The quality of a teacher has little to do with “behavioral” objectives, Kagan structures, language objectives, word walls or lesson plan formatting. Instead, it’s about the ability to build a classroom culture and teach in a way that is motivational, meaningful and creative. It’s about knowing students as people rather than data. It’s about using the best possible strategies to help students learn. I can’t claim to be a great teacher. However, I know this much: my students will ultimately judge me not based upon my word wall or content objectives, but upon whether I cared about them and whether I helped them to learn to live well.
I’m trying to remind myself of that tonight as I plan lessons. See, the truth is that I’ve never been able to write quality objectives. I’ve seen the formula but invariably I get confused. I can’t see learning as an “observable behavior.” To me, it is a cognitive process. I also have a hard time quantifying it. It doesn’t help that I see learning as interconnected. I might ask a student to read a text and in the process make and test a prediction, ask a clarifying question, summarize it and relate it to his or her life. Technically, that could be five objectives.
When I began as a teacher, I wrote a daily driving question (typically conceptual) and then embedded the skills in the assignment or the project. It seemed to work well. I cycled through the skills, giving feedback and having students self-reflect in conferences. My lesson plans had a topic, a driving question and an agenda.
That’s not an option anymore.
Now, I write objectives (even if I differentiate who practices what skills), along with the standard, the ELP standard, the list of instructional strategies used, the language objective, the formative assessment, the summative assessment, the evidence of the gradual release of responsibility (I do, we do, you do) an explanation of intervention, an explanation of enrichment and my small group lesson. I do that for six lessons a day for five days.
Give Us Less Support
I understand why this happens. People see bad teaching and they become convinced that the real issue is planning. Eventually, they decide that it would work best to have all teachers on “the same page” (my God, what would life be like if we all approached reading that way — laboriously moving page by page in the same book as everyone else?) with a lesson plan format.
What people miss is that requiring teachers to do additional prep work ultimately takes them away from the true role of a teacher – to teach and assess. Teachers need time to get to know their students as people and to understand where their students are in mastering the standards. Teachers need time to explore resources, organize their small groups and develop projects.
However, teachers are often asked to focus on the minutia. They are judged on their compliance regarding the physical space of their classrooms, the rigid format of their lesson and their ability to follow clerical procedures. In the process, teachers, indeed entire schools, become focussed with things that have little to do with what it means to teach and to learn.
Often the focus is on strategies that are really helpful to teachers who are struggling. However, standardizing prescriptive formulas can be a bad idea. Oxygen tanks are great when they save lives. However, if someone is breathing just fine on his or her own, it might not be necessary to force to use it in the name of being “on the same page.” Similarly, medicine can save a life. However, if it is given to someone who doesn’t need it, I would consider it malpractice.
Put simply, a major reason we have a teacher quality issue is that we are so obsessed with teacher “support” and so convinced that teachers need more training and more skills that we are missing some of the greatest areas of need among teachers who are not among the bottom ten percent: affirmation, time, autonomy and creative control.
The very rope tossed out to help some teachers has become a leash that is holding back those are already doing great things. So maybe the real solution to teacher quality isn’t additional ropes. Maybe the solution is to cut the rope and see what happens. Otherwise, it might just become the noose that strangles the best of teachers.