Why I Advocate: One Teacher's Fight to Keep Standards in Her Classroom

College & Career Readiness, Teachers & Principals | 05/15/2015

Meredith Starks
3rd Grade Teacher

Meredith Starks is a 3rd grade teacher in Bossier City, LA.

As I finish my twelfth year in the classroom, I am forced to look back and reflect on a year unlike any other. A year filled with many rewards and a year filled with many frustrations. For every gain we made in the classroom this year, the state, as a whole, took two steps back.

Teachers like me are clinging to the new standards with vigor, terrified that they will be taken away. I advocate for myself and teachers like me, who believe in their students enough to push them further, to question them deeper, and to support them more than ever before.

Over the course of this school year, I’ve seen my students develop into critical thinkers who loved reading and discussing texts to which they previously would never have been exposed. I saw them develop a love for learning through the use of connected texts that focused on a singular topic, like the Middle Ages or Cajun Folktales. My students, who could barely write a coherent sentence at the beginning of the year, can now write two- to three-paragraph essay responses to explain their understanding. My third graders can easily explain to anyone the importance of using evidence to support their opinions.

Since implementing the Common Core State Standards, I have seen students make connections between texts they read months apart, something I never saw when I taught from a textbook. I have seen my students make connections between themes and characters that I myself failed to see.

I advocate for myself and teachers like me, who believe in their students enough to push them further, to question them deeper, and to support them more than ever before.

This year, I have also seen my students develop a conceptual understanding of math that I have never seen in my twelve years in the classroom. I have heard my students refer to a difficult math skill as “easy,” even though in previous years I had struggled to teach it. I have been delighted when my students got excited about completing math “exit tickets” to prove their understanding of a concept. And I have been blanketed by the trust of my students’ parents who never once questioned this new and different way of teaching their children and embraced it as being what was best for their child.

But along with these triumphs in my classroom have come some tough times, as well. Every time I make a stand for quality for my students, I am forced to suit up, to put on my thick skin. I have been personally attacked by people in public forums for my role as an advocate, and I have been called names and had my contracts posted on social media. I have been threatened, bullied, and harassed for believing that Louisiana’s students deserve better. My teaching abilities have been criticized and questioned by an angry public who have never set foot in my classroom or any classroom for that matter. Many of my colleagues have also suffered this same abuse from a misinformed public. 

So why do I continue to advocate when it means putting up with this treatment?

  • I advocate for my own children, who deserve an education that will serve them well beyond the years they will spend in our small northern Louisiana community.
  • I advocate for my students, who deserve to show they are just as capable of being critical thinkers as any other student in this country.
  • I advocate for the thousands of teachers who have spent countless hours planning, writing, and creating high quality materials for students, only to be told their work might be in vain, due to the political whims of lawmakers who don’t have the best interests of my students in mind.
  • I advocate for those teachers who desire the freedom and creativity for which the standards allow.
  • I advocate for the parents who understand the need for higher standards because they want their children to have the same opportunities to get into good colleges as children from other states will have.
  • I advocate to inform the public that we need to build a generation of thinkers, not just memorizers.
  • I advocate so that textbook companies will start creating instructional materials that properly align with the standards, instead of the hastily published resources teachers are forced to teach from right now.
  • And finally, I advocate so our politicians know that our state can make this transition, but we need more time, and so they don’t vote to take us back ten years to standards that had Louisiana ranked 49th out of 50 states.

The Common Core State Standards have given me my love for teaching again. The standards have shown my students that learning can be fun and it doesn’t always have to come from a textbook. The standards have shown my students that learning can happen in and outside the classroom. I will continue my fight to keep these standards in Louisiana. I will continue to put on my armor every day and advocate for what I know is the positive change our students need.

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  • i agree with every single word!
    Buddy Willamson

    May 16, 2015 11:41 AM

  • Keep fighting for your students! If I lived in Louisiana and lived in your town you are exactly the teacher I would want my kids to have! When my kids were in elementary school they had great teachers also! You are making a differnce in your students academic life!
    pat bushman

    May 16, 2015 2:19 PM

  • Thanks for your hard work and courage standing up for kids
    Peter Cunningham

    May 17, 2015 4:27 PM

  • Just curious; but what were you teaching before and were your kids not learning? Can you explain the difference, please? Thank you.

    May 17, 2015 6:56 PM

  • Ms. Starks , with all due respect, what were you doing before the Common Core standards?
    Kim Fralick

    May 17, 2015 7:02 PM

  • Paid teacher leaders all feel like this. Glad CC will be gone
    Beth Gentry

    May 17, 2015 7:09 PM

  • I'm not a teacher leader, and I am for common core. I prefer critical thinkers any day to take care of my future.

    May 19, 2015 7:25 PM

  • Is this some kind of joke? Since when have "standards" done anything to improve teaching or learning? What did you do before common core? Did your students fail? Did you teach? I sure hope that in 12 years of teaching your only success isn't defined by these faulty misguided standards. That would be a shame.
    Steve Dufrene

    May 17, 2015 7:43 PM

  • I have enjoyed seeing my students dig into reading but I didn't need CCSS a to do it. I have a big problem with the requirements places on our students through CCSS.

    May 17, 2015 8:52 PM

  • Oh my well another one goes down the drain! These young teachers just were never educated properly on how to teach! They were given a script, a book of standards, and a stack of tests, all complete with instructions on how to administer. Can you say "no thought process" going on in that classroom? Maybe school children could learn critical thinking if they could actually see their teacher doing some critical thinking. Probably won't happen with the NEW Common Core Chip Implant teachers fresh out of Indoctrination University or fresh out of the fast track Teach For America vocational program.
    Ryan Cummings

    May 18, 2015 1:32 PM

  • I am a teacher at Stockwell Place Elementary School in Bossier City. We have always taught to higher standards at my school and have always had high expectations for our students. We don't use textbooks all the time nor do we need Common Core to do this. Common Core has not made us teach this way. The great students we teach and the parents who expect the best have made us this way at Stockwell. High expectations and teaching to higher standards has been the norm at Stockwell since the school was built.
    Kathy Bailey

    May 25, 2015 3:14 PM