TN Teacher Voices: New Education Standards Empower Tennessee Kids

Today marks the first day of a new project I’m working on – the promotion of teacher voices not just here in Memphis, but across Tennessee. As always, I’m searching for teacher voice stories that are positive and solutions-oriented. I’ll be posting these stories as they appear, which will become the permanent sidebar on the left side of the home-page. Please feel free to submit your own stories as long as they meet our criteria for submission.

I’m starting off by featuring a piece I had featured in the Commercial Appeal on Sunday, but I have several more from Teachers around the state waiting in the pipeline. We’re very excited to bring more of Tennessee’s teacher voice stories to our readers, and please send anything you think would be a good fit for the site our way at [email protected].

This story appeared in the Commercial Appeal on Sunday, December 14th 2014:

“Mr. Alfuth, why do we always move so fast?” It was my first year teaching geometry and I heard this question all the time from my kids. To be honest, I couldn’t really blame them. In 2011, geometry in Tennessee included so many concepts that only loosely fit together that I ended up rushing through everything and diving deeply into nothing. Not an ideal situation for a teacher or students.

Fast forward three years and the atmosphere in my class has changed completely. I now have the time to delve deeply into my content. We complete extensive projects and exploratory activities to build students’ understanding of geometry. I see enthusiasm and joy from my students. And I never hear the question “Why do we always move so fast?”

What changed between then and now? Many things, including that I became a better teacher. But I also attribute a significant portion of this transformation to Tennessee’s adoption of new state standards for mathematics.

I support these standards because I’ve experienced firsthand how they’ve liberated me in my own classroom. That’s why I urge our state legislators to keep our new state standards — because I’ve seen them work in three key ways.

First, the new Tennessee state standards streamline the sequence of math teaching from grade to grade. They remove overlapping standards from each grade level and refocus the entire mathematics progression so that each year builds on the next.

Put simply, sticking with the new standards means that teachers won’t have to continue reteaching the same concepts year after year. This has impacted my classroom by taking away the requirement that I teach standards that have already been or will be covered in other grades.

This leads into the second reason that I support the new Tennessee state standards, which is that they reduce the number of standards that I have to teach. The old standards contained over 100 geometry learning objectives to cover in a year. Under the new standards I’m down to 40. This makes a real difference in the classroom. Where we once had to rush through the content, now we can take the time to dive deeply into a smaller set of objectives and get to know them in a more meaningful way.

Third, this freedom enables me to select the most appropriate method to communicate these standards to my students. The new standards don’t tell me how to teach. Far from it, they empower me to select the most appropriate method for each student and each class, which allows me to be a facilitator of discovery rather than a simple conduit of knowledge. Now we are able to take large portions of the class to have students do high-level tasks that ask them to discover the concepts themselves.

These standards do represent a mindset shift for how we teach mathematics, but in my experience it’s one that’s worth having. That’s why I support sticking with the new Tennessee state standards — because I’ve experienced firsthand that they empower my kids to engage more deeply with my content area. For this reason, I urge our legislature to keep the new standards. Our children’s futures depend on it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

six + 3 =