I have been teaching high school students English Language Arts for 14 years. Over those years there have been various recommendations regarding curriculum development from various interest groups, building administrators, district administrators, curriculum coordinators, school board members, parents, and students. Over those years teachers have been asked to focus on raising the bar for reading scores, writing scores, assessment, and academic expectations. With each passing year the targets change or, shall I say, the emphasis shifts. Maybe one year the buzz is about reading, the next year it’s about writing, maybe it’s project based assessment, and then the target becomes student engagement.
I do recognize the significance of all these points of emphasis in terms of educating our children and the hope for the future. However, for me, I have a difficult time buzz-balancing when the target continues to relocate itself or it just becomes too dark to see. Yes, yes the canon of school curriculum is a living document, but once we finally get our ship to come about, the wind shifts as does our course. Once again it’s time to let the sails down to flap in the wind a while while we reorganize our trip log and orientate our compass.
From time to time it’s good to pause and reflect on where we have been and where we are going. Most teachers I know and work with are their own worst critics and are constantly evaluating their effectiveness regarding the success of the students they teach. Most teachers I know and work with examine existing outcomes of their students to make informed decisions on content, classroom management, and teaching strategies.
The constant change of focus can be looked at in two ways. First, teachers become educated in the significance of each target du jour. Most teachers I know and work with are life-long learners and enjoy learning new strategies. These same teachers want what is best for their students and believe the special interest groups of people who tell them there is a need for ratcheting up the stakes. Teachers can dabble with each focus for a little while then move on to the next item up for bids. It’s like the use of my Smartboard…I have no idea of the full capabilities of the Smartboard in my classroom because I haven’t found the time to explore the, what seem like, endless options. This dabbling provides some insight but lacks depth and clarity therefore preventing teachers from mastering needed skills to promote and accomplish the tasks of the current buzz.
Secondly, teachers become so disenfranchised with change that they give in to the pressure and become much less effective teachers for the students in their classrooms. If I become overwhelmed with the infinite amount of capability my Smartboard has, maybe it just becomes something that hangs on my cold brick wall collecting dust. Teachers become numb to the changing winds. As soon as they get a handle on something, get their ship pointed in the proper direction, teachers are asked, again, to re-evaluate.
Change is good, however there needs to be strong direction. Teachers must be confident in the coordinates they are given. Believing in where we are going and knowing where we have been are the responsibility of the captain of the ship. While the teachers serve as captain within their classrooms, the special interest groups are the Commanders-in-Chief. We must follow our visionaries who have a plan and lead their crew despite inclement elements of change.