September 2, 2015

Teachers Talk Back: Debbie Siriwardene

Debbie Siriwardene is in nineteenth year of teaching and is currently teaching fifth grade at Leland Elementary.

In this conversation with E4E-Los Angeles Outreach Director Claire Blide, Debbie shares why she is passionate about the Common Core and what her experience was like on the 2015 E4E-Los Angeles Teacher Policy Team on Common Core Implementation.

This interview has been condensed and edited with the interviewee’s approval.

Claire Blide (CB): Why did you become a teacher?

Debbie Siriwardene (DS): I became a teacher because I enjoy learning and helping others. My earliest memories include playing school with my grandmother–she was the student and I was the teacher. The excitement I see in my students as they grasp a new concept is very motivating and keeps me going even during those tough days.

CB: Why are you passionate about the Common Core State Standards?

DS: I think that, for a long time, education has been a lot of teaching to the test rather than teaching students to think, analyze and reason. I think the shift to CCSS is less about new standards and more about going deeper on the standards we know are most important. We are now focusing on skills that will carry over into every subject. If I teach you how to reason, you can reason in English, social studies, and math.

CB: What was the Teacher Policy Team experience like for you?

DS: I would go to school on Fridays feeling really empowered after our Thursday night sessions. My voice is being heard in key decisions and it made me really passionate about sharing my voice in other policy arenas.

CB: How has Common Core impacted your classroom?

DS: My kids know that when I ask a question, my follow up question will always be, “What’s your evidence?” Right around Spring Break, I had a student say, “This is my answer, and before you ask Ms. S, here is my evidence.” My students can point to the paragraph with their evidence. I feel like I’m finally teaching my kids to think. It is not that they weren’t thinking before, but I’m teaching them to think deeper, it’s no longer a surface level thing.

CB: How do you hope your recommendations will inform the future of CCSS implementation?

I hope they will allow teachers to do what they do best: teach. I bring a lot of my passions into the classroom. I am a theater geek and I bring that into my classroom. I make up songs for my students. You can learn things quickly through music. We were doing number lines and I was doing Beyonce’s “To the right to the right,” on the number line.

CB: Why did you join E4E?

DS: I joined E4E because I want to be a part of the change! Education is continually changing— we are embarking on a huge change with Common Core. I believe that teachers need to have their voices heard when policies and systems are considered that impact their practice.