Monday, March 21, 2011

Miss O' Starts Training and Hasn't Had Her Coffee Yet

When I run the world…

When last we left the fevered brain of Miss O’, she was laying the groundwork for a complete restructuring of the Colleges of Education at America’s universities. Having never worked in one of these, this must seem like appalling arrogance, sheer folly, or something that a nice shot of Powers and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker could help her work through in the privacy of a therapy session with full bar.

DISCLOSURE: Neither of those remedies worked to prevent this blog, though they have helped enormously with loads of other “issues,” so-called.

MY FRIEND JWC: Lisa, isn’t it true that either you can teach, or you can’t?

LO’H: Sorry?

MY FRIEND JWC: You’re either born a teacher, or you’re not. It can’t be taught.

LO’H: People say the same about acting, dancing, and playing music. So you’re saying that every performer should arrive full-blown ready to perform just on natural talent?

MY FRIEND JWC: Some things can’t be taught.

LO’H: I agree that you can’t teach TALENT. But without training, a talent may never develop. And even training a so-called “untalented” person can develop some aptitudes heretofore untapped.  But that’s for another time. Have a drink, won’t you?

WARNING TO THE READER, as is only fair:

What you are about to read is kind of academic, therefore I have to spell out a caveat which I hope is obvious: NOTHING, but nothing, teaches like experience, nothing shows you like on-the-job training.

But again I have to use the analogy of doctors and protectors: Teachers are not like cashiers. Cashiers are awesome, I’m so grateful for them, and while their jobs are important, lives are not “in the balance” (only a little customer inconvenience) when they walk into their jobs and train on the spot, which is FINE. Teachers, by contrast, have lives in their hands. This way of thinking may require an adjustment on your part.

Just as you wouldn’t send a potential doctor into a hospital operating room to “learn on the job,” just so you wouldn’t send a teacher into a classroom without training. Except that WE DO. Just as you wouldn’t send out a cop, a firefighter, or a Marine out into the line of fire without training, so you cannot, cannot send teachers into classrooms without preparation. Yes, I think teaching is that important.

Classrooms, you think, aren’t dangerous. Really? Ask the people of Columbine High School. How many emotional fires did I put out on a day to day basis? Not to go all dramatic on your ass, but this shit matters. Because learning should really be delightful. Now to training!


Objective: Student teachers will correctly (or at least reasonably) interpret state standards in preparation for writing instructional plans. (Do I believe in Standards? To a point. But this isn't about what I believe. Standards ARE. And Teachers have to learn how to teach them. I'll discourse more on my views later.)

Materials: •State Standards or National Core documents from any state where your students plan to teach, in their proposed subject area and at the appropriate grade level   •Basal educational program samples

The Course Overview, In Brief: For the Professor

1.     Give each student teacher a document of core standards, grades K-12 as needed, for their content area, their chosen state (or national core, or for one sampler state if the student is undecided). You, the professor, should then

a) explain how the standards came about;
b) model how to interpret some of the standards from various grade levels and content areas, including ones with gaps such as ones I outlined; then

c) do a guided practice with the class on how to read, closely, other standards (as I modeled for you--The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly ones); then

d) allow small groups of student teachers to interpret yet other standards and analyze what information is there, what is missing, etc.; then

e) explain how a textbook (or other instructional material) comes into it by modeling how a lesson in a textbook can be used to meet a standard; then

f) to do a guided practice, supply each small group with copies of a textbook in a particular subject area, at a particular grade level, that would go with the standards they are analyzing, in order to evaluate how well the textbook meets the standards*(*see elaboration below); then

g) by performing course work that leads to a final project, have student teachers individually apply their new knowledge and analysis to selecting some lessons around a collection of standards using that text book.*

h) Lather, rinse, repeat, until you have worked through an entire Standards Document. I am not kidding. NOTE: The student teachers are not planning lessons. All they are doing is reading and interpreting standards, and checking to see what materials would help them meet those standards.  ALL of them.

 I am relying on you, Professor of Education, to find a variety of approaches to this task to keep it relevant and interesting: You are the Professor and therefore, a MODEL of Good Teaching.  Right?

 *(f, g) ON THE PROJECT: To help prepare student teachers to do the “Apply” portion of the course, supply every student teacher with a variety of basal programs and ancillary or supplemental educational materials to review. Textbook companies supply these online or on CD now, at least as samplers, and no doubt your library includes a variety of old and new printings of such texts. Have students analyze the products by grade level against appropriate state standards for states where they plan to teach: How would a teacher teach these standards with these materials? Where are the gaps? Then, as before, explain, model, do guided practice on how to conduct such an evaluation. To wit:

i. Begin in the Table of Contents of a Pupil Edition of a book or digital text. Find the Table of Contents in the corresponding Teacher’s Edition of that book. Go page, by page, by page (or lesson by lesson) to see how the program is structured. Note any ancillary materials.

ii. Select a standard and review your interpretation of it.

iii. Ask, To apply this standard, what kind of text am I looking for? Then find that text in the program. Together, read the selection, or chapter, etc. Analyze: Does this instruction match what the standard is looking for?  Discuss.

iv. Then have the student teachers practice by applying the standards to the products by themselves.

v. And, finally, assign each student teacher a text book or similar material to use for the final project.

vi. It’s a lot of work.

vii. Yes, this project will be a bitch to grade.

Reminder: Please keep in mind: Allow me this redundancy. Again.

EXTENSION: I hope you will notice that you are also modeling how to participate in a textbook adoption, which schools undergo every 5 to 7 years, when all the books the schools have, have worn out and become tiresome. Books may be fully digital by the time my book goes to press, and lessons in a “balanced literacy” model, meaning that teachers can pick and choose stuff to build their own books, so to speak.


            Possibly new teachers will have to, or have the option to, supply their own materials. This kind of search takes butt-loads of time. BUTT LOADS of precious, precious TIME that NEW teachers DO NOT HAVE. We're talking finding GRADE-LEVEL-SPECIFIC, approved materials for their classes. How do you start doing that? Do you even KNOW? Why torment them, Professor, by rolling your eyes over the hard work of textbook companies just because it isn’t what you would do? Shut up. This is NOT ABOUT YOU. This is also not about these new teachers being locked into a format or a text for thirty years. This is about helping young teachers LAST beyond one year. You are here to teach teachers how to do the best they can with limited resources and keep them teaching. DO THAT.

FYI: My Grandma Kirlin taught a couple of dozen kids of all ages, all subjects, in a one-room school house in Missouri in the 1920s with a single book called Circle of Knowledge: A Classified, Simplified, Visualized Book of Answers published in 1924 by the Standard Publication Company in Iowa City. It did fine. That oft-taped-up book is here on my desk as I type, and it smells deliciously like knowing.


            In college, as you know, I spent perhaps one, or possibly three, class sessions looking at standards in what could only be described as a cursory way. Possibly I exaggerate. But not by much. In addition, I spent a grand total of ONE HOUR looking at and “evaluating” high school English textbooks. One. Hour. Totally unguided. Our professor walked a group of us into a room, some storage space, and said, “Here are copies of the textbooks some teachers are using now. Take a look and tell me which ones you like.” About 40 minutes later, she returned and asked us for an anecdotal evaluation. “Well,” she concluded, “most teachers like this one,” and held up a blue book. And that was the end of the session.

            I really hope you see why that lesson was inadequate. Now being a writer of these textbooks, and seeing first-hand how much research, writing, editing, and evaluating goes into them, I’m even more appalled by the lack of communication between textbook companies and Colleges of Education, looking at it in this analytical way. In any case, Colleges of Education must recognize that teachers need to become comfortable using the two big tools of the trade: State Standards Documents, and Print and Digital Instructional Materials. It’s basic.

BOTTOM LINE (though I never really have believed in a bottom line when there never seems to be a bottom): Whatever the choice of materials, teachers need to learn how to read and interpret standards, and select appropriate grade-level materials to teach the standards, in order to design lessons to instruct the children.

That is the end of the Standards Course. Next, College of Education Professor, you will deepen the student teachers’ understanding in the second full course, LESSON PLANNING, shifting focus from STANDARDS to implementing the teaching of the standards through, duh, PLANNING LESSONS. How’s that for a novel way to sequence college education courses? (Oh, wait, you want me to learn THEORY? Really? How pissed do I sound?)


            Years and years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Yellowstone National Park, teachers in elementary school drew from several resources: Palmer Method booklets for penmanship; spellers for spelling; Macmillan readers for reading; a math workbook for math; and the library’s shelf of World Book Encyclopedia for reports on science or history or geography. Teachers created their own lessons from the materials, doing them their own way, as far as I can tell, because all my teachers were wildly different. I learned fine.

            Later, as teaching became a less desirable profession--controlled from the outside to within an inch of anything like a creative life by choking “standards” committees appointed by legislators, even as salaries, benefits, and pensions were cut--and teachers sought other work, schools had to hire “permanent substitutes,” a.k.a. “warm bodies” who were utterly untrained in teaching. To make sure kids were still getting an education, schools asked textbook companies to create “scripted books,” and that is what textbook companies make today. Companies tell teachers what to teach, when to teach it, how long to spend, and exactly what to say.  The instruction is often very good. It is also TOO MUCH, because keep in mind that every state standard ever created has to be addressed three times in every single nationally-created book at every grade level. For a basic reading program, since that is the most important subject, states have asked textbook companies to include all the science and social studies standards, too.

            Ever wonder why Teacher’s Editions are do damned big? That’s why.

            But here a small professor says, “So, if the textbook companies have all the answers, why do I have to bother teaching a Lesson Planning Course? I’d rather teach Greg Mortensen’s inspiring, Three Cups of Tea.”

            “But that is not all there is to planning a day,” I say.

            At the elementary level, a scripted, basal-based program like the one mentioned will work fine to help teachers plan reading instruction. In addition, though, teachers have to understand how to integrate art, music, math, PE, recess, snack, lunch, bathroom breaks, science fairs, assemblies, and other events into a school day.

            At the middle and high school levels, teachers are often given a textbook, the accompanying Teacher Kit, and a School Handbook, and told, “Have a good year.” Because this is so often the case, Colleges of Education have to help. If they don’t, they will be responsible for a terrifying trend in the upper grades: the fully scripted year, where all the literature, lessons, etc., are taught at the same time, the same way, year in, year out, leaving no room for special teacher gifts for architecture, poetry, or drama, for example. A teacher may not be allowed to have her kids act out Julius Caesar. She would, by county decree, have to teach it using a recording of Act III over a set period of time. To a large extent, this has become the case in my former school system. This is SICK.

            But until Colleges of Education really address the need to teach effective instructional planning, school systems will come to feel that this lock-step method is the answer. Talk about sucking all the joy out of a profession--the irony being that EVEN FEWER good people will go into teaching. Stop the madness, and start the next course.


            Once a student teacher has evaluated state standards and understands how to review and use educational materials to implement those standards, he or she can begin the process of roughing out a plan for a full year, a semester, and the quarters. From there, she or he will begin writing full-fledged daily lessons. You may ask, Isn’t that backward? And I say, Yes. And that’s how we’re working.

            As I mentioned earlier, many schools like to see a full year plan right out front. The trouble, of course, is that new teachers do not have “sea legs.”  (I talk about this in my memoir portions of this blog, which does not take place on a ship. “Sea legs” is a nautical metaphor that refers to the effect of bouncing water on the legs of sailors. Tired of me being an asshole yet?)

            It seems to me that if a school wants its brand new teachers to have a full year’s curriculum plan ready by September’s end, the school powers that be ought to supply the teacher with 1) a copy of the state standards; 2) county or district amendations to the standards; 3) textbooks and other materials; 4) models of yearly plans from current teachers; 5) a meeting time for all grade-level teachers to work on this plan together, especially if teachers have to share sets of supplemental books and copies of DVDs; and 6) a mentor.

            Ha, ha!

            No, seriously, my schools helped me, but it was really haphazard. (God bless you, Ceil, Estelline, Linda, Chuck, and Ann, who just volunteered to help when I was flailing.) I told you: Most teachers are lousy teachers of other teachers. And principals? A lot of them are in administration for a reason. Not that that’s bad, but, you know. And even good ones have a big school to run. (I talk more about this in the “memoir” part.)

            So Colleges of Education have to teach teachers how to create an effective instructional plan.


            To repeat and reinforce: Your student teachers have just spent a full semester immersed in state standards documents and textbook materials. Now they need to build from this and write plans for the year, the semester, each 9- (or 6-) weeks, and finally the daily lessons. The materials from the Standards Course should carry over directly to the Lesson Planning Course. Why have them play Mr. Antrobus and reinvent the goddamned wheel again?

They are students under stress, trying to master something. The work they generated before in THE STANDARDS COURSE will serve as a foundation for the next phase of their education, and the next. This is hard work, and it’s time to prepare. Sorry, yes, I see a hand up out there.

Q: Once students see how hard teaching really is, won’t they drop out of the program?

A: Yes. Because that’s what always happens to doctors. And why we have no doctors in America. Or engineers.

Q: But doctors and engineers have the potential to make a lot of money.

A: Touché. But I say better they drop out now than traumatize 150 kids their first and only year of teaching. A lousy doctor could kill a person.

Q: Won’t students get bored with all this standards and lesson planning shit? 

A: They are applying the lessons of real life as they will in real life, a real life, which is, in fact, already in progress. Education is repetition, year after year after year. Same goes for eating and peeing. The secret to enjoyment is that you just keep trying to do it better, find more in it. Including the peeing. Especially the peeing.


Objective: To create thorough instructional plans for the year, the semester, each 9- or 6-weeks, each unit, each day of one grade level in one subject area

Materials: •State standards documents   •Textbooks or other instructional materials   •Models of instructional plans at all phases

1.  After explaining the importance of good planning, and what a lesson plan contains (Objectives (that meet standards), Materials, Instruction, Activities, Assessment), you need to provide models of effective plans. Begin with the Year Plan. Model one, or several. Demonstrate how the plan meets all standards for a given state, subject area, and grade level.

2. Have students practice by making their own year plans, using standards. This will take more than, say, one day. These plans are general: You want them to create a broad overview to see in what ways they could cover all the standards in one year.

3. Model, in the same way--and have students practice, in the same way--plans at the semester and 9- or 6- weeks levels. (See the Assessments, below)

4. To begin teaching how to make daily lesson plans, you have to break the imagined “class period” into timed sections. Some schools are on block periods, meeting 90 minutes every other day. Some have 45- or 50-minute periods that meet every day. Model planning for 45-minute sessions, with a variety of approaches, and teachers can combine these for blocks. An Instructional Delivery Course follows this one, so don’t belabor exactly HOW the lessons will be fleshed out and taught. This is a general plan: Introduce adverbs; read “The Minister’s Black Veil,” that sort of thing.

5. There is a Classroom Management Course that follow later, so don’t belabor this, either, but each day, as you model the realities of roll-taking, signing excused absence notes, returning papers, collecting homework assignments, as well as instruction, remind students you are modeling it. Just mention it. This is part of instructional time.

6.  Following their yearly and semester plans, this class is a chance for them to begin thinking about constructing lessons to be done in real time, over a full 9- or 6-weeks. I would say do 6 weeks’ worth of lessons, day, by day, by day. At the end of the course, students should have a real sense of complete units of study, two 3-week units, or three 2-week units. (See below.)

To assess this course, Professor, here’s what you are grading:
a) Have student teachers write a year-long plan for their chosen subject area at their chosen grade level, using their state’s standards and a selected subject basal program or other materials; follow this by having them make a semester plan, and then a set of plans for each six- or nine-weeks. NOTE: These plans are not specific--they outline only the standard addressed and the materials used to address them.

b) Now we get specific: Have student teachers write a complete set of daily lesson plans for six weeks of two to three units from their nine-weeks (or six-weeks) plans. Each day’s lesson must include Objectives; Materials; State Standards references; Instructional Plan; Activities (general); and Assessment (which you will allow them to leave blank--see the next course, ASSESSMENT). This is for each day, five days a week, for six full weeks. This is a lot of shit to write, and will be a bitch from hell to grade. That’s teaching, baby.

c) Have students revise the yearly and semester plans to include in the Final Project of full daily lessons, based on what they’ve learned from the whole process.

d) For the exam, do a timed version of the same thing. Standardize it so it’s easy to grade. The point of this assessment is that given any standard, and any set of materials, a teacher should be able to write one lesson. Provide, for example: One standard; one set of instructional materials, and pertinent information about the grade level or school. Students are to produce 1) a general lesson, as for a year-plan; and 2) a full daily lesson based on the materials they were given. (See my Theater Production Final Exam materials in later in the “book” as a model of how to do this.)

e) Finally, for 20 points, let the poor babies vent their troubles in an essay. Don’t grade it. Just ask them to tell you what they know, so you can learn from it, too.

Whew! Two semester courses down!

TO MY TEACHER READERS: Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love it if you would comment in the actual blog, but Facebook is fine. Share your war stories, if you would, and let me know if classes like the ones above and the ones to come would have helped you. I know they would have helped me more than “Education in Japan.”

1 comment:

  1. Again...I don't know how teachers do it. I honestly don't.