Self-centered can be Student-centered

What bothers me most about the current push toward standardized instruction and scripted curricula is that it treats teachers like interchangeable widgets that can be plugged into any system to yield the same results.  It’s not just that it minimizes the importance of teaching experience and mastery.  It is creating a system in which the unique qualities of an educator (e.g., teaching style, sense of humor, life experiences) are more than undervalued–they are discouraged.

The ideal classroom in this new vision of instruction would contain 40+ students seated silently absorbing knowledge from the white, female, middle-class “source” (variations in skin color, gender, or values are just a distraction) at the front of the room, who delivers the one, true and perfect lesson that has been mathematically proven to be the most effective for the average child.

As individuals who choose to educate children in a public school setting, our differences are our strengths.  When we make choices in the classroom based on our judgment and informed by our experiences, we are doing what is best for our students.  Telling a teacher that he or she must utilize the same lesson as his colleagues dampens his enthusiasm and reduces his effectiveness.

In this regard, I know that my opinion differs from that of some colleagues.  I know that collaboration can be very powerful for analyzing student performance data and brainstorming intervention strategies.  I recognize the importance of this work, but I also feel that a teacher who focuses on her own original lessons and activities can bring important learning experiences into the lives of her children.

Take, for example, a recent field trip that I planned and conducted with the support of my multi-disciplinary middle school team.  Based on my experiences as a aquatic ecologist prior to teaching–a rare thing in a world in which most science teachers don’t have science research experience–my students walked to a local lake where they used a variety of chemical tests and equipment to measure its water quality.

It’s a day-long adventure that taught these kids how to do hands-on science, how to appreciate their natural world, and how important environmental stewardship is.  It took me months of planning and hours of hard work to pull off, but it is all worth it because there is no better way for me to teach kids about water quality.

But, if this is the best way to teach it, don’t I have the responsibility to share this idea with my PLC?  Don’t they have the responsibility to put in the same amount of time and effort as I did?  And, if we agree to teach this concept in different ways, doesn’t this fly in the face of the Professional Learning Communities model?

And, more to my point, does this type of “selfishness” benefit students?  I think so.  I believe that teachers sometimes need to be selfish and blaze their own trail.  That’s where innovation comes from… and we need a lot of that these days.


Spontaneous Appreciation for a Script

photo from Flickr user snakemanrob
photo from Flickr user snakemanrob

I have used this space in the past to rail against the evils of scripted curricula. I’ve vented my frustration at being forced to follow a pacing guide set by individuals who don’t even work in a classroom. I have expressed my dismay at the lack of respect that administrators show for teachers when they tell them what to teach, when to teach it, and how to teach it. I have said again and again that while some novice teachers could benefit from this level of structure, it was inappropriate and unprofessional to force it upon more experienced teachers.

Well, I now find myself in the somewhat humbling situation of having the wind sucked out of my angry sails by my local school district. As part of their continuing efforts to provide extensive online resources to teachers all over our large district, a group of district administrators and teachers has created something truly wonderful. They have rolled out a new web-based pacing guide that combines the best parts of organized instruction with the flexibility deserved by professional educators.

The new site includes detailed outlines of lesson ideas, standards correlations, and links to websites, video clips, and other resources. It’s simple to find, easy to navigate, and very easy to pull out pieces that are helpful without necessarily following every step. In a word, it is nearly everything I would ask for in a teacher resource website.

And best of all…it’s not required that any teacher in the district use this tool. Somebody must be listening to me.