Where Has the Art of Teaching Gone?

When I graduated college, I remember being so excited to create interesting learning experience for my students. As a remedial middle school math teacher, I was able to do that. There was no curriculum in place for my course so I had the freedom to engage my students “unscripted” and “unchallenged” by any other views. I chose relationships, manipulatives, technology, real world applications, art and even the occasional outdoors math class in lieu of the traditional structure that kids were accustomed to. To this day, that class is still my benchmark for engagement.

When I transitioned to high school, I knew right away that the spontaneity that existed within my teaching arsenal would no longer be acceptable. As a “core” math teacher, I was becoming a part of the machine. Our school ran a curriculum piece that we referred to as “A & M Consolidated” as it was written and sold by teachers from another high school in Texas. I was no longer the designer of my own instruction based on the needs of my students and the standards that I knew so well. I was told that I had to teach their lesson… on their specific day… just like the other teachers in our hall. We even had pre-made power points that I had to run.

For one year, I was a robot living on a diet of worksheets and packets. Slowly but surely, it sucked the life out of me and my students.

That system that we used was akin to running Khan Academy videos but on paper…and lots of it. The art of teaching did not exist. How could it? Teachers became 100% dependent on those district provided mandated documents. For our teachers, if the network went down leaving those documents unaccessible, their worlds ended.

When we met as a team, there were no discussions about students and how they learned. The discussions were entirely about how many copies were needed for each teacher and when. It was our normal…at least for the year that I conformed.

The sad reality is that the life that I am describing, from many moons ago, is the life that many teachers still live today.

In many school districts, teachers are no longer the architects of learning in their own classrooms. They are locked in a system of “do as you are told” and sometimes that isn’t always what is best for kids.

I’ve had many conversations with teachers who are frustrated with the all too common district/admin mandates that are destroying the art of teaching. Heard this one…

“When I walk into any class, I should see the same lessons.  I should be hearing the same vocabulary. Your lessons must be identical and met with a consensus.”

Mandates such as the one above are what cause teachers to feel that they can’t be innovative because there is always someone on their team who refuses to do so. As the mandate states, if not all…then none.

To be clear, as a high school teacher, I taught alongside a PE certified non-mathematician teaching math and a govt/economics teacher turned math teacher. Our lessons could not possibly be identical. There is a difference between teaching from a script and understanding what the script means. Even without my own freedom to design, I adjusted to the needs of my students. Our lessons NEVER looked or sounded the same even when they were.

What SHOULD Be Happening

Our kids deserve engaging learning environments and we have to trust the teachers in charge of those environments to provide them. I’m not naive enough to think that every teacher has “it” to make that happen. They do not. However, just as we forcibly throw district mandated curriculum and technology at teachers, we can also embed the development needed to improve our practice.

If we want kids to be autonomous learners, we’ve got to build an army of teachers who are empowered to be the same!

Districts with curriculum specialist should be working alongside teachers…modeling and co-teaching when needed. Those moments should be followed with reflection meant to help the teacher evaluate their own progress. Districts without curriculum specialist should invest in sustainable professional development…not just random spots of training but real development where there are measurable goals meant to improve teaching.

PLCs are amazing when utilized in a way where student learning is the focus with improved teaching. Teams with “risk-taking idealistic” teachers should be taking advantage of the ideas that those teachers have. Give them a voice and a platform to share their knowledge with the others. That’s how leaders are born! That’s how our profession grows.

Teaching is an art form and denying knowledgeable teachers the room to do so is disheartening. Not providing the development needed for teachers lagging behind is even worse.

I should NEVER hear these words…

“I can’t do that in my class because __________ who teaches on my team won’t do it”

Where has the art of teaching gone?

It’s hiding in the same cave as the reluctant teacher on the hall who is holding back progress as they were mandated to do.


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