Friday, June 17, 2011

How much ground can I cover?

Last week I shared this visual metaphor for end-of-the-year teaching and asked, "Do you see what I see?" Three commenters (Sandi, Erin, and Manzo) answered the challenge and each presented a plausible vision of how the picture reflects what might be happening in classrooms as the school year ends. It was not my intent to disparage the adult peddling the bike or teachers facing the final days of school. As I said, a snapshot in time requires context in order to develop a complete picture of what is happening - whether it is a bike trip around the lake or a mathematics lesson. Therefore, I want to focus on how the scene reminded me of my own experience as a novice teacher.

My second year of teaching was my worst year in the classroom. The previous year I had been hired just three days before school started, and I felt like I was always trying to catch up. I vowed that I would never be that unprepared again and spent the summer planning my lessons for the coming year. 

I was assigned an eighth-grade general math class and an algebra class. The eighth-grade class was easy since it was the class I taught my first year. The algebra class was a new prep and I spent most of my time planning those lessons. By the time school started, I could have told you exactly what I was teaching on any day during the year. For example, on October 16th I would teach decimal division in the general math class and coin mixture problems in algebra.

School began and I put my plans into action. Pretty soon, it became obvious that the eighth-graders did not appreciate all the work I had put into planning my lessons. This was especially true of the algebra students who were accustomed to being successful in math. No matter - if I was going to cover all the material in the textbook, I needed to stick to my schedule. And so I did.

As I taught the last few lessons of the year, a few things became very clear. First, I had followed my plans and covered all the content presented in the textbook. Second, I had lost nearly all the algebra students around February. Their scores on the cumulative final were abysmal and there were a lot of angry parents. Finally, I understood that it would be a long time until the principal would ask me to teach the algebra class again - even though I had learned my lesson.

In an effort to cover content I had ignored learning. I had ignored assessments. And I had ignored common sense. A truer picture would show the entire class being dragged behind me as I struggled to finish the textbook by the last day.
I am not suggesting that teachers should not make learning plans during the summer. Only that we recognize that they are plans and not scripts. So plan away but remember they will need adjusting based on your learners. And also make time to recreate this summer. A bike ride might be nice.

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