My living room floor is covered in books, bags of play-doh, math manipulatives, files, and papers. The kitchen counter looks about the same. So does the table, the sofa, my bed. Summer is ending and it’s time to get those lesson plans straightened out to start the year. I could do this at school, but my classroom is in a dark basement with no windows, and the sun is shining.
I’ve spent quite a few hours this past week searching Pinterest and blogs, going through old plan books and files, reading teacher’s guides, and of course navigating my fancy new Common Core app for just the right mix of beginning of the year lessons. I’ve also spent a lot of time reflecting on how we make these decisions.
I’m now at a school that has better test scores and more emphasis on community building. Since they don’t use Title 1 funds, there isn’t nearly the pressure to make AYP, but there is pressure to make sure the kids are having fun. There is even discussion among some about holding off on academics completely until mid-October in order to spend time building community and establishing routines and expectations.
Adding to my mid-day musings is the summer class I took on curriculum development where we explored foundational philosophies: Are we training future workers? Are we developing future citizens? Are we raising moral, fully actualized human beings? Is learning about exploration? Is it about acquiring knowledge? Is it about developing critical thinking? Is it about developing creativity?
When your district passes out a Teacher’s Guide, is that the end of the discussion? March dutifully from one lesson to the next until you get to the last page? Do we look at what will be tested and work back from there? Do we learn what our students’ interests are and plan around that? Look at the Common Core Standards and plan around those? Do we follow the direction of the community that surrounds our schools and teach what the parents want us to teach? Or teach what the companies that will someday employ our children want us to teach?
If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have confidently outlined what I believed to be the “right” approach to starting the year. Now I find myself a bit more conflicted. I know this is a little wishy-washy sounding, but they are all right in some ways…and all wrong in some ways…and right for some kids, but wrong for other kids…
We need to raise academic achievement, but we also need to raise children. We need to build communities and build knowledge. We need to follow the standards, and sometimes we need to go down the rabbit trail of whimsy.
I have often hoped over the years that at some point I would figure out the perfect way to do this that would meet the needs of all learners, result in stratospheric test scores, and make all the parents and administrators happy. Instead of finding clarity, the longer I do this the more multifarious it becomes.
How do you decide what to teach? Who decides what you teach?