Thursday, March 23, 2017

Stop the Assembly Line

The title of this post refers to a conversation I recently had with a new teacher and his disappointment that his mentor teacher did not "gift" him his lesson plans upon completion of his clinical teaching practice.

"But another guy in my class had his mentor teacher give him 40 gigs of lesson materials! 40 GB!"

That's a really great gesture. And I totally get wanting to set up a new teacher with that kind of support to make them successful. But that's so bad for students. And the teacher. It's bad for our profession.

Here's why:

1. You have no clue what grade level you will be teaching. Let's say you are certified 6-12 as a social studies teacher (most states give their certifications in this way). That means that there are a total of 7 grade levels that you could potentially be teaching. Since your mentor gave you buckets of lessons, you didn't prepare for your new gig adequately. Now it's the first day of school and your room looks great, but you have no idea what you are teaching!

2. You have no clue what classes you will be teaching. Let's use social studies again -- You might be teaching US history, Geography, and Civics. What if you are teaching world history? What about another elective like psychology, law, sociology, philosophy, comparative government, religion, etc.? This isn't unique. Your certification entitles you to teach in that content, but within our content we see increasing diversity year by year in course offerings. This doesn't even scratch the surface of interventions or remedial classes or units you might get thrown into.

3. You have no idea what the academic level of your students will be. Let's say your friend with the 40 GB of lessons student taught an AP class at a suburban high school. Those lessons will be basically worthless if he/she is teaching a lower level class in a Title I school. Lessons should be created to match the needs of the students. There is no magic lesson plan that could be given to any student.

4. You have no idea of the cultural background of your future students. A lesson created for a wealthy, majority white suburb will crash and burn in a lower income, majority-minority school. As I said above, there is no magic lesson that can be given to every single student. The magic comes from you building relationships with students, getting to know about them and their culture, and then shaping your lessons to match their academic and cultural background.

So stop the assembly line. There's a feeling among some teachers that once you teach for a couple of years, you have done all the prep work for the entirety of your career. That you can take any student that comes into your classroom and slap your content on them as if they rode through your room on a conveyor belt. And then your job is done.

This in practice is terrible for students, but it's also poison for a teacher's mindset. If you truly believe that you can get to a place in your education career where you no longer have to design learning experiences based on the unique qualities of the learners in your classroom, you are mistaken.

We all have to be reflective and mindful of our students and our relationships with them. We must value professional development and seek to make our practice in the classroom better every day. We must be connected and collaborative with colleagues in ways that challenge us and support us to be better, but don't simply provide with a "magic pill" to fix our teachers.

If you want to be proactive and prepared for your first years, your best bet of finding a stash of lessons will be when you get hired at your first position. Ask your department head and the other members of your content team for access to their lessons (or in most cases, Google Drive folder). I'm sure they'll be more than willing to share. However, you will still have to modify their lessons to reflect your teaching philosophy and your students background. What if the lessons you get are all lecture-based and you like to incorporate student movement or Socratic seminars? What if the lessons you get are for AP but you're teaching on level? What if you like to have students write using a certain strategy or format but the lessons you were given are the complete opposite? For me, I'd rather just put in the extra time to make the lessons (or piece them together from other lessons I find) than use someone else's lessons.

When it all boils down to it, like it nor not, the best lessons are the ones that start between your ears. Now ditch that assembly line and become the artisan your students deserve.

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