February 21, 2016

Teachers Talk Back: Jerald Amaya

Jerald Amaya teaches English at the Huntington Park Institute of Applied Medicine on the Linda Esperanza Marquez High School campus in Los Angeles, California. In this conversation with E4E-Los Angeles Senior Outreach Director Danielle DeSantis, Jerald shares his experience as a co-author of “One School of Thought: Moving Toward the Common Core,” a set of teacher-generated recommendations on the Common Core transition and implementation.

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

Danielle DeSantis: What did you learn through the policy team process?

Jerald Amaya: It’s not new thinking, but the process reinforced what I knew about the problems I face in the classroom: they are different facets of the problems of the education system itself. It exposed me to the idea I need to think of all partners in education – admin, community and teachers – and this expanded the breadth of what I do and think about to include the union, district and state and the role policy plays in all of those arenas.

DD: Why is it important to incorporate teacher voice in the rollout of Common Core?

JA: We’re the frontline soldiers. I think it is important that the people doing the work in the trenches be heard and have a say in how the work is done. We’re trained experts, so we should have a voice because we, ultimately, are in charge of implementation. It’s also easier to build buy-in when the process is organic instead of mandated top-down. I think it is important for teachers to be able to say what’s working well, what’s not working and what we can be doing better.

DD: Tell us more about your research and the recommendation you focused on.

JA: My research focused on garnering input from my colleagues, as well as my own experience. The recommendation I focused on was to develop teacher leaders to lead PD and other trainings and be a resource to teachers implementing CCSS. Further, we need to have substantial training for those teacher leaders, so they can, in turn, provide training to their colleagues

DD: What is your vision for the recommendations now?

JA: My vision is that we mobilize to spread awareness of the recommendations to see them put into action at each level — in schools, districts, unions and the state. Each recommendation stands on its own but is also tied into the web of all the others. Ultimately, to see all of the recommendations taken into consideration holistically would make the job of education that much easier. We have to implement them in real life, not just on paper or in theory. 

DD: How has the policy team experience impacted you?

JA: It raised my awareness level as to how my activism in the realm of CCSS was progressing and changed my point of view, not 180 degrees, but to a broader vision for the CCSS. I still think the way CCSS rolled out was poorly executed, but it can still be repaired if we implement our recommendations.

DD: How will your recommendation positively impact student achievement?

JA: I think that CCSS overall is designed with that intention – to improve student achievement – so proper implementation would accomplish this goal. Giving some control to teachers and giving a voice to the teachers will have a couple effects, but the best and biggest is that the teachers will be enthused and invested in the transition. That is what is going to boost student achievement – we’ll have the resources, support and time we need to actually do this right. I don’t think CCSS is the magic bullet, but it is a step in the right direction to have teachers in the decision-making process to help what is ailing education right now.