2014 Mass Teacher of the Year Anne Marie Osheyack: "Keep speaking up"

2014 Teacher of the Year MTA President Paul Toner with 2014 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Anne Marie Osheyack

The following is the text of the speech delivered by 2014 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Anne Marie Osheyack at the MTA Annual Meeting of Delegates on May 10, 2014. 

Good morning. I thought I’d talk with you all a little bit about the common core. But I don’t want to talk about the ELA, or math, or science, or social studies standards. There is another common core that has been out for quite some time, and for some reason, it hasn’t made national news. I haven’t even come across it on Diane Ravitch’s blog, which is saying something. Perhaps that’s because it’s not in print, and the assessment takes a lifetime to complete. This common core is already in place in every school, in every city, and in every state. These aren't a set of standards, but a set of teachers.

For these teachers, there has always been a common set of standards that they've adhered to. They know the importance of close reading and analytical writing, and they also know the importance of smiling, singing, hugs, high-fives, and the daily, “Good morning Antonio, how are you today?” They are purposeful in their choice of literature, aware that the right book cannot only challenge a student but challenge a stereotype, and the lessons they teach not only cross disciplines but cross the thresholds of their schools and into their students’ homes and their lives.

These teachers know that connected learning doesn’t necessarily mean the use of technology. It means showing students that what they are learning inside the school also matters outside in the world. Not five years from now, but right now. I know, because I was lucky to have a few of them growing up in the New Bedford Public Schools.

When I was a ninth-grader, school was not my priority. My first priority was figuring out how to stop my mother from sobbing each night at the table, worrying how her waitressing job was going to pay the rent that kept rising. My first priority was finding the longest, slowest way home so that I could avoid a confrontation with my brother that would end up with him throwing knives at my door. My first priority was surviving, and unfortunately, Raising Yourself 101 was not currently being offered at my school. Since my mother had to work from 3 to 11, there was no adult at home to go to for advice, no adult to check homework, and no adult to ask, “How was your day?” But there were those New Bedford High School teachers. Mr. Pepin. Ms. Borden. They always had a smile, always had a room for me to work in after school, and they never, ever failed to ask how my day was going. This is the common core in action.

Teachers do this every day without any mandate or any extra funding. The stakes are so much higher than any exam that is in place right now. For the common core teachers, assessment goes beyond any curriculum standards. Common core teachers are assessing how close Marquis is to not coming to school altogether, or whether or not Elizabeth’s black eye was really due to a fall on the stairs, or something else that she’s not telling. Common core teachers know that a score on a test can’t talk. It won’t tell us the whole story. These teachers know that a student like Dennis who scores Needs Improvement, is only half right. Sure, he needs improvement in his writing. He also needs improvement with the safety in his neighborhood, his mother’s coverage in her health insurance, and the availability of grocery stores within walking distance of his home.

If you've been following the news lately, then you know that the Common Core has been under attack across our state and country. In my own hometown of New Bedford, test prep is triumphing over teaching, and scores are superseding the safety of staff and students. Scare tactics and bullying have even been used to try and disband the common core. Fortunately, the MTA and the unions realize how critical this core is for student success, so they have fought back against tyrannical superintendents and administrators. Quite frankly, more teachers should follow the lead of the NBEA and speak up and vote no confidence for these anti- common core activists.

So now when people talk to you about the Common Core, you have some extra information that you can give them. To my colleagues and former teachers in Northampton, Springfield and New Bedford, please know that the most important common core has always been and always will be you, the teachers. Keep fighting the bureaucracy, keep speaking up for teachers and for students. Continue to vote no confidence for ANY superintendent, school board, or policymaker that tells you that you are the problem instead of listening to you for the solutions. No amount of technology will ever replace you because our students need humanity more than they need technology. The true assessment of your work will not be a single score tied to an evaluation, but the future of our world in the years to come. I am very hopeful though, because from what the policymakers are saying, the common core is here to stay.