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Janette MacKay | October 11, 2012

The Lesson Plans


To plan a complete and well-designed lesson takes time. Most of us have 30-40 minutes of prep time per day, yet teach 6-10 lessons per day (at the primary level). Since that in-school prep time is also the only chance we have to go to the bathroom, organize manipulatives, or gather materials, not much lesson planning happens during the school day. Which means that either we do most of our planning on our own time, or we don't do it and end up winging it.

We need community members, administrators, and policy makers to carefully consider where they want us to focus our efforts. How much time do you want me to spend preparing lessons for your child?

Right now, it works out to less than 5 minutes of planning time per lesson. That is 5 minutes to consider the standard that needs to be taught, to plan for the instructional strategy, and to gather and create materials. But wait…your child is struggling…or excelling? Then part of that planning is focused on differentiating to meet those needs. Oh, and you’d like me to grade your child’s work and give him meaningful feedback so that he can continue to grow? Absolutely. And not just for the growth of the child, but for my own instruction as well.

Teachers do those things. They are essential to teaching, and to be honest, barely scratch the surface of what goes into planning lessons for our students each and every day. Obviously there is no way all of that happens in five minutes. Even if I’m using a lesson that I created last year and just need to adapt to meet the needs of this year’s students it’s going to take more than five minutes.

Besides, during my prep period every day, there are more urgent matters: going to the bathroom (any teacher could write pages about the dilemma of toileting for classroom teachers!), returning phone calls, responding to emails, wiping tears, finding lost coats, ordering a bus for the field trip, and on and on. Lesson planning just doesn’t happen during planning time. It has to happen on our own time. Or it doesn’t happen.

None of us would care to admit that some days we wing it. Some days teaching is more like Improv theater than a Shakespearean production. Those afternoons when there is a meeting stacked on top of another meeting and I get home too late to plan each lesson well. Or when my own family needs my time and attention.

Could I lock my classroom door and guard that time so that it is only for instructional planning? Yes. I don't need to look for lost coats, and some days I have a volunteer or two who can count out the math manipulatives. There still isn't enough time. It is one of the complexities of our (or any) profession to determine how we will conduct ourselves at any moment in our day. The point is not that one set block of finite minutes.

Nor is it a complaint about how hard I have to work. The truth is that I love my job and honestly delight in matching standards to effective instruction. I love love love reading my students' writing or seeing how they've approached a math problem solving activity.

The current system assumes that teachers will spend several hours of our own time each day to ensure that our students have meaningful feedback and coherent lessons. Then the current system, or at least public opinion, condemns teachers who aren’t willing to work for free every evening as “bad teachers.” It is long past time to acknowledge that this assumption foolishly leaves the quality of instruction up to individual generosity.

Tthe professional day needs to be restructured to create time for teachers to do the work of instruction. So long as teachers are doing the most important part of our work on a volunteer basis, there will be gaps in quality not even between teachers, but from day to day in the same classroom.


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This is the number one problem I have with teaching right now: not enough time to adequately plan lessons or provide feedback on student work. Well said.

What I find interesting is that so often our system is compared to other systems elsewhere in the world where teachers are given time in their day to collaborate and plan--and we are judged using an already imbalanced scale. (This link is to a 2009 report... the gist: in the US teachers get 3-5 hours per week built in for planning and collaboration; other countries allot 15-20 hours per week ...the link: )

There are so many variables that get shuffled around...class size, curriculum, teacher evaluation. The one no policymaker seems to jump on is time.

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