In our post-pandemic and post-George Floyd world, I want my students to feel empowered and have agency. This is why, in my lessons with my 10th graders last semester, I focused on teaching self-determination and advocacy.
For every one of my students, these concepts mean something different. For Elisa, it is about being Latino and queer. For Joseph, it is reading more about Black leaders and what it means to learn from their community members. For Gabriel, it is considering his future as a doctor.
For me as their teacher — and, I believe, for other educators as well — the standards help me to practice the kind of teaching where I take my students’ experiences and learning strengths and turn them into assets within the classroom learning environment. This is where the California Standards for the Teaching Profession, or CSTP, come into play. The teaching standards are intended to provide a common language for new to veteran teachers’ professional responsibilities and roles in effective teaching.
They help California’s educators like me with a scaffold of guidelines for our development as we progress through our professional responsibilities, growing from teacher candidates into seasoned professionals. These teaching standards push us not to take baby steps but leap into action when it comes to equity and instructional practices that better support our students in today’s classrooms. School leaders and teacher mentors also use the teaching standards as a guideline for coaching new and veteran teachers to refine and develop their practice.
Last updated in 2009, the teaching standards now need to be refined to reflect the needs of California’s 2022 classrooms. The Commission on Teaching Credentials began the process of revising them for adoption in November 2019. An advisory board met throughout 2020 to review the standards and shared a draft with the commission for feedback. The standards are now awaiting commission approval. I couldn’t be more excited about this change.
One of the best things about the new teaching standards is that they’re actionable and can be used to actively build out new lessons. They are set up to equip educators with the tools and language to implement culturally sustaining instruction in our classrooms, regardless of the content. For example, in a recent lesson, my students researched leaders who pushed for action in their communities, thus simultaneously building their research skills and learning about new role models. This lesson illustrates two of the new standards’ innovations:
- A focus on helping students apply interdisciplinary knowledge and skills to identify and explore complex, authentic and relevant subject-matter issues and propose solutions.
- Planning instruction for student growth and achievement based on content-area knowledge, individual student performance data, linguistic strengths and needs, social-emotional and academic goals, diverse strengths, backgrounds, experiences, and the community context.
In my lesson, one of my students, Elisa, focused her research project on the activist and writer Audre Lorde. Not only did Elisa learn more about Lorde, but she is now reading Lorde’s “Sister Outsider” essays for her independent reading time.
I use the teaching standards as a guidepost to establish a culture where Elisa’s, Gabriel’s and all my students’ experiences are validated and valued, and where they feel safe and transparent around their strengths and areas of growth. From warm-up questions like “what vegetable would you like to be?” to their views on CNN’s recent news coverage, I want them to have their “sparks” ignited as we learn new skills.
Culturally responsive teaching requires me to see that all my students can learn, and to provide a space to grow and develop their connections between the classroom and the world outside its walls. We as teachers must be able to recognize our students’ assets and adapt our curriculum and classrooms so that they feel more empowered and determined.
But if there is to be a transformative change in how we support student learning, it is not enough for only a few individual teachers in our state to engage in these practices. Inclusivity and culturally relevant learning experiences should not be left to chance. There needs to be systemic change to reflect it, and the most recent teaching standards revisions are a good step forward in supporting and holding all teachers accountable.
Elisa, Joseph and Gabriel are in critical need of these experiences, and many teachers are striving to do this. I encourage the Commission on Teaching Credentialing to approve the revised teaching standards quickly and for all teachers to adopt them in order to provide an equitable educational experience for all students. All students deserve this if they are to meet the challenges and needs of the future, and all educators deserve the best preparation and guidelines in order to support them.
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