Thursday, February 26, 2015

Teaching: Too Hard for Teachers

What exactly is a teacher's job? I have generally felt that I know the answer, but in these reformy times I have moments when I wonder.

I had one such moment today, reading this piece from The Hechinger Report entitled "Common Core's Unintended Consequence." The subheading of this piece by Jonathan Sapers tells us what that dreadful, unintended, potentially tragic consequence might be-- "More teachers write their own curricula." Clearly an unexpected tragic side effect of Common Core is that some teachers have forgotten what their proper place is.

OMG! How did such a terrible thing happen!!

According to many teachers, experts and advocates of the Common Core, traditional curriculum sources haven’t been meeting the demands of the new set of math and English standards that have been rolled out in more than 40 states in the past few years. More and more teachers are scrapping off-the-shelf lessons and searching for replacements on the Internet or writing new curriculum materials themselves.

Yes, it's true. Because of a failure of the education materials publishing industry, teachers out there are being forced to find their own teaching materials. Some are even-- choke-- designing teaching materials all by themselves! Oh, the humanity!!

The Center on Education Policy (CEP), a nonpartisan research group, reports that in roughly two-thirds of districts in Common Core states, teachers have developed or are developing their own curricular materials in math (66 percent) and English Language Arts (65 percent). In more than 80 percent of districts, the CEP found that at least one source for curriculum materials was local — from teachers, the district itself or other districts in the state.

Local materials!?! Good heavens! How can teachers hope to create teaching materials?! Don't they understand that they are only teachers?? Do they imagine that just because they went to college and got a degree and completed student teaching and have spent some amount of time in a classroom with students-- I mean, do they think all that qualifies them to create instructional materials?!

Whose fault is this?

Authorities (by which, of course, I mean people other than teachers, who are clearly not authorities on any of this important educational stuff) seem to feel that a large part of the blame lies with publishing companies that have been creating books that do not perfectly align with the Common Core Standards, leaving poor dazed and confused educators to fill in the gaps. At least, they say it's an alignment problem. I know many elementary teachers who seem to think that their Common Core teaching materials involve techniques and a pace that does not actually result in "learning" among actual live "students."

These teachers, whose frustration has driven them to the crazy-ass step of trying to come up with their own materials have been aided and abetted by teacher sharing sites-- places like Teachers Pay Teachers and Sharemylesson.com. But those sites are Very Highly Questionable, because the materials there have been developed by mere teachers, and what the hell do they know?

Potential disasters in the making

Sapers notes that there is research soon to be published that "seems to confirm teachers’ predicament." I can only assume that by "predicament" he means teachers finding themselves trapped in the terrible, terrible position of creating teaching materials for their classrooms. Oh, the woe.

The research will be coming from William Schmidt at the Center for the Study of Curriculum at Michigan State University. Schmidt is concerned:

“It’s a rather elaborate and extensive endeavor to write instructional materials for a whole year, and I think that no one should expect that teachers have the time nor the professional background to do that.”

Yes, this is what it has come to. Teachers designing teaching materials. Teachers delivering lessons. Teachers coming up with their own assignments and assessments and then-- gasp-- actually grading those assignments and assessments.And doing it all with nothing more than the training, education and experience that comes with being a teacher. It is enough to make one weep.

Sapers reports that some brave administrators have tried to aid in this process. For instance, there's principal Shelley Ritz from the Belle Chasse Primary School in Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish. Her teachers were totes thrilled about the Common Core.

“Who doesn’t want their child to read grade-level appropriate texts? Answer questions taking evidence from the text? That’s awesome. But how to help that evolve into a curriculum? We’re not curriculum writers. There are companies that are paid millions and millions of dollars to do the research.”

It was frustrating, she said. “There was limited understanding of how to create curriculum, lesson plans and assessments from scratch. And who knew if the final products were correct?”

Who indeed? Clearly classroom teachers lack the professional knowledge and ability to know whether the materials they are using in their classroom with their students are effective or not.

Some good news from our sponsors

Incidentally, Schmidt and the Center have a new product that will allow teachers to get their textbooks lined up properly and direct them to the proper materials for filling any gaps. Because they want to help the poor lost teachers trapped in classroom armed with nothing but their inadequate teaching wits and their tiny unprofessional brains. So, thanks for that Center.

Plus, the folks at Student Achievement Partners, founded by some of the Common Core creators who developed those standards with a deep understanding of education unencumbered by any actual direct knowledge of the teaching profession-- those guys have also developed a tool to help teachers find teaching materials.

Seriously, this has to stop

Before you know it, doctors will be doing diagnosis and prescription on their own without deferring to the superior medical knowledge of drug salesmen.

Teaching is a noble profession, devoted to delivering and implementing the teaching programs created for them by the wise education thought leaders of publishing and government bureaucratacy (and, actually, there are so few of these superior individuals that they have to balance working for both corporations and government). As teacher, our place is simply to deliver the content that Far Smarter People have designed. I mean, Common Core Standards are just more than we could hope to grasp, and we need to back away from our misguided impulses to create our own materials before we hurt ourselves.

I for one will be going to school tomorrow to burn my files of teacher-created materials, dump all my teacher-created worksheets and unit plans into a landfill somewhere, and just sit patiently, my hands folded, waiting for instructions from my betters. I'll use no materials that haven't been passed down by the Proper Authorities, and I will never add anything to them without direct instructions from Certified Educational Thought Leaders.

After all, what the hell do I know about teaching? I'm just a teacher.

13 comments:

  1. The Instructional Facilitator at my school very excitedly introduced all the super things included in our brand new non-fiction writing curriculum. The "best" part according to her, was that all of the lessons were scripted right there for us, exactly what we needed to say! My jaw dropped before I was able to say, "that's why I went to college."

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    1. This must be the new protocol for Instructional Facilitators. Mine have the exact same "script" when they tell us about the "scripts" from which we're expected to teach.

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  2. Raised in my Christian family of origin, we had to memorize our favorite Bible verses. I now consider myself more agnostic than Christian, but my favorite verse still applies: "Jesus wept".

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  3. These people should look up the word "patronizing." Of course, they have their own patrons, don't they?

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  4. The dehumanizing of the best job on earth has begun.

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  5. I use teacher created curriculum for Algebra 1 and 2 (emathinstruction.com)...it is great. School has no money to waste on textbooks that may or may not meet the new standards....publishers are waiting for the fallout from the changes before they create anything new and the engageNY modules are so poorly written and pretty unusable in a real classroom. I feel bad for other states that got stuck with these too. So of course teachers have to resort to writing their own. So next year CC Geometry kicks in and my colleagues and I are writing a usable Geometry curriculum and we can tweak as we see what the test looks like. Do we trust the
    test to match the vague standards? No... We noticed the sample Pearson text had several topics not in the standards and if they create the test, who knows what might show up. (However I will never buy a text from Pearson .)

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    1. I am in Texas and we are using Investigations , Envision and Engage NY and the only one half way aligned is envision. Texas is not a common core state. I am constantly finding stuff to work for my kids! I have to spend hours researching and creating! But I am just a teacher.

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  6. Sadly, I've heard many a teacher say something to the effect of "that's not my job" when it comes to creating curriculum. There's generally two reasons for this: lack of time and "they broke it, they can fix it." Completely understandable, but still sad to hear. Sadder yet, the longer this goes on, the more normal it is that teachers don't write curriculum.

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  7. Sadly, I've heard many a teacher say something to the effect of "that's not my job" when it comes to creating curriculum. There's generally two reasons for this: lack of time and "they broke it, they can fix it." Completely understandable, but still sad to hear. Sadder yet, the longer this goes on, the more normal it is that teachers don't write curriculum.

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  8. While I agree that teachers should meet their students where they are academically, I must add that I'm so very tired of both teaching AND writing curriculum. Every minute I spend writing lessons and assessments to meet the needs of my very diverse student population is a minute I lose that I could have used perfecting or extending lessons.

    I had to chuckle when I saw the criticism if the enageNY site. Why? Because my staff development teacher has recommended that we use that site, because it is so much better than our own sketchy "curriculum" resources. Worse yet, he is right! The engageNY site at least gives us a fighting chance of keeping up with what we are required to teach.

    Don't get me wrong, I still love teaching. But I am exhausted. And it's only March.

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    1. Engage NY is a waste of my time. I use pieces of it, but the little I know we won't be tested on half the crap and my kids need to know what they need to know. Not what they don't know. Common Core is great in theory, but they forgot to include us in development.

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  9. I've been creating lessons and writing down ideas nearly constantly since I was a student teacher. Depending on textbooks or purchased materials seems totally disempowering. I wish all teachers felt the same way. (I think it'd be impossible to push my social studies department to ditch their textbooks, if I ever tried.)

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