you're reading...
Learning at its Best

Teachers Need Less Support

imagine if everyone had to use oxygen tanks

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.

 photo credit: jellywatson via photo pin cc


About John Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.


13 thoughts on “Teachers Need Less Support

  1. Oh the “let’s all be on the same page” mentality, oh how I hate that phrase. I left a school because of their obsession with this thought. As if being LITERALLY on the same page of each textbook would equal the same teaching performance. I find it’s more about not having parent complaints when they start comparing classrooms. But being on the same page will not help that situation because you are hiring individuals, not clones of one teacher. I love that I now teach at a school where they let us teach in our own styles. They trust we will cover the content and beyond. I think true teacher support would be trusting the ones hired. If there’s a problem, then interventions can happen just like struggling students. Otherwise diversity and individuality should be treasured.

    Posted by Carol McLaughlin @missmac100 | August 18, 2012, 2:47 pm
  2. “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.”

    I love this quote John. Totally agree with you. Standards are such a tough line to walk – on one hand, from the side of ‘administrating’ a school there is value in making sure your teaching staff are moving towards the correct objectives.

    On the teacher’s side – as you point out so well – over doing standards creates clones and robots.

    I believe that teachers should know the standards, but be 100% free to accomplish them in ways that are in tune with their style and their student’s abilities. You can standardize content to teach, but you can’t standardize HOW people learn. That’s impossible in a big class.

    I really enjoyed your thoughts here. Thanks for sharing!

    Posted by Aaron Nelson (@epicenterone) | August 18, 2012, 3:44 pm
  3. I think the amount of “documentation” in teaching is ridiculous and takes the teacher away from what they should really be focusing on – the student!

    Posted by elketeaches | August 18, 2012, 5:04 pm
  4. I’d say “GOOD teachers need less support.” Mediocre teachers need support. Administrators need to be able to tell the difference between the two – and get out of the way of the good teachers. And poor teachers should find a career in which they can be successful. I left a 23-year teaching career partially because of the let’s-be-on-the-same-page mentality that was coming down the pike (along with most of your other complaints in this blog post). Maybe the pendulum will swing back to trusting good teachers and letting them teach? Maybe??

    Posted by eddiesandcurrents | August 18, 2012, 5:07 pm
  5. Wow. I loved the metaphors you used, it helped me to see how wrong it is to force teachers to adhere to a set lesson plan. And the way it’s phrased, I think it would be hard for most people to disagree, because by disagreeing with your statement, it’s like saying people can all take the same medicine all the time (sick or not) and they’ll be perfectly fine.

    At first, the title of your piece through me off. I don’t know if it’s that less support is needed, but that everybody is different and not everybody needs the same kind or amount of help. As it is with students, it is also with teachers. Most teachers have a different style, and in the process of standardizing our classrooms, we lose these individual traits and the learning suffers as a result.

    Posted by Tara S | August 19, 2012, 7:44 am
  6. I feel your pain! I see teachers struggle with planning and classroom management at our school all the time and I understand that our recent policies are there to help them. But as an effective teacher, I feel frustrated and bored in our brand-new and weekly professional learning communities (PLC) that focus on skills that I have already demonstrated. Our academic coach has sympathetically and strategically decided that I should be a mentor teacher and I don’t really mind helping other teachers who want to improve. I think focusing their lesson plans on some set strategies and clear objectives helps both the teacher and students. But some of it is overkill for our good teachers who honestly just need more time working on their plans instead of wasting time in a meeting designed for the bottom half of our staff.

    Posted by Sarah G. | August 19, 2012, 3:34 pm
  7. John? Jesus! Did you just say all this out loud!? And this: “The very rope tossed out to help some teachers has become a leash that is holding back those are already doing great things.” How dare you defer to intuition and insight (they can’t be measured and datafied), to intellect and inference in order to ignore the institutionalization that ignores the importance of improvisation. Oh, John! I’ll see you on the other side, brother.

    Posted by Garreth Heidt | August 19, 2012, 9:37 pm
  8. You had at us at , “it’s about the ability to build a classroom culture and teach in a way that is motivational, meaningful and creative.” Keep inspiring us to be administratively annoying.

    Posted by Students Last | August 29, 2012, 4:08 pm
  9. This is such a powerful post. I couldn’t agree more with everything you said! Good teaching is an art, and much of it arises organically based on the needs of the students.

    Posted by Linda Dunnavant | September 5, 2012, 9:10 am
  10. Wow I could not agree more. I think I will share this with every principal and administrator in my district. Not that it will do any good, but you never know. Thank you putting in words what so many of us feel.

    Posted by Lee | December 4, 2012, 10:11 am


  1. Pingback: learning vs teaching requirements « elketeaches - August 19, 2012

  2. Pingback: In Retro Cite (weekly) « A Retrospective Saunter - August 26, 2012

  3. Pingback: Week 3: Dangerously Irrelevant | Shanae Porter - September 28, 2012

Join the Conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,096 other subscribers

Comments are subject to moderation.

%d bloggers like this: