Atlas is about to shrug. I have been trying to adapt others’ required lesson plans to meet my students needs. This will stop. I am going to follow those lesson plans exactly. With all these watchful eyes, I don’t think I have a choice. Also, adapting can get you in the damnedest kinds of trouble. I have an evaluator who criticized me for not using the opener in the whole-group lesson plan (We are not supposed to do whole group instruction, but we are supposed to follow whole group lesson plans!) despite the fact that I know from experience most of my kids could not do that problem. An opener is supposed to take five minutes but this was a division problem and most of my kids don’t know how to divide without a calculator.
“Our teacher told us you don’t have to know how to do that anymore,” one explained. “You use the calculator.”
In practical terms, passing out all the calculators during a lesson that otherwise needs no calculators to do one division problem would be silly and would defeat the purposes of having 5 quiet minutes to take attendance and handle administrative matters. In larger terms, I definitely need to teach division since it’s not actually an optional math skill, no matter what some teacher may or may not have said. That student may even have been quoting his elementary school correctly. I had a district administrator tell me the same thing a couple of years ago. When discussing the lack of basic math skills among my students, she told me not to worry about that.
“Just give them calculators,” she said.
You can do ratios and proportions without knowing division. In spots where division might be useful, you find a way to multiply instead. I can divide by 4 or I can multiply by 1/4 to the same effect.
Oops, straying off track here.
I got in a fair amount of trouble for deviating from the lesson plan, among other infractions. Now I might observe that I have been teaching for years. If we want to use numbers that those digits bureaucrats and administrators have decided tell all, my I.Q.s about 150. I once heard it takes a 69 on the Miller Analogies Test to get into MENSA. I got a 79. I’m pretty freaking smart even if age and hard-living have taken their toll. I might say that I am probably capable of adapting lesson plans to my students’ advantage.
But I won’t. If I tried, someone would probably tell me, “We won’t accept any excuses.”
Unfortunately, “we” apparently won’t listen to any explanations either, since all explanations are immediately filed into the excuses category.
I see only one option. I do the lesson plans exactly. Maybe this will work better than I think it will. We will do all the small group work demanded, even if I have two classes who are on average 3-4 years behind the material we are presenting, according to the measuring instruments my administrators are employing. In one class, 4 students are 4-5 years behind. One pegs in at a first grade level. She comes to tutoring with me weekly and I can vouch for the accuracy of this number. She’s a lovely girl. Math doesn’t stick with her and I have to shove into this year’s time demands the need to get this child tested for special education. I may foist the lion’s share of the responsibility for this effort off on a more-favored colleague, since I don’t want admin to think I am “making excuses.”
I’m feeling negative right now and this concerns me. I will have to work on being supportive and cheery, I guess. Negativity doesn’t help much of anything. Neither does attempting to explain the problems inherent in the situation. No one listens. I have amassed a great deal of knowledge that feels rather useless in my daily life. Oh, well. The kids regularly use the perfect word for this grim reality: Whatever…
In practical terms, I’m about to start to do something that I don’t think will work as well as what I have been doing. The benefit to me is that I won’t have to justify anything. If I do only what other people have planned, I will not be held responsible for independent efforts. I am also going to find ways to put these guys into the required small groups. I have been working on this. I guess it’s overdue, too. I spent a great deal of time trying to explain to my kids what a conclusion was yesterday. Some of them may be ready now to answer the question, “What can you conclude from this graph?” Did I need to break them into groups for this? Maybe not, but having me talk to 2 or 3 of them and repeat the same information probably did make it more likely that this information would sink in. As to the time lost by students in other groups who were stuck, while I was across the room, I don’t have much to say except that going up front to address the group would have been another example of the much-maligned whole-group instruction. No, we are going to do groups if it kills us. We have to learn groups. Maybe my initial time loss as we learn how to effectively do groups will provide long-term benefit.
Admin would say I should have differentiated the materials given to the groups, giving some groups easier work than others. My answer would be that a graph about gas price per gallon has to be about as simple as it gets. One gallon costs $3.00, 2 gallons cost $6.00, etc. I can’t get much simpler than that. Given that all groups were struggling with my graph, a more difficult graph for any group doesn’t seem to make much sense either.
Will the time loss from repeated group work be recouped in long-term learning? That issue has passed out of my hands. As in Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, I think I will take my mind off the market. My best tactical move appears to be to do exactly what everybody tells me to do. I don’t see how continuously passing out incomprehensible materials will work, but I will find out. Fast and furious teaching will be the only way to approach this plan.
Eduhonesty: My problem will be a simple one. I can take the fast and furious approach: Will my students follow me down that road? Some will. I have no reason to believe the majority will. This material has been running years above their academic operating level. I can only hope to be pleasantly surprised.
If I am really lucky, somewhere I may even find time to teach the missing division and other lost elementary-school skills. Maybe. But those lesson plans I am about to follow in lock-step fashion don’t leave much extra time for “regular” students, let alone those middle school students who have already fallen a full 3 – 5 years behind the pack.