Going the Distance

Going the Distance

When my nine-year-old son recently ran his first cross-country race, he joined a long line of long-distance runners. My entire family is obsessed with running—from my sister, who coaches a high school cross-country team, to my niece, who is a state champion long-distance runner. I’ve run my fair share of 5Ks and even trained for and completed a half-marathon! I guess you could say running just runs in our family.

My family also is full of teachers. My mother is a teacher, my sister and I used to teach in neighboring classrooms at Volcano Vista High School, and my son just finished the third-grade with my cousin as his teacher. We even have a few college instructors among us!

In a way, it isn’t surprising that our family is passionate for both long-distance running and education. Jogging thirteen miles and teaching a classroom of kids are similarly exhausting—but rewarding—activities. Both often involve waking up way too early in the morning. Both require a huge time commitment and determination in the face of discouragement. And both revolve around aiming high and working toward a distant goal: either making it to the finish line or helping students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and beyond.

But while a half-marathon has always been 13.1 miles, the definition of success for our students today is markedly different than it was when I was in school years ago. To be a smart citizen, consumer, and competitive in the workforce in 2017, you have to be able to think critically, understand other perspectives, and clearly explain your own ideas. The bar is higher now, and the race to reach it is more fast-paced and competitive than ever. As a teacher, I know we need to help students today be prepared for that race by challenging them to meet higher academic standards.

Higher expectations for students translate into different expectations for teachers, too. This notion fuels my work with the Secretary’s Teacher Advisory, a committee of teachers from around the state who have the ear of Acting Secretary of Education Christopher Ruszkowski on topics like school grades, standardized testing, and NMTEACH summative reports. There is no question that this is hard work and we certainly don’t agree on everything. As a group of dedicated teachers, we are focused on equipping and empowering teachers in order to, in turn, do the same for our students. We believe that when teachers reflect on how they teach and shift their practice to better support their students in meeting the standards, students will be more likely to succeed.

And the good news this is exactly what’s happening: New Mexico students are making gains and increasingly meeting the higher expectations that we’ve set for them with the New Mexico Common Core State Standards.

Despite this fantastic progress, we still have a long way to go. Only 19.7 percent of New Mexico students are proficient in math, and about 28.6 percent are proficient in reading. If we want more of our students to reach the finish line of graduating high school ready for college and careers, then we need to stay the course with our high standards and aligned assessments. We also need to ensure that teachers get feedback and support to help their students meet the standards. We’re on the right track here in New Mexico, and with some perseverance and renewed energy, we can truly help our young people go the distance.

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