed progress reports are written quarterly for all elementary students; reports for students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) must have receive them every ten days and those who are below proficiency, every twenty days. The time that Mary normally uses to enjoy time with kids or eat lunch (teachers do not receive lunch breaks), like time in the media center or recess, must be utilized to complete these additional tasks.
Kulkarni, Silas and David Liben. What Do the Common Core State Standard for ELA/Literacy Say About Kindergarten?: Myths vs. Facts. Student Achievement Partners. Accessed December 14th, 2016. Available from: http://achievethecore.org/content/upload/What%20Do%20the%20Common%20Core%20State%20Standards%20for%20ELALiteracy%20Say%20About%20Kindergarten%20Myth-Fact%20Document.pdf
State Board of Education. “Quick Reference Guide for the North Carolina Standard Course of Study: Grade K.” Public School of North Carolina, State Board of Education, Department of Public Instruction, 2012. Accessed December 14, 2016. Available from: http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/docs/curriculum/links/reference-guides/gradek.pdf