Monday, October 27, 2008

The Death of Teaching

I witnessed the death of teaching today.

At an in-service (a meeting where the administration pulls us out of the classroom to improve instruction), we were told that in order to comply with No Child Left Behind we, as a citywide department, will be using curriculum mapping to guide instruction. For those of you not fully versed in educationese, that means that what we do for every single day of a school year will be mapped out in advance.

If a student is taking Algebra I, which was the topic du jour, he or she will be able to walk from one classroom to the next, knowing exactly what to expect to see taught that day, throughout the entirety of our school corporation. It won't matter that some of us have the most advanced students in our school taking Algebra I in eighth grade, or that at the same time, high school teachers who are teaching the same course are dealing with those who barely passed regular eighth grade math the year before. The methods, examples, activities, and strategies will all be predetermined by a task force that was organized last year. I, as an instructor, will be a human automaton, not only following this curriculum to the letter, but reporting on my compliance each day using an online template where I will check off each item that I use in class each day.

This is my worst professional fear realized. My ability to make up imaginitive activities or worksheets is no longer welcome. My choice to take advantage of teachable moments, where a topic involving mathematics comes up in the news and I can spend time talking about it with my classes, is gone. My skill at analyzing student weaknesses is no longer required; it won't matter whether my class needs an additional day to comprehend a concept. I guess I don't have to worry if my kids struggle with the dreaded train problems for three days as I had to deal with last week; after one day it will be time to move on to the next topic whether they understand it or not. The task force clearly knows best what my students will have trouble with from year to year and how long it will take.

Guest speakers and field experiences are things of the past. So is the thought of interdisciplinary units, crossing curricula with science, language arts, or social studies. Want to co-teach the metric system with the science teacher in your team? Sorry, no time. We're doing the order of operations today and evaluating expressions tomorrow. Is your beloved family member in the hospital for four days? You'd better leave detailed substitute plans. Not that it should be a problem to have a substitute. With this cookie cutter operation, anyone could do this job. The question is, who's going to want to?


Wendy said...

Who's ridiculous idea was this??? They must be the same administrators who govern Utah. Just kidding. They're not QUITE that bad here...YET... They're working on it tho.

That is THE SADDEST thing I've ever heard. Isn't there anything that can be done???? Sounds to me like they're trying to move towards online teaching, except it's in a classroom.

CharlaB said...

I read your blog entry with interest. I’m a third grade teacher in AZ and wanted to share what I’ve learned about curriculum mapping. Sorry it's so long...I copied and pasted from a paper I did for a class. It is possible that the administration (or whoever is teaching your inservice) misrepresented or doesn't "get" the true reason for mapping. It isn't to turn teachers in to automatrons. From what I’ve learned, it is a collaboration process to get a synopsis of what each of us teaches in the classroom. Our maps are organized around the school calendar but aren't reflections what is taught on a day-to-day or even weekly basis (that is a lesson plan). The map shows briefly what we do, not what we think we should write in a curriculum guide. It has become a useful tool for creating a “big picture” for decision-making at my school. We can coordinate units of study and match assessments with all levels of standards. The information we include on our maps: content, processes/skills emphasized, and the assessment used. We use a curriculum mapping program online and directly enter our information. We access the state standards in the program and connect them to each topic of study, letting us know if we are in compliance with the state. Maps help us share ideas, ask questions and essentially open our classrooms to each other.
When we started learning about curriculum mapping, it was presented as helping our professional learning communities carry out six tasks: 1. gain information about what each teaches 2. show gaps in content and skills as well as assessment techniques 3. reveal and reduce repetitions in content and across content areas 4. point out areas for integration 5. match each content area with a standard so accountability is no longer an issue 6. review the timeliness of the course of study or assessment technique. At first I was scared and a bit put out, especially
knowing at some point our school wanted to post curriculum maps on our website, but since grade level teams will write the maps that parents see, I feel a little less hesitant. At least parents that care will have a truer picture of where their child is headed in school through the curriculum.
I have embraced mapping and now only wish I had more time to improve my maps. It's helped give my colleagues, and me, a clearer picture of what we teach and assess. I really could have used a map in my first year of teaching to guide me. Wishing you lots of luck with your efforts.

Jim McClain said...

charlab, I wish our mapping were that unobtrusive, but it's simply not. I sat in the in-service and watched as every facet of instruction was designed, including introductory activities and tasks, as well as specific lessons to be taught. Everything in the thematic unit was built around the concept that everyone teaching the subject would use them. We literally will use the school corporation's (properly labeled, now) website to check off the activities as we use them.

Our school has used curriculum mapping before, but this is citywide, and much more rigid in structure.

Theresa said...

Never mind that the students might not actually LEARN anything at that kind of pace! Forget actually TEACHING--let's just talk and gesture at them for an hour at a time, and say we did what was required of us today! Let's just push aside the fact that you can't force students to learn a concept all at the same time! They're individuals!

This will leave more children FAR behind than were behind in the first place!

Oh, that is so incredibly frustrating! D:<

Soon, students will all be brain-fed in little mechanical pods. Or taught by a computer--sort of like Astra, but at least she gets to ask questions and influence what she learns.

Jeff said...

To me, this is the result of the corporatization (is that even a word?) of the education system. To refine every single detail down to the minute, with everything planned ahead of time, so that numbers can be referenced and databased so that some chart can look really good and the number crunchers can all hurt themselves patting each other on the back. As a math teacher, you of all people know that you can't apply concrete logic to human behavior or learning. Everyone learns differently and at different rates. Schools have always recognized that in the past, and that's why grades are used to document the progress of the students. What's next, doing away with the grading system? I bet it's coming...just pass the test and you get a diploma...doesn't matter if you understand the material, just so long as you can pass a test, right?
I've always thought that teaching was less about the "topics of discussion" and "curriculum guides", and more about teaching the students according to their own gifts (to paraphrase Spock).

Why does everything need to be categorized and turned into a number? Shouldn't teaching be about teaching to the student instead of the desk in row 2, seat 5?
Yeah, I know, I'm preaching to the choir.

KC Ryan said...


Thank goodness I went to school at a time when this wasn't around...