keyboard_arrow_left Back

Finding the Joy in Rigor

By Rachel Stack

Rachel Stack is the Director of Humanities at Great Minds, where she leads the team of excellent teacher-writers who created the English Language Arts curriculum Wit & Wisdom. Rachel began her career teaching 3rd and 8th grade in New York City, then taught World and American Literature at a high school in Pittsburgh. In this blog, she shares how one school’s teachers and students find joy in hard work and rigor.

Rachel Stack, Director of Humanities at Great Minds

This holiday season, my thoughts are in Paris.

Not Paris, France. Paris, Kentucky, where teachers are now hard at work on their second year implementing Wit & Wisdom.

As we come upon a time of rest and reflection, my thoughts are with the students and teachers of Paris Elementary not only because of their hard work this school year, but also because of the joy the students and teachers find in that work.

The Joy of Hard Work

The tireless efforts of Paris teachers, leaders, and students are not unique. In my opinion, teachers and school leaders are the hardest-working people in the country. What makes Paris Elementary educators special, however, is their commitment to curricula that push their students to the highest standards and hold their teachers accountable to study and to hone their practice. Teachers and students alike feel challenged by their curricula every day. I know this because Paris Elementary has been implementing Great Minds’ Eureka Math and Wit & Wisdom — two rigorous curricula that this Kentucky community has come to view as valued resources created by trusted colleagues.

I have worked with Paris Elementary School for more than a year now. In my role at Great Minds, I have the honor of leading the teacher-writers who created Wit & Wisdom, helping them respond to feedback from early adopters like Paris, and supporting the educators who implement Wit & Wisdom every day. The first time I visited Paris Elementary, the community was about two months into implementing Eureka and piloting the first version of Wit & Wisdom. Studying these two unfamiliar, demanding curricula, the teachers often felt like they were back in college, taking their curriculum books home each night to study lessons before teaching them. They persevered, inspired by their students’ growth and excitement.

A Year in Review

During my first visit, the Special Education coordinator shared that one of her students said, “I’ve done more in two months than I’ve done in two years!” She told me that rather than shying away from hard work, her students were overjoyed at the way the curriculum pushed their thinking. Similarly, a fifth-grade teacher told me that she could not keep enough books on Shakespeare in the classroom. Her students were obsessed with Elizabethan England as a result of one of the pilot modules they were testing, focused on The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood.

Since that first visit, the teachers and students continue to be challenged, and to enthusiastically engage with that challenge. They are honest that Eureka and Wit & Wisdom are not easy. But the reward is that students and teachers alike are finding joy in rigor. The teachers tell me, “the books really get the students engaged in rich, high-level text” and “it helps build their stamina.”

Their commitment calls to mind one of my favorite poems, by Marge Piercy:

The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

As this year comes to a close, all of us at Great Minds wish all of you the joy of work that challenges you, of work that is worth doing well. We wish you the joy of work that is real.

Marge Piercy, “To be of use” from Circles on the Water. Copyright © 1982 by Marge Piercy.