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