Lesson Plans Are a Complete Waste of Time     

Lesson plans are a complete waste of time. 

There. I said it.   

Few demands get under the skin of classroom teachers more than being told to hand in detailed lesson plans.  

It’s not that teachers don’t need to plan.  

Planning is an essential part of the job. 

Every day before students come in, you decide which activities, assignments and discussions would be effective for you and your students.   

However, that’s personal, idiosyncratic and informal. It’s the FORMAL lesson plans that have next to nothing to do with what goes on in the classroom.

I’m talking about the kind with detailed objectives often written in behavioral terms (i.e. Students Will Be Able To…), essential questions that are supposed to link your units into cohesive blocks, explicit reference to the formative and summative assessments you plan to give and exhaustive reference to every Common Core Academic Standard non-educators ever wrote to sell text books, workbooks, software and other boondoggles.


 
They are simply busy work – useless paper that is often filed away in the office and never seen again.  


 
Certain kinds of principals – and we know who you are – have checklists of every teacher in the building and simply mark off your name to designate that you turned in your lesson plans like a good doggie. 


 
But even worse are administrators who read every word and send you pages of comments asking you to change this or that so it more closely adheres to the Common Core Academic Standards. As if parroting a bunch of shoddy benchmarks made by standardized testing companies is going to have any real effect on classroom practices. 


 
Either way it’s an exercise in futility. 


 
Whether administrators pour over these plans or just file them away, making teachers hand them in every week has nothing to do with improving teacher effectiveness or even making us more reflective and adventurous educators. It’s about administrators justifying their own jobs.  


 
It’s like saying, “Look what a tough principal I am! I make my teachers hand in their lesson plans. I don’t let them get away with anything!” 


 
And perhaps that’s one of the things that really irritates educators – this idea that we need taskmasters set over us to ensure we’re actually teaching. 

If principals were really worried about that, it would be better for all involved if they just poked their heads into our classrooms more often and actually observed what we are doing.


 
Here’s a dirty little secret about education – No one gets into this profession to sit behind a desk with their feet up. 


 
If they do, they soon realize that teaching isn’t the place for them. There is so much we have to do everyday – from grading papers, to counseling students, to calling parents, to scaffolding group work, tutoring, mentoring, modeling, lunch duty, hall duty, in-school suspension – and that’s before we even begin to talk about teaching and planning! 


 
We don’t have time to write up a detailed plan of what we think we’ll be doing in class every single day with an equally detailed justification for everything we’ll do! 


 
Because we know we’ll never actually use it in the classroom! 


 
The very idea of lesson plans is antithetical to 90% of classroom practice. 


 
Teaching isn’t something you can sit back and plan and then recreate with 100% fidelity day-in, day-out.

 


 
When you’re there in front of students, you need to use your natural empiricism to tell what the needs are of your students on a given day at a given time.  


 
Today we may need to go back and reteach yesterday’s lesson. Or we may have to jump right back into a discussion we were having last week. Or we may need to switch tacks and focus on something else so students can calm down or won’t get frustrated.  


 
The reality of the classroom determines what a good educator does inside it. And this cannot accurately be guessed at from a distance of time and/or space.  


 
Sure, as a language arts teacher I may know I want to teach vocabulary skills, or complete sentence construction, reading comprehension or anything else. I can pick out my texts and my assignments, figure out which activities would best get across the idea, what kind of practice could be useful, etc. But HOW all that comes together is more of an art than a science.  


 
And the more experienced you are as a teacher and the better you know your students, the more effectively you’ll be able to meet the needs of a class of students on a given day.  


 
Because you aren’t teaching widgets. You’re teaching people. And people resist the most rigid of plans.  


 
Moreover, the need to justify every move you make has a chilling effect on what you’re willing to do.  


 
Teachers need the freedom to experiment – to try new things and see how they work.  


 
If you have to stop and justify every action for an authority figure, you’ll only do the things you already know will work – or at least the things you feel most confident that you can explain. 


 
Teachers need to be free to try something and not be able to codify why they’re doing it at the moment. Only later, perhaps at the end of the day, can it be helpful to sit back and reflect on what you did and judge for yourself whether it was effective and worth repeating.  


 
But that’s where the emphasis needs to be – on you as the teacher and your students as a class.  


 
YOU get to decide the effectiveness of your teaching – not your principal, not an administrator in central office or the superintendent. YOU. 

That’s because you’re the expert here.


 
Your administrator may not even be trained in your discipline. How’s a gym teacher going to evaluate language arts? How’s an elementary special education teacher going to evaluate calculus?  


 
And it’s even worse when compounded by experience – or perhaps I should say inexperience.  


 
Most principals only taught for a handful of years before becoming administrators. And many of them haven’t even had much time to figure out how best to BE administrators.  


 
Yet our warped work culture puts them in charge of the actual professionals in the classroom – the classroom teachers – and encourages them to disrupt the normal flow of things in the name of what? School improvement? Or parasitical management?  


 
Principals should be focused on two things – (1) providing the best work environment for students and teachers; and (2) advocating for teachers and students. They should make sure teachers have what they need to get their jobs done effectively. And that means listening to exactly what those needs are. If those needs aren’t being met inside the district, the principal should go outside and work to get those resources brought in. 


 
Educators don’t need you to stand in judgement of them and then brag to your superiors about being a hard ass. They need you to get them the resources necessary – time, salary, lower class size, counselors, anything really that reduces the unnecessary from a teacher’s day so she can focus on her students.  


 
But demanding educators hand in lesson plans is just the opposite. You’re ADDING to the unnecessary work load, not reducing it.  
 


So lesson plans are an antiquated notion that need to go the way of mimeographs, transparencies and overhead projectors.   


 
Stop torturing educators with mindless busy work when there are so many mindful tasks begging to be done.  


 
Let teachers teach.  
 


And if you can’t figure that out, at least get out of the way. 


 


 

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24 thoughts on “Lesson Plans Are a Complete Waste of Time     

  1. I taught from 1975 – 2005 and had about 10 principals during those years, and one of those principals in my third decade, a total idiot, and dictator-style hardass, in my opinion, required teachers to turn in their lesson plans each Friday for the following week.

    I filled out a week’s worth of plans in my calendar planning book, photocopied those pages, and turned them in. Each day had a small summary of what I was going to teach in each box with no details on how I was going to do it.

    And, I made it clear to Little Hitler (my name for that incompetent freak) that my plans would never be more detailed than that. I also CC’d district administration.

    I never heard back from Little Hitler on that issue. Maybe that’s because my students’ test state scores in English, reading, and writing had been having dramatic gains every year for as long as I had been teaching leading all other English teachers in the district.

    Later, Little Hitler would attempt to bully me on another issue and that issue grew to the point where CTA’s lawyers were involved and the story hit the LA Times. That was Little Hitler’s 2nd year on a five-year contract and the school board voted to end his contract early and pay him off to get rid of him. He eventually found another principal job five hundred miles away.

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  2. I am standing in my house applauding you! Exactly. The best principal I ever worked with said, “If you can tell me exactly what you’ll be teaching next Wednesday at 11:00 you’re doing it wrong.” Teachers are professionals and we teach real children. We assess constantly to make our lessons work in the moment for the students in front of us. Administrators, come in and observe if you want to know if I’m prepared but don’t waste my time with useless busy work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When I was still teaching, my work weeks ran 60 to 100 hours a week seven days a week for thirty years.

    Even though the actual teaching was about five or six hours a day five days a week, the planning, creating original teacher made lessons that fit the students I was teaching (something no textbook ever did), and all the student work that only a teacher should correct so they know what their students are learning and where they need help filled all the other hours.

    I took work home every night Monday through Friday and worked half a day on Saturday and another half a day on Sunday. Even with all that time spent correct student work, the only times I managed to catch up were over the winter and spring break because those days off from teaching offered the time needed to catch up on correcting and grading.

    I worked in the private sector for 15 years before i went into teaching and I also spent several years in the Marines and fought in Vietnam.

    Teaching was more demanding than all the private-sector jobs, the Marine Corps, and combat. When I retired from teaching, my first thought was that if I had to go back to work again, I’d rather return to the Marine Corps than a classroom even if that meant I ended up in Iraq or Afghanistan. Since I was too old to be a Marine again, I thought maybe I could volunteer to walk into a crowd of terrorists and blow them up along with me.

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  4. Asking a teacher to write detailed lesson plans is like asking an improv comedian to write out all the jokes before they take the stage.

    The only person who would do that has no idea what teaching really is, and the artistry, nuance, and interplay with the others in the room that goes on.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you so much for saying this. I tried to explain this to a friend and colleague who is a planner and loves the Understanding By Design method. She kept telling me I would like it if I just tried it, and she just couldn’t wrap her head around the idea that my method is more like songwriting than science. I know where I’m going, and I trust myself to get there. In the meantime, I’m free to see where the ideas take the students and try new approaches. Interestingly enough, I was once praised by an administrator for my brilliant UBD project. I didn’t use that method at all, of course, but I just smiled and nodded, laughing quietly to myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have real problems with Understanding by Design. It’s a corporate model of education that looks at everything based on the desired outcome. Isn’t that just behaviorism? Not exactly new. Moreover, what about curiosity, creativity and motivation? I want my students to see learning as intrinsic, to enjoy the journey as much (or more) than the destination. UBD makes everything extrinsic. It’s a fad.

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      • The corporate model of teaching is no different than the Prussian Model of Obedience, an 18th-century system that all but vanished in the U.S. by the middle of the 19th century and didn’t make a comeback until after No Child Left Behind and Common Core.

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    • That’s interesting. I’m heavily involved in the disability community, especially educational advocacy. I’m not in the classroom anymore but run my own business tutoring children – many with disabilities like autism and ADHD. I have never heard of this method! People in meetings I go to are still talking about Universal Design, but I think they are really just trying to say “accommodations.”

      When I was student teaching, the big thing was “Critical Thinking.” I had a great veteran teacher mentoring me, but the school Principal was an idiot. Critical Thinking is not a specific method or subject, of course, but when he came to evaluate me, he was looking for something – I’ll never know what – to show that I could “teach Critical Thinking.” I was not aware of this. That would have been too easy.

      I taught a creative writing lesson. The whole class did it with enthusiasm, the results were great, and I was delighted. After school, I went to meet with the Principal. He said some meaningless niceties and then added that he was concerned because he didn’t see any “Critical Thinking” going on. I did not know how to respond to that. I mean, it wasn’t Calculus, and I don’t think one can write an original story without using critical thinking, but I didn’t want to argue with the man. I told him an example of a problem-solving lesson I had done in math, and he was satisfied.

      When I got my letter of recommendation from him, I could see why he was having difficulty. He clearly did not use critical or any other thinking skills when writing the letter. If one of my fifth graders had turned that piece in, I would have asked them why they didn’t edit it before turning it in.

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  6. Thank-you so much for this! Those little squares in the grade & planning book always served me well. What a pleasure to read, “That’s because you’re the expert here”!
    It does bring up a question for me while I currently supervise student teachers, “How detailed a plan do we ask from our student teachers?” I discourage them from using the detailed template they receive in their Methods classes, but I do ask to see goals, activities and planned assessments.

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    • If they have to do it when they’re on the job, you have a responsibility to teach them how. After that, ask them for what you need to see to judge the effectiveness of their lesson. When I was student teaching – back in the Mesozoic Era – my mentors and advisors looked at my plan when they came to observe my teaching. I guess they were just using it to follow along and judge whether the students met the objectives? If you’re looking at them ahead of time to make suggestions, you would want more or different detail so you could suggest changes, I would think. Still, you could clarify that this is for mentoring purposes and is not how a teacher would typically plan every lesson of the day.

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  7. Thank you! I like to say that, as a teacher, it’s impossible to be completely prepared to teach a class, yet, paradoxically, it’s easy to be over prepared. No amount of planning can get me ready for the unique situations I encounter on a regular basis. But if I focus too intently on the lesson I plan to teach, I lose the flexibility I need to deal with my students’ needs moment to moment. I liken teaching to playing jazz. I need to know the material, but I have to improvise my way through it. And it’s never quite the same…

    Liked by 1 person

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