Every one of us knows that one teacher who has a file cabinet filled with folders containing worksheets and detailed outlines of lessons taught in previous years. The files are numbered and dated, and every year he or she checks the scope and sequence and the calendar, then goes to the cabinet to remove that week’s lesson plan. It’s complete and ready to go at a moment’s notice because it never changes. Students may come and go, as do trends, fads, and new concepts in teaching, but these lessons never change. After all, algebra (or whatever the course may be) hasn’t changed in a really long time, right? Why change the way we teach it?
Each year, for as long as I can remember, I have planned and documented my lessons as though I were going to be that teacher next year. Then, something remarkable happens during the summer. I read a new book, attend a new training, have a fresh conversation with a colleague, or sometimes I might even have what feels like a truly original thought. Then, I throw my previous year’s lesson plans out and start planning all over again with new strategies and concepts to guide the way.
A lot of work? You better believe it. Most of the time, it’s worth the effort, though.
What happens, however, when it becomes clear six or 12 weeks into the year that what I planned in July isn’t working? Is it “damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!“? When the students I thought I was getting aren’t the students who actually arrived on my doorstep at all? Does it matter what I had planned? What are my options when the way I am teaching it doesn’t engage the students, and they aren’t being as successful as they could be? My curriculum guides haven’t changed, and I still have to teach computer applications. The “how” becomes dramatically important, and I had better be prepared to adjust course.
Classroom management. The APA defines classroom management as “the process by which teachers and schools create and maintain appropriate behavior of students in classroom settings.” As important as student behavior is, for me, management is much broader than mere behavior.
Sometimes these kinds of adjustments are driven by curriculum. For example, last year, I taught my students and assessed them using what I will call Standardized Test 1.0. This year, without changing textbooks or scope and sequence, I was handed Standardized Test 3.0 — a much more difficult assessment with significant content alterations. The plan that seemed so logical in July and August no longer worked. It would take different teaching methodologies and learning strategies to drill down as deeply as “Version 3.0” demanded.
At other times, these adjustments are student-driven. This, by the way, is where I have a problem using data from previous years to make too many teaching decisions about a current year. (For example, I know a teacher whose goals for STAAR testing performance this year are based on student performance data from 2-3 years ago when TAKS was the testing instrument. Different students. Much different assessment tool. It may not be apples to oranges, but it is at least oranges to tangerines.) My data from student performance in my class during the first six weeks is part of the reason that I began to change my strategies during the second six weeks grading period.
One of my hobbies is sailing. To successfully navigate a body of water, I must become a student of the wind and it’s effects on my sails. If I fail to adjust the sails in response to the wind, I will sit dead in the water and go nowhere. I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I am absolutely in charge of the sails. Making those adjustments — however small – is sail management. It’s just not that different in the classroom. H. Jackson Browne, Jr. is credited with having written,
I cannot change the students I have been given to teach, but I can change my methodologies. To me, that also is classroom management.
What are your thoughts on Dr. McCoy’s analogy of being a student of the wind to adjust the sails and alter course? -Peggy Semingson