Let’s Hear it for New York State’s 2013 Teacher of the Year

Greg Ahlquist is New York State’s Teacher of the year, 2013.  Let’s have a big round of applause! This man must really be special.  His teaching methods must be unique and innovative.  He must be incredibly creative in the classroom.  He must be a one-of-a-kind hero.  Surely, inspiring his students must come naturally.  Certainly, his methods are his own, and other teachers can only aspire to be as effective as he must be.

In Ahlquist’s essay, How Greg Got HIs Groove Back, we get a formulaic and artificial sense of modesty as he describes how the Common Core State Standards revolutionized his teaching practices.  The Common Core encourages an emphasis on a close reading of the texts to gain a deeper understanding–or an ‘unpacking’ of the texts as Common Core junkies too often state.

If we do a close reading of Greg Ahlquist’s essay we can unpack his text and dig deeply to discover the true meaning and a deep understanding of what this is really all about– that this man is a true ass-kisser.  ‘College and career readiness’ is a phrase thrown around in any Common Core propaganda you’ll read and Ahlquist’s essay is no different in this false reassurance.  He goes on to declare, “Standing at the intersection of these two storylines is David Coleman, one of the architects of the Common Core and newly appointed president of the College Board.  In a video on the EngageNY website (http://goo.gl/Zf5lm), you can see him suggest ways to teach the Gettysburg Address. After viewing this video and seeing one of my administrators brilliantly model Coleman’s suggestions in a close reading of that text, I realized that Coleman understands teaching and learning profoundly. His lesson on the Gettysburg Address provided me with the kind of hope and reassurance that many teachers need as we seek better ways to prepare our students to think critically and become engaged citizens.”

As I give Ahlquist’s proclamation a close read, I naturally long for a text-based question which would obviously come in the form of a multiple-choice high-stakes test.  I’m sure the answer would be (C) as in, Oh oh, pick me pick me, I love Common Core!

You see, Ahlquist is a CC man and although he has loads of praise for the Common Core State Standards, the type of CC to which I am referring is actually Carbon Copy.  Whereas Ahlquist sees the Common Core as “a way out of that professional crisis of conscience,” most teachers out there are being confronted with one as their freedom to teach creatively and independently is being stripped away.  More and more teachers in the profession are expected to mirror one another in what and how they teach.  Unique approaches are replaced with a ‘yes-men’ mentality and this goes against most teachers’ moral consciences.  Too much standardization will most definitely create more and more carbon copies–in our teachers and our students.

When one declares that it’s a good thing to read texts with more depth and gain a true understanding, I do not disagree.  And everybody wants high standards (as long as they are realistic and developmentally appropriate).  Most teachers are adept enough at realizing this and don’t need standardization to let them in on this little secret.  But, what bothers me most about those gushing mindless praise for the Common Core is that for these particular teachers, it’s like meaningful teaching never occurred to them before the Common Core told them how to do it!  Ahlquist states, “my classes revolved around facts and minutia, rather than around my craft as a historian. There was a disconnect between my sincere desire to prepare my high school students for college and the actual work they did in my class.”

Good teachers, which there are many, are belittled and patronized by such standardization that is largely created and peddled by non-educators.  And teachers like Greg Ahlquist only corroborate the myth that teachers were randomly successful at their jobs and needed someone to step in and solve the problem.

So if you too want to “discover content and meaning that a casual reader can easily miss,” dig deep…. wait never mind, fall in line and do as you’re told.  Then you too might have a chance at being named next year’s Teacher of the Year.

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3 thoughts on “Let’s Hear it for New York State’s 2013 Teacher of the Year

  1. This is from my 16 year old son:

    I am a 10th grade AP Global History student of Mr. Ahlquist’s this year so I know his creative teaching methods first-hand.
    Mr. Ahlquist has been a continuous inspiration to me this year and I understand why he was named NYS Teacher of the Year. He has a passion for teaching and history that is contagious to his students. His class is the most difficult class I have this year but yet it is also the one I most look forward to. He has a very long list of unique and innovative acronyms, drawings, and songs to help us remember the material. While I know very little about the Common Core, I highly doubt those acronyms, drawings, and songs are part of it. I’m confident that Mr. Ahlquist creatively came up with these on his own. He expects a lot from his students but makes it possible for us to meet those expectations through in-class learning and homework assignments. His teaching style involves a lot of student interaction which further engages students in the subject matter. I think it is unfair for people who have never witnessed his teaching to judge him based on an article that was edited and changed after he wrote it.
    In conclusion, Mr. Ahlquist is one of the best and favorite teachers I have ever had. Due to his preparation and support, I am confident in my ability to do well on the AP Exam, which I will take tomorrow. He is an inspiration to his students and the only thing he has received that he doesn’t deserve is the unjust criticism from uninformed people.

    • I’m very glad to hear that his methods are indeed creative and that you are inspired. I am glad to hear your first-hand knowledge of why he deserved to be named Teacher of the Year, rather than the mostly pandering towards the powers that be in Mr. Ahlquist’s essay. I would have appreciated hearing from him about his unique acronyms, drawings, and songs rather than him seeming to attribute his success to the Common Core.

      Please understand that my post was not a personal attack on Mr. Ahlquist. I don’t know him and am not calling him a bad teacher. But as Mr. Ahlquist spent most of his essay describing what the Common Core allows him to do (namely a close reading of texts, text-based questions, etc.), my post was a parody of those concepts. You see, with the Common Core one must answer questions or come to conclusions based solely on the text. One is not allowed to draw conclusions based on extrinsic experiences or from other sources. And as Mr. Ahlquist seemed to be shining someone else’s shoes in his essay, hence my criticism.

      The real thing about the Common Core is that it has nothing to do with standards or methods. And the debate remains simplistic if we simply argue who likes it and who doesn’t. There are so many more negative things tied to it that just make it bad bad bad in my book. The corporate interests, the Gates funding, the testing, the mandates, teacher evals., developmentally inappropriate materials, that they’re created by non-educators, that local control is totally lost–these are the things that get people like me upset when all we hear is how CC will revolutionize teaching. And if you align yourself with the good of the CC, but fail to acknowledge the many evils associated with it, you might be criticized.

      If his article was changed, that is unfortunate. I would love to read the original then.

      Again, I am very pleased to hear how Mr. Ahlquist inspires you and I hope that his course was a truly enriching and engaging experience. But you end your comment saying that because of his teachings, you feel prepared for the test. I’m not saying that the course was test-prep based geared only to create students adept at passing the test, but with the Common Core that is a very real possibility. I’m not sure what the test is like that you are taking, but many of these tests are high-stakes tests, where teachers are judged based on their students performance. This inevitably leads to a teach-to-the-test mentality. Again, not saying Mr. Ahlquist did that, but everyone who praises the Common Core has a responsibility to acknowledge some of these unintended consequences.

      In an educational environment when most teachers feel beaten down by current education reforms, it is difficult to accept Mr. Ahlquist’s gushing praise of Commissioner King and his policies without becoming cynical.

      • If his words were altered/edited, as his student suggests, he should speak up. As referenced here, he should get paid for his endorsement of the Common Core. And that is a sickening thought.

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