Yesterday morning I walked into school feeling great about the energy that has been surrounding the end of the school year. My students have been working hard, using everything they’ve learned this year, wrapping up the year with a few important-feeling, student driven projects. As I passed by the front office, I noticed that there was a large binder sitting in my mailbox. As I got closer, I saw that the binder was filled with a tightly shrink-wrapped, thick package of paper covered in images and text.
And then I knew.
This was our brand-new, fresh out of the box, “easy-to-use”, prepackaged social-emotional curriculum.
And my heart sank.
And it only got worse.
I made the mistake of taking the binder to my desk and ripping off the plastic shrink-wrap to get an idea of what I was supposed to teach next year. And it. was. awful. Not only were all of the lessons written as if I was too dumb to be able to figure out how to teach something on my own, but the lessons themselves were terrible. They were the kind of lessons where the kids very clearly get the message from the very start that they should sit and listen and answer my questions in the one way that this program thinks that they should be answered.
The lessons were insulting to me. The lessons were insulting to me because they assumed that I was not smart enough to know how to teach. They assumed that I did not know my kids well enough to talk about real situations from their real lives and so they provided me with situations about Pedro and Kristin and Anton. They assumed that I did not know quality literature from which to learn lessons from characters that we love so they provided me with poorly-written scenarios and scripts to feed to my students instead.
But the lessons were also insulting to my students. It assumed that they were not smart enough to be engaged in real discussions about the real issues that face their lives. It assumed that they were not powerful enough to be able to grapple with the issues affecting our world. It assumed that their priority was learning to be a compliant student and not learning how to be a better human citizen of this world. Every lesson I read was an insult to the children that I teach every day.
In fact, this program COMPLETELY took my students right out of the equation. It didn’t take into consideration their emotions, their struggles, their unique strengths and weaknesses. It didn’t because it couldn’t. Prepackaged curricula never can. They can never be written for actual children because they are written to be used with every single child, in every single classroom, whose school has purchased the prewritten lessons. Whoever wrote this program does not know the pace at which my children learn. They do not know the topics that are relevant and meaningful to the specific group of children sitting in front of me. They do not know the challenges that we will face in a year that we need time to grapple with together and learn our way through. They do not know the books that we have read and the characters that we have loved that have given us more real-life lessons than any program ever could. They do not know who we are and yet they are trying to tell us how we should learn.
And every time that a district puts a prewritten unit into the hands of teachers, it is taking away a powerful opportunity for us to learn. Every time a district puts a unit into the hands of teachers, it is sending the message that it is not our job to figure out the best ways to teach our students. Every time a district puts a unit into the hands of teachers, it is telling us that we should not reflect, collaborate, struggle, innovate or create.
It is a dangerous thing we are doing to teachers. Because when we have a written out unit that we believe we are “supposed” to follow then we start to lose the skills that make teaching an art. I love sitting around a table with my coworkers and looking at the targets, objective and standards we are supposed to meet and discussing possible ways to meet them. I love talking about how each of us has tried to meet these standards. I love talking about what has worked and love talking about what was a huge failure. That is how we learn. That is how we reflect. That is how we get better at what we do. And every time a unit is placed into our hands, we lose a little bit of our passion to do just that.
So please. Stop insulting me. Stop insulting my students. Stop giving me prewritten, prepackaged curricula.
But how does that get changed? Whose voices will they listen to?
On principle, I agree with what you say here. We are implementing Lucy Calkins’ units of writing in our school and, to my surprise, I actually like the units. After all I’d heard about them, I wasn’t sure I would. Each one reads like a well-written professional book. Although they are a little too scripted for me, they do provide ways to step up the intellectual vigor of writing in schools. I don’t think I could follow each unit the way it is written and with the pacing that is suggested; it has taken me longer to teach each lesson than what is stated in each book. I honestly don’t know how teachers can do it exactly the way it’s written, or why they would want to. In MHO, teachers need to read each book, sit down and discuss the essential points, decide how to best teach the unit to their particular students, share successes and revise as we go along. I agree with you that these conversations need to happen all the time. I also think it’s important is to give students opportunities to do their own writing outside of the units or to incorporate regular quick writes; I find my students do some of their best writing at these times. I am determined to make room for this even if it’s only 15 – 20 minutes a few times a week. And, I believe that we have the freedom at our school to adapt and adjust the units to fit the needs and experiences of our students.
I could not agree more. Thank-you for writing this. The scripted materials we get that are supposed to be implemented “with integrity” are destroying everything I love about teaching. Getting materials like the ones you described is soul-crushing. I could go on forever.
Not very fancy in 1st
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