Lesson Plan Follies

Mar 16, 2017 by

Tipped off years ago by a colleague that our school principal was calling teachers into her office to check their lessons plans, I came prepared. I raised my foot so that she could read the words I had written in chalk on the bottom of my shoe: “Aim–to muddle through until the next retirement incentive.”

The school leader laughed. She was a good sport and a fine educator. She had passed by the open door of my classroom many times and realized that I was doing a good job. I was faithful to the curriculum, organized, in control, and inspired many of the kids and got generally reasonable, often extraordinary results.

There were many other staff members who did the same. That’s what mattered to our principal. She was not on a power trip and did not see herself as summoning teachers for the purpose of inspecting their instructional blueprints. Of course, she made clear that written lesson plans were mandatory and were required to be shown to a supervisor upon demand, but being a superior educator herself, she knew when to voluntarily practice flexibility and not to get bogged down with minutiae and frivolous enforcement.

Then came the bitter, divisive era of former chancellor Joel Klein, under whose regime the system was seized by a “gotcha” mentality. To the breed of school leaders that he cultivated, the lesson plan was more important and telling than the lesson. It existed not as a GPS for instructional direction but rather as an excuse for micromanagement.

At least in war, it, officers know that it’s results on the battlefield that count, not whether the plan was executed to the letter. It’s more critical to cross a river than cross a “t.”

Ironically,  in past years,when a rigid format of lesson plan was mandatory,teachers generally could take greater creative liberties without being disciplined than now, when the DOE-UFT contract openly allows more professional latitude.

Launching a lesson was like launching an expedition for a moon landing. That means all the details must be planned ahead, but there must also be a readiness to adjust to contingencies that may unexpectedly arise and to handle them safely and with confidence. With the active minds of engaged kids, glorious orbits can come out of nowhere.

Although supervisors can no longer impose a specific template or collect the plans ritualistically, they often do so anyway and get away with it, because teachers have learned what it means to win battles and lose wars.

Certainly a satisfactory teacher is free to stand by his contractual right to tailor his lesson plans to his own style and the needs of his students and to improvise when the course of the lesson lends itself to it. But first he must calculate the cost of retribution that most of the newer supervisors have been fostered to shoot at them.

The DOE will invariably sustain any supervisor in any conflict in which judgement is even marginally a factor.

With many sterling exceptions, supervisors are more in the business of entrapment than helping their subordinates. Yet many of the supervisors since the Bloomberg era, (who can no longer be referred to as the “new breed” since they’ve been around for many years, now)  will lecture teachers about lesson plan non-conformity.

It is essential that teachers be fully prepared for every lesson. But it should not be imperative that they be formally written down. Teachers should be judged on their performance. Am intellectual mapquest is a handicap for many proficient teachers. Lesson plans should not be tools for servitude, but rather as pathfinders to achieving one’s potential for excellence.

Think of the equivalent in another profession, such as medicine.  Would you not send your child to a 30-year highly-regarded pediatrician because a Department of Health official showed up in her office one day and audited proceedings in the examination room and found fault that the physician did not have blue,red and green balloon-themed wallpaper and her tongue-depressors were in a plastic jar, instead of a glass one in the northwest corner of the room rather than the southeast?

And if a memo were transmitted to the division of licensing of the State Department of Education for forgetting to tell the kid to say “ahhhh”?

Of course that’s an exaggeration. But teachers have had to answer to some pretty serious tribunals for practicing self-respect and independence from the phony rigors and constraints of lesson plans.

Lesson plans should de-regulated not only in theory but in practice. And they should be voluntary and limited to educators who must rely on them to be effective.  There’s is no need to maintain these “training wheels” for master “cyclists.”

Ron Isaac

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