Writing is essential in any teaching process. Conveying thoughts into words might be difficult, but it is one of the most necessary abilities. Longer written forms like essays are especially important, hence they can help the student in defending his opinions. To be able to do that correctly can simplify the life of the students. But how to teach essay writing to your students?
It is a well-known fact that we learn through mimicry. We should utilize this in our teaching process.
1. Start with an example
Before any writing occurs, we need to provide our students with examples of similar works. They will get to know how an essay looks like, and what a range of topics it can cover. Show them works from various fields. Give them time to read, and ask them to write about their feelings connected to the writing.
Discuss their observations. Find out what they like and what they disliked about those works. Pose questions that will enrich their observation: “Why do you think this is a paragraph? What made the writer decide on dividing it in that way?” The answers may vary, but they will lead onto another part of the learning process – the construction.
2. Introduction to construction
The students can already see that the work is divided into paragraphs, and they will find out why. Each writing consists of three parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. The provided examples show those three fundamental segments, and the students can label them themselves.
You should show your students the role of each of those segments. Starting with the introduction, and finishing with the conclusion, you can pick examples from your favorite essays, and show the students, why you chose those. If they have a basic understanding of the rules of construction, you can move to the next step.
3. Construction of Introduction
Each essay starts with an introduction, so if you want to teach essay writing effectively, you have to be able to explain the importance of introduction. It needs to grab the attention of the reader, tell them what this work will be about, and what kind of problem it will attempt to solve. This part of the work should invite the potential reader to the next segments – the body, and then, finally, the conclusion.
Introductions usually start with a broad topic, and through the next couple of sentences focus on a certain aspect of that topic. This leads the reader to the thesis statement that each introduction is equipped with. The thesis statement introduces what the essay will be about, and the reasoning behind it.
4. The main part — the Body
After showing what a great introduction can do for the whole work, we can move onto the body. It is the biggest part of any essay, and it has various paragraphs for various reasons. This is the space where the students put all their data in, all their evidence to support their claim made with the thesis statement.
Each of those mentioned paragraphs will have a different function. They start with a topic sentence that sets the mood for the whole segment. Then the student should enforce the topic sentence with evidence, supporting sentences, and data he has gathered. The final sentence of each paragraph should conclude and reinforce the topic sentence. It should also link to the next paragraph.
5. The wrap-up — about Conclusions
After a careful analysis of the previous two parts of the essay, there is space for one more. The whole work is completed by a summary of the presented arguments. The last paragraph of each essay is dedicated to the conclusion.
The students should be able to notice that a good conclusion consists of a repetition of the thesis statement, a summary of the paragraphs from the body. The last sentence of the conclusion is usually devoted to proving that the problem presented in the thesis statement has been solved.
This should be enough for your students to get a firm grasp on the theory before writing an essay. You should be able to provide them with a clear outline of what goes into each segment of the work based on the explanation of each of the components. The students will be able to produce their outlines.
6. The writing process
After helping the students with the structure, you also need to mention the writing process itself. The students might think that they will be able to complete the work in one evening, and as it might be true, the work put in will often result in a bad essay.
Good writing takes time, and showing the students the benefits of a writing plan should illustrate that. Turning the ideas in the heads of the students into essays is a complicated process, but with the help of a writing plan, it takes the anxiety away and helps organize those thoughts.
As the students already know what the components of each essay segment are, they will be able to plan out their process. They can estimate how much time it will take for them to research the topic, brainstorm ideas, and then finally write the essay. After completing the work there is one last stage before they can hand it in.
7. Editing is essential
The first draft is never perfect. The student might think that after writing the essay his work is done, but we need to make him aware that editing is also important. It enables us to refine our thought process, and make it more reader-friendly.
If there are unclear sentences it makes the work much more difficult to understand where the student was going with his thesis statement and argumentation.
As Dr. Seuss has put it “So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”
After all these steps are completed, the student can submit their completed essay to us. We have shown them the world of essay writing, illustrated the construction, and gave them some tips for finishing their work. Those seven tips should provide you with enough material for even the most difficult students.
Whether you are a teacher, a parent, or a tutor, it is difficult to watch a student struggle to grasp the same concepts as other children. Each child learns differently depending on his or her personality. Reaching these kids means developing new tactics for learning. Here are four ways parents and educators can address learning complications.
Use hands-on projects to supplement learning
Some children need to interact physically with new concepts. Taking time to work on a science project that teaches gravity, or using real-world objects during math lessons can help. History maps, graphs, videos, and other items can help these students connect the terminology in the brain.
Provide a quiet space to learn where there are fewer distractions
Some children just need a quieter space to work. Providing a desk or table away from the main area can be helpful. The key is to make sure these students do not feel alienated from the rest of the class. Giving the child a time limit or allowing a few students to take part in the side activity may help.
Suggest tutoring sessions for one-on-one activities
Many children need specific guidance to overcome learning problems. Regular visits with a tutor can give a child a platform to ask questions. Some children are shy in front of others, and a smaller group setting can help. Tutors can determine the type of learning personality for each child and develop a plan to give these children the best chance for success. High performance tutoring determines the child’s strengths and weaknesses allowing them to learn at their pace.
Offer recap homework
Sometimes, all a child needs to grasp a difficult concept is a little reiteration. Giving homework that goes over the primary lessons for the day can help hard lessons stick. Children need regular exposure to the same lessons to help them learn them for life. For example, a difficult math concept like factoring can take more than one day or lesson to grasp. For many students, a week-long course is necessary to get all the fine points of this lesson down pat. Giving homework that covers the major concepts each day is important for memory retention.
Helping your students do better in class takes a little extra work. The effort is usually well-rewarded with better grades, a more positive attitude, and improved performance in class. Teachers can also point out other ways to help students get involved in the class.
For many reasons, a lot of teachers have a hard time saying no. People who go into teaching want to help others. We often satisfy others’ needs over our own. Many teachers were good students, which often means they were rule followers. Many of us tend to be conformists. When we see other teachers joining committees, we have a difficult time saying no. We also know our schools are strapped for cash, so we agree to work for free, knowing there just aren’t enough people to do everything that needs to be done. We don’t like disappointing others. We fear what will happen if we don’t say yes. We don’t want to be perceived as lazy. Knowing this, some administrators lay on guilt trips and appeal to our selfless natures. It’s for the kids, they remind us.
No matter the reason, many teachers end up agreeing to join committees, attend after-school parent nights, tutor students before class, organize book rooms or science materials, or agree to be their school’s union representative even though they don’t really want to.
They recognize that there are trade-offs. By stretching themselves thin, they’re unable to do anything as well as they would like. They become less prepared teachers, which leads to less effective teaching, which leads to greater stress, more exhaustion, and a higher likelihood of burning out and quitting. Having said yes to every request, they look around one day and wonder where all their time went. How come they can’t get anything done? Why are they so tired all the time?
It’s important for teachers to say no. Teachers need to say no a whole lot more often than they do. But how do you say no respectfully, yet firmly? How do you say no in a way that will lead others to respect you instead of question your dedication, collegiality, and work ethic?
I have found that the best way to say no starts with two little words: I don’t.
Many people, when they say no, start with, “I can’t.” They then give reasons explaining why they can’t.
“I can’t be on that committee because it meets at 7:00, and I can’t get to work until 7:30.”
“I can’t work on that report because I just don’t know enough about what was done.”
“I can’t chaperone that dance because it’s the same night as my son’s football game.”
The problem with “I can’t” is that circumstances can change. The meetings can be moved to after school. You’ll be given the information you need to write the report. You can’t work this dance, but you can work the one in the spring when it’s no longer football season. “I can’t” says to the person requesting your involvement that, while you can’t do this thing this time, you might be able to do it next time. It invites future requests for your time. If you really don’t want to do the thing, it demands that you create even more explanations for why you can’t. And when you always have a reason for getting out of things, it looks like you’re making up excuses. People don’t respect that.
Instead of saying, “I can’t,” start saying, “I don’t.”
When teachers say, “I don’t,” they send the message that they are in control of their lives. They have rules for how they live. They know what they want. They’re committed. “I don’t” is non-negotiable. It establishes boundaries, instead of just providing what could be perceived as an excuse to get out of doing extra work.
“I don’t” is rare, and that is why it will lead to more respect. Most people don’t really know what they want. They don’t take principled stands. They fail to proactively control their lives. They’re like driftwood, caught up in a current, tossed this way and that by circumstance, instead of captains of their own vessels, intentionally navigating their lives toward predetermined destinations. People respect those who know what they want.
The next time you’re asked to do unpaid work, say, “I’m a professional, and I don’t work for free.”
When asked to join a paid committee you have no interest in, say, “I don’t take on projects that have the potential to diminish my effectiveness in the classroom.”
You might even develop a mantra for any opportunity that doesn’t appeal to you: “I don’t do things that don’t further my goals or excite me.”
“I don’t” works for establishing boundaries in all areas of your life. Once you use it to say no, move on to letting others know what you will and won’t do.
“I don’t read work emails on Sundays.” “I don’t come into the classroom on weekends.” “I don’t allow toys in my classroom.”
Making these two little words a part of your lexicon will head off future requests for your time. They will force you to decide what kinds of things you will and won’t do. They will require you to analyze your own goals and priorities. And they will result in more respect from others. Try it out this week, and let me know how it goes in the comments.
(A few disclosures: I have a Teachers Pay Teachers account. I think I have two products for sale. Last month, I made 24 cents. So this isn’t something vital to my financial survival. Second, I don’t often buy things from Teachers Pay Teachers. I’ve probably downloaded five or six freebies and purchased two or three products in all my years of teaching. I disclose these things so you know I don’t really have a vested interest in TeachersPayTeachers. But I do have opinions.)
Teachers Pay Teachers is a divisive topic in education. On the one hand, millions of actual teachers use it, not only to find materials to use with students but to make money selling their own content. On the other hand, TpT receives a fair amount of criticism from a second group of teachers and those connected to education who aren’t teaching classrooms full of kids. The following popped up in my Twitter feed a couple of days ago and it represents the general sentiment of many critics:
TpT has been on the receiving end of growing criticism like this for the last few years. There are concerns about copyright infringement. Critics contend that the available materials are worksheet heavy (‘worksheets are bad’ being a relatively recent piece of conventional wisdom promulgated by a subset of vocal teachers). Some sellers have been accused of ripping off fellow teachers by copying their freely given content and selling it on TpT. Of course, there are also teachers who don’t like that their fellow educators are engaging in capitalism and hoping to make a buck. (I imagine a Venn diagram of people who feel this way and people who believe teachers should donate hours of their time every week to their employer would only have one circle.)
But perhaps the most persistent criticism, and the one reflected in the tweet above, is that TpT is a terrible source of instructional content. Like Mrs. Boyd, some hold this view with the same certainty that they believe cigarettes are bad for your health and Howard the Duck is a shit movie. The value judgment that wafts off of so many of these folks’ criticisms is that no good teacher would use anything from Teachers Pay Teachers.
Yet many teachers do. Why? For those who believe TpT is a heaping pile of steaming instructional garbage, the only possible answer is that teachers lack access to quality curricula. And while that may be part of the answer, the more complete answer is that many teachers simply don’t share the opinion that TpT is an educational junkyard. For teachers in actual classrooms, there are a number of reasons why TpT is a valuable resource, and there are other reasons why critics’ disdain of TpT is misguided.
Why Teachers Use Teachers Pay Teachers
They Have No Curricula
Certainly, there are teachers who have no curriculum at all but are still expected to teach the standards. The recent report on Providence schools from Johns Hopkins makes this clear. Researchers wrote:
“Teachers, principals, and even students noted the lack of an established curricula as problematic. When asked about the fact that there were supposed to be just four curricula vetted by the district, we were told about multiple impediments: in one school, the new curriculum materials did not arrive until November and included no appropriate materials for IEP students. In other cases, it was clear that ambivalence about using a particular curriculum started at the top. In one school, the principal told us that the school had purchased Eureka [a math curriculum] but that s/he was “not a fan of programs” and so ‘considers Eureka more of a resource than a curriculum.’ Nevertheless, this principal intended to purchase three new ELA curricula next year.”
The report continues:
“In one school, the principal listed almost 20 different curricula, between math and ELA, that are in use.
“We use what we can find,” said an elementary school teacher in a group interview. Teachers in several schools told the team that they would “trade autonomy for a curriculum.”
This is what teachers do. They use what they can find. And it’s really easy to find things on Teachers Pay Teachers. Something is better than nothing, and TpT offers these teachers what their employers haven’t.
They Have Poor Curricula
Like the content on Teachers Pay Teachers, not all curriculum is created equal. Some of it stinks. And some districts purchase odiferous products. Teachers are the people who have to use the smelly lessons and they quickly learn just how offensive the emissions are. If teachers are stuck with stinky curriculum, they have two options: Keep using something that isn’t working or seek out better resources. That such a high percentage of teachers search for resources on Teachers Pay Teachers says less about these teachers’ unprofessionalism and more about how deficient they find the curricula they’ve been asked to use. If anything, the use of Teachers Pay Teachers indicates teachers’ earnest desire to find resources that engage and educate, not that they’re abdicating their instructional responsibilities. The graphic above could easily be seen as a good thing.
To Break the Monotony
While the above graphic was a lamentation for Mrs. Boyd, she ignored the stat on the top line: 83% of teachers use their district-adopted curriculum. My assumption about the 17% who don’t is that they may not even have a district-adopted curriculum. That means most teachers are willing to use the curriculum provided to them and do so regularly. That many of them also use Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest suggests that they sometimes find those curriculums lacking. How might they lack? In my experience, the programs can get monotonous over the course of a 180-day school year. Also, some lessons are boring. Sometimes, teachers feel the need to change things up and make lessons more engaging.
I teach bar graphs to my third graders. To understand them better, we create them. The way this is done in the Go Math! program is boring and it’s not a skill that students learn with one lesson. So I have a choice: Keep teaching students how to make bar graphs using the district-adopted curriculum, which is unengaging, or come up with something a little more exciting. If I’m feeling creative that day — a likelihood that becomes less and less so with each passing school day — I might come up with an original idea. More often, I google something like “Fun bar graph lesson for third graders.”
Guess which two websites show up at the top of the search results.
To Reteach or Extend
Some programs are good but don’t have enough. I may need to teach students how to create bar graphs three times but the program may only have one lesson and some remediation and enrichment ideas. Sometimes, students just need to do the same thing a few times in slightly different ways. Since my program doesn’t provide these additional opportunities, I have to look elsewhere. Twenty years ago, I would have made a trip down the hall and asked the old veteran in her swivel chair to check her file cabinet. These days, the Internet is faster and its file cabinet is larger.
To Have a Life
Some critics of Teachers Pay Teachers bemoan the fact that teachers aren’t designing their own lessons. They make the specious claim that teachers should be customizing lessons because each class is different and only a teacher who knows her students well can design an optimal lesson for those students’ particular needs. This argument is usually self-serving and detached from reality. People are far more alike than they are different. Third graders sitting in a Montana classroom are not different enough from third graders sitting in a Michigan classroom to justify the creation of customized lessons. Most teachers know this, which is why they’re perfectly fine using lessons created by other people, whether those people work for Pearson or are teachers in a neighboring state.
While I have argued that canned programs and easily available Common Core-aligned lessons have destroyed teacher motivation by removing autonomy from the classroom and robbing teachers of one of the more enjoyable aspects of the job (the creation of materials), I’m also a realist who knows that we would quickly accelerate the pace at which teachers are quitting if we expected them to still create all their own materials with all of the other expectations we’ve placed on them in the last 20 years. Most teachers have zero training in curriculum design, and for the sake of their own energy and mental health, they should take advantage of the fact that there are hundreds of lessons on nearly every topic at the click of a mouse. Chances are strong you’re not going to create the best bar graph lesson on the planet. Hundreds of better ones already exist; teachers should use them and save their time for the ridiculous number of other things they’re expected to do.
Returning to the bar graph example, once I’ve decided I want to teach students how to make bar graphs in a more engaging way than that offered by my district-adopted curriculum, I now have a second choice: I can create my own more exciting bar graph lesson or I can save my time for other things, especially since I know full well that there are probably hundreds of more exciting bar graph lessons on the Internet. I might even have an idea. I want students to graph the colors of Skittles in those little fun-size packets you get at Halloween. I could create my own bar graph template thing or I could click a few times, maybe spend a buck, and print out 25 of them in about two minutes. As someone who has to teach reading, writing, science, social studies, and math lessons every day, I can tell you that this is no choice at all. When I google “Skittles bar graph lesson,” guess which website shows up first? Why in the world would I spend my most precious resource making something that already exists and that’s probably better than anything I’m going to design? (And if you think you can make a better lesson than the hundreds already out there, then I invite you to read The IKEA Effect of Lesson Creation.)
Why Teachers Pay Teachers Is Not the Problem
It’s important to remember that Teachers Pay Teachers is a marketplace. As such, it’s no different from a Moroccan bazaar or a supermarket. Just like Amazon and your local Piggly Wiggly, there are some shady players operating within the marketplace and not everything available is of high quality. You can buy fresh fruit or a box of donuts. A good pillow or a flat P.O.S. A standards-aligned, high-engagement lesson on reducing fractions or a fluffy waste of time with lots of cutting and coloring. It’s up to the consumer to find what they need. Any criticism of Teachers Pay Teachers is almost always a criticism of the buyers and sellers using Teachers Pay Teachers. The solution is not to remove all the junk but to educate consumers on junk’s identifying characteristics.
Some TpT and Pinterest critics lament that teachers are neglecting better resources for the ease of TpT. They point to excellent content on other websites. They share links and try to convince teachers that this site over here has excellent NGSS resources, and they’re free! This blog over here written by this high-performing math teacher is excellent and she shares free resources that align tightly with the standards. The state of Florida has links to standards-aligned content that’s been rated by some other website as high-quality.
But that’s the problem! TpT is like Amazon for many teachers: it’s the first place they check and it often shows up at the top of Google’s search results.
My local hardware store might be selling better nails at a lower price, but I’m still probably going to get my nails from Amazon because it’s faster, I’ve purchased other things from them before and been pleased with the results, and I don’t have to search high and low for the nails.
If there are people out there creating great stuff for teachers, they should be selling or giving away that stuff on Teachers Pay Teachers, just like brick and mortar stores list their products on Amazon. Content creators must go where the customers are, not expect the customers to find them, no matter how good (or inexpensive) their stuff is. That’s why my books are available on Amazon and I don’t sell them out of my garage. If Teachers Pay Teachers is where teachers are going to look for resources, then people who make excellent resources should offer their content there, not try to convince millions of people to visit thirty different websites which are always changing.
Finally, every criticism of teachers who use Teachers Pay Teachers runs into a logical consistency problem.
If you think teachers should collaborate with colleagues in their building or via social media and share materials they’ve used successfully with students, then why would you have a problem with Teachers Pay Teachers, where teachers do the exact same thing but on a larger scale? Why would the size of the user pool change the quality of the lesson? Why would the fact that the products cost money negatively affect their quality?
If you believe teachers are, in fact, capable of creating excellent lessons, then why would you assume teachers are not offering excellent lessons on Teachers Pay Teachers?
If you think teachers are only buying garbage from Teachers Pay Teachers, then how can you have any confidence that they will be able to distinguish garbage from high-quality materials outside of Teachers Pay Teachers?
If you believe teachers should create their own lessons instead of downloading them, then why would you have confidence that teachers who can’t recognize quality content on Teachers Pay Teachers would be able to create quality content on their own? That’s like expecting a person who doesn’t know how to assess the quality of a car to be able to build a good one on their own.
There are many problems with education today. Too many students receive low-quality instruction. We would be better off if districts ensured their teachers knew the standards, provided those teachers with high-quality, standards-aligned curricula, and trained their teachers in its effective use. But blaming Teachers Pay Teachers for providing a marketplace where well-meaning teachers do what they’ve been doing since the beginning of formal education is directing your ire in the wrong direction. Teachers, almost all of them, want their students to learn and they do what they can to provide the best education within limits that are usually beyond their ability to control. Teachers Pay Teachers does nothing more than provide these teachers with a place to find materials other teachers have used. That some of those materials are good and some are bad doesn’t make Teachers Pay Teachers a problem; it makes it the same as every other marketplace.
Last week, I came across this phenomenal video on my Twitter:
First, I thought, “That’s rather funny and clever.”
Then I thought, “Man, what a bunch of goose stepping morons.”
Then, I started thinking about teaching because that’s what I do. And what I thought – forgive me – is that we’ve got some goose stepping teachers walking around and they should probably knock it off.
We watch a video like the above and shake our heads. We chuckle a little over how goofy the soldiers look, even without the Bee Gees. Because the goose step is strongly associated with the Nazis, North Korea, and other dictatorial regimes, we see it as backwards, a symbol of blind obedience. George Orwell captured most westerners’ opinion of the goose step when he wrote that it was only used in countries where the population was too scared to laugh at its military.
But here’s the thing about those goose stepping soldiers: Some of them, maybe even most of them, are thinking about how much they’re killing the thing. Pick a soldier out of the above video clip and this is probably pretty close to what’s going through his or her head:
Look at me, crushing this march. Nobody goose steps like I do. Watch me swing my legs. Perfectly straight! Not like Chan-woo over there. Man, I feel good! I’m goosing the hell out of this step!
Which goes to show you that people have an amazing capacity to feel proud of themselves even where they’re doing stupid things.
And that brings me to teaching.
We do a lot of stupid things. Things that have little to do with helping students learn and become better people. And a lot of us are damn proud of these things.
We spend an hour on a bulletin board to impress other adults who happen to pop in or walk by our room. We’re proud of our work – as proud as a goose stepping Nazi – but that bulletin board isn’t going to make much of a difference, and we just spent 60 minutes on it.
We’re proud of our fancy newsletters with their decorative borders, perfectly arranged text boxes, adorable clipart, and copious information for parents. Look at us, establishing a consistent home-school connection! Nevermind that half the newsletters never get seen, another quarter of them don’t get read, and most of the information can be shared in an email that would take five minutes to write.
I’m guilty too. I feel all proud of myself when students are working quietly when the principal pops in. I’m strutting like a peacock when my straight line of third graders go marching walking down the hall in complete silence. Student compliance warms my heart far more than it should. I once nailed a lesson on rhombuses and felt great about it.
Until I remembered that knowing the characteristics of a rhombus is about as useful as knowing how to goose step.
The lesson is this, and it’s one I hope at least a few of those North Korean soldiers realize:
Some things are worth doing well and feeling proud about. These things include:
Taking the time to build relationships with students who will do better because of those relationships.
Teaching engaging lessons where students learn things.
Providing quick and targeted feedback that helps students improve.
Showing patience, tolerance, and grace in front of your class when a kid loses his shit.
But other things are just goose stepping your way past the reviewing stand with a silly look on your face.
Some things are worth doing well and feeling proud about. But other things are just goose stepping your way past the reviewing stand with a silly look on your face.
Figure out the difference and spend more time on the stuff that matters. If you don’t, someone might just take a video of you marching down the hall with your silent, obedient class and add a Bruno Mars song to it.*
* If you know of such a video or can make one, please share.
I sat in a meeting recently where an administrator reiterated the importance of having a “guaranteed and viable curriculum.” He shared this quote:
It’s one of those things teachers have heard a thousand times, and we all just nod our heads and say to ourselves that of course schools should know what students ought to learn and kids growing up in Minnesota should know some of the same, big, basic things as kids in Georgia. It’s uncontroversial to say that kids will learn more when they’re given the time and opportunity to do so.
But a question that isn’t asked is how our desire to provide students with a guaranteed and viable curriculum affects teachers, and whether or not we should care.
A “guaranteed’ curriculum is often defined as a mechanism through which all students have an equal opportunity (time and access) to learn rigorous content. This requires a school-wide (or district-wide) agreement and common understanding of the essential content that all students need to know, understand, and be able to do.
So far, so good. But the devil is in the implementation. Dempsey continues:
The word “all’ needs emphasis; a guaranteed curriculum promotes equity, giving all children equal opportunity to learn essential content, and to provide this opportunity, curricular materials and instructional approaches must be grounded in research, implemented with fidelity, and must include vertical as well as horizontal alignment.
Ah, there’s that damn word, fidelity. As a teacher, fidelity means my district leaders trust a program more than they trust me, and it means I should suppress whatever creative instincts I might have and just open the program they’ve purchased and teach the way it says to.
However, schools (through teachers) implement the curriculum, and, if implementation varies significantly from teacher to teacher, then student outcomes will also likely vary significantly from classroom to classroom.
Translation: If we could just get all teachers to teach the same stuff in exactly the same ways, then all kids would learn the same things at the same level. And if you believe that, well, there’s this bridge I know of…
Finally, Dempsey warns us about the dangers of teachers having choices:
These days, teachers have access to a variety of curriculum resources, such as open educational resources, playlists, digital textbooks, and teacher-developed curriculum. Having access to options is a good thing, but having many choices does not ensure all choices are well aligned to the school’s GVC.
Left unsaid: We probably shouldn’t allow teachers to decide what to use because they might choose unaligned resources. The logical solution then is for district leaders to choose so every teacher uses the same stuff, which allows the district to claim they have a guaranteed curriculum.
None of this sounds great from the perspective of a teacher. We’re going to be told what to teach. Because we can’t be trusted, we’re going to be told what to use to teach those things. Dempsey, no dummy, anticipates teachers’ objections:
Does this mean that a GVC is a scripted, rigid curriculum? No! Does this mean that students and teachers are confined to a lockstep process of teaching and learning? Absolutely not! Teachers must have the flexibility to meet student needs through different methods of content delivery, helping students dive deeper into their passions.
Which is a load of bull.
In practice, GVC all too often does mean a scripted, rigid curriculum. In fact, guaranteeing a curriculum all but demands a scripted, rigid curriculum. If your primary goal is for all students to have the opportunity to learn the same things, then you’re going to control to the greatest extent possible how instruction is delivered. You’re going to choose the curriculum teachers are to use and you’re going to demand they teach it with fidelity. You are going to confine your teachers to a lockstep process of teaching. And you most certainly will not encourage flexibility because as soon as teachers start deviating from your chosen curriculum, you open the door to the very thing you were trying to avoid in the first place, different teachers doing different things. The idea that teachers who work in a district that stresses a GVC are going to “help students dive deeper into their passions” is ludicrous unless those passions happen to align with the guaranteed curriculum.
Should We Care?
We know that students learn more by having guaranteed and viable curriculums in their schools, at least theoretically. But what do we lose? We pretend, as we so often do in education, that there are no trade-offs. We should at least ask if what we gain is worth more than what we lose. And what we lose is teachers’ motivation for the job, which is no small thing.
Make no mistake, guaranteed and viable curriculums have led to the standardization of classrooms. That is, in fact, their aim. While in a perfect world, our guarantees would be limited and teachers would retain autonomy around the delivery of the content, in the real world, school districts, in their desire for guaranteed curriculums, have stripped away teacher autonomy. They’ve taken teacher creativity out of the classroom, and by doing so, they’ve destroyed teachers’ motivation.
No teacher signed up to be a worker drone. When the curriculum tells them, “Teach this stuff,” and their employers tell them, “Teach it just like this,” then it’s small wonder lots and lots of teachers show up to school with declining enthusiasm for the work.
Once upon a time, teachers were more restauranteurs than delivery drivers. At the very least, they were chefs. Classrooms, like pizza parlors, were different, not just in how the content was delivered, but sometimes in the content itself. Teachers would invest more time, energy, and passion into topics they found interesting. I still remember a fair amount about the Alaskan dogsled race, the Itidarod, because I had a fifth-grade teacher who created a multidisciplinary unit on it. I doubt much of it was aligned to the standards.
Guaranteed and viable curriculums ruined that. Common Core amplified the effect because now we’ve got thousands of teachers across the country teaching the same exact stuff from a handful of uninspiring programs. The sheer number of standards guarantees that teachers will never have time to go off script and indulge their passions or follow their students down a bird walk, or six.
School leaders took it a step further when they demanded fidelity to the standards-aligned programs their boards adopted in their quest to offer a guaranteed curriculum. They didn’t want to leave their districts’ reputations in the hands of teachers! Better to trust the so-called research-based programs. At least then, when things fell apart, they could blame some faceless publishing company, pick a new program by a different faceless publishing company, explain away their error by uttering some tripe like, “When we know better, we do better,” make new promises, and start the cycle over again.
In the meantime, teachers, no longer trusted to decide what or how to teach, stripped of their autonomy and bereft of motivation, keep walking out the door. Some of them stay away for good. Others return week after week, serving up uninspired instruction that they have no say in.
A guaranteed and viable curriculum guarantees that students will have a better chance of passing a standards-aligned test, but it also guarantees that teachers will continue to be disillusioned with what has become of their job.
For a long time, libraries have served as sanctuaries for many students and teachers. Libraries aren’t being visited as often as they once were, but educators can still benefit from utilizing libraries in their lessons. Additionally, they provide a place of solitude and refuge from the hardships associated with day-to-day school life. Within the rows of books, there are other worlds to escape to, history to be revisited, and information to gather.
Many consider libraries to be dead because of today’s focus on technology. This is a common misconception; in fact, many libraries are thriving across the country. As a teacher, offering the chance for your students to spend time in their local library will continue the support that is needed for libraries to keep their doors open.
Including a visit to your local library in your curriculum can benefit your students. It is there they have access to the news stories and history of their town that they cannot find in any other library. Today, many of the libraries’ newspaper collections and historical photographs are being digitized and are available on their websites. However, research being conducted on students shows that information retention for data obtained in print is greater than digital media.
By enabling your students to become library patrons, you are empowering them to utilize a space that can act as more than just a place to study. In addition to access to information, libraries offer many benefits as an institution:
They serve as a community hub and meeting place.
They can offer a place for oral histories and storytelling.
Libraries create ties and partnerships between community members and organizations.
The Internet’s Role in Change
Many people aren’t going to the library anymore because they can find answers to questions online so easily. The danger of the age of the internet, however, is the lack of credible sources. This has created a need for instilling critical analysis skills to enable our students to conduct effective research. Although there are a number of perks of the age of information, access to credible resources available at the library simply can’t be beat.
With a deliberate focus on sustainability in schools around the globe, many teachers and students are asking themselves how to lessen their carbon footprint — and the answer can be found in supporting their local library. For example, much of the population believes that by purchasing a book to read on their tablet, they’re helping to reduce waste. Many people also prefer to own their books, rather than renting them — but neither of these things are necessarily good for the environment. Especially after the rise of big booksellers like Amazon, it turns out that purchasing books online is actually worse for the environment than just borrowing the physical book from the library — whether digitally or not.
However, a lessened impact may be true when purchasing or reading books online in some communities. For those that live in rural areas, the combination of technology and library support can be found online. If a student or teacher possess a library card, they can gain access to any of the digitized material on the library’s website, including e-books. Making information gathering available to all populations has always been the goal of public libraries.
Libraries provide a safe space for students to focus on their learning as well as access information from their numerous resources, including librarians, texts, and technological offerings. One study found that students whose first language is something other than English benefit from libraries the most. As a teacher, making libraries feel more available and beneficial may open new pathways for students you couldn’t have anticipated before.
As a teacher, placing your student in a library can offer an opportunity for them to discover new interests. What students see in their feeds and their searches on the internet are all tailored to their previous preferences. They see the same advertisements in their social media for video games and clothing lines as a result of their search history. Their newsfeeds are filled with reports from questionable sources and saturated with pop culture.
Introducing them to new sources of reliable information can open them up to a range of thought-provoking, diverse perspectives. From their pre-K years to the day they reach for their high school diploma, books can help children learn how to take better care of themselves, make informed decisions, and strive for greater social equality. For example, Kindercare lists nine books that can help kids learn how to eat better, potentially avoiding major chronic health conditions later in life.
Moreso, allowing a student to disappear among the stacks of books at their local library may offer a chance to explore new worlds they have never known. Fostering independent reading has been found to significantly increase vocabulary development and reading comprehension. It also empowers students with the ability to use different technologies and become more competitive when they enter the global workforce.
Due to the diverse offerings at the library, there is something to appeal to every learning style and individual student. As a teacher, the numerous educational tools are invaluable resources, enabling you to develop more cohesive and engaging lessons in your classroom. If you don’t have a library within your own school, consider scheduling your next field trip to explore your local library.
Teachers are often overwhelmed by the numerous lessons they have to plan, the piles of marking waiting for them, and the various tasks on their to-do lists.
Here are useful time management tips that will help teachers tackle those tasks and reduce those piles efficiently.
1. Clear your laptop
According to Brother International Corporation research, over half of employees spend thirty minutes a week looking for things they can’t find on their laptops. If you clear your computer and organize your digital workstation, you could gain back time that would be otherwise squandered.
Delete documents you don’t need anymore, transfer important files to a cloud service, and make an organizational system that works for you.
2. Organize your desk
Additional research from Brother International shows that two-thirds of workers spend a minimum of 30 minutes every week searching for misplaced items. Piling things on your desk is a sure way to lose them.
Therefore, declutter and organize your physical space:
– Use shelves or labeled bins for everyday submissions.
– Use an inbox/outbox system for permission slips, notes from home, and other things that come to your desk.
– Each item on your desk should have its own place; make sure you put it there every time.
3. Manage papers efficiently
Are you overwhelmed with the piles of tests, memos, attendance forms, and letters? If so, it’s time to bring some order.
– Assign a file drawer for every subject you teach.
– Use colored files to classify papers by topics, like red for quizzes and tests and blue for lesson plans.
– If you haven’t used the paper in six months or more, recycle it.
4. Grade papers effortlessly
Grading student papers is one of the most tiring and tedious tasks for teachers. Pointing out each mistake on a student’s writing can be so time-consuming. Instead, focus on the errors that are directly related to the lesson. Then, create a document with frequently-used comments you can copy and paste. That way, you will automate the process and save time and energy.
5. Plan your lessons online
Planning your lesson is another activity that takes a lot of effort. However, it doesn’t have to be like that if you use lesson planning sites which are great time-saving tools.
Use CommonCurriculum or Planbook to create lessons easily and quickly. Not only can you organize lessons around Common Core standards, but you can also design custom schedules for every class and allow students and other teachers to view your plans online.
6. Use the 2-Minute Rule
When you need to tackle tasks that actually aren’t difficult to do, you tend to procrastinate and wait for the last minute to start. An efficient way to crush your procrastination is to apply the 2-Minute Rule, suggested in David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done.
The rule says that if a task requires less than two minutes to complete, then do it right away. Don’t wait to answer your email or file a document. Instead, embrace the 2-Minute Rule and boost your productivity.
7. Plan your day
To make the most of your time and use it wisely, it’s crucial to plan your day. Spend a few minutes after school each day jotting down what you’ll do tomorrow. Use an agenda with time slots to schedule every task at the appropriate time. That way, you will use your time more efficiently and get more things done. Without proper planning, you won’t be in control of your time so you’ll be at the mercy of other people’s schedules.
8. Eliminate all distractions
Nowadays there are many distractions, such as social media notifications, emails, text messages, or incoming calls that pull teachers away from their plans and waste precious time.
For that reason, limit your time on social networks or check your emails only twice a day. Also, put your smartphone on Airplane mode while working and avoid unpleasant interruptions. Everything can wait until you finish your job.
9. Automate some tasks
Sometimes you don’t need to work harder to be more efficient, just work smarter. This means you can automate some tasks and save some time.
For example, you probably send many emails to parents and students on a variety of matters. Instead of squandering your time writing the same email over and over again, create some templates you can quickly revise and compose emails in no time at all.
10. Go digital
Printing and copying class materials take a lot of your time. Besides, it requires time to store all the papers and find one when a student needs it.
That’s why you should consider going digital and using cloud services for storing your documents. That way, you will always have a ready copy that your students can download and more importantly you will save time and drawer space.
11. Learn to delegate
Learning to delegate is a crucial skill that every teacher should learn. Use tools that can give you a hand and work more productively.
You don’t have to do everything yourself. Don’t shy away from using aides, paras, or even asking parents or students to lighten your load. There are always some simple tasks that they can assist you with and many are more than happy to do so. As a result, you’ll avoid burnout and feel more energized.
If you’re serious about saving time and recapturing your personal life, try Angela Watson’s acclaimed 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Thousands of teachers swear by it; you can see what they say here. If you decide to give it a go, do so quickly so you can take advantage of the Early Bird benefits, such as these three free resources to help you spend your summer effectively and early access to the Facebook group so you can begin sharing best practices with other teachers who’ve decided to make a change. Teacher Habits is an affiliate partner of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek.
At the beginning of this school year, TNTP released a report called The Opportunity Myth, in which they repeated a golden oldie from the reform agenda’s playlist: Public schools suck and it’s mostly because public school teachers suck. They didn’t come right out and say that, of course, but it’s hard to interpret the report’s introduction any other way. Judge for yourself:
Far too many students graduate from high school still unprepared for the lives they want to lead. They enroll in college and land in remedial courses, or start jobs and discover they’re missing skills they need. We wanted to understand why.
To do this, we followed nearly 4,000 students in five diverse school systems to learn more about their experiences. What we found was unnerving: classroom after classroom filled with A and B students whose big goals for their lives are slipping further away each day, unbeknownst to them and their families—not because they can’t master challenging material, but because they’re rarely given a real chance to try.
In fact, most students—and especially students of color, those from low-income families, those with mild to moderate disabilities, and English language learners—spent the vast majority of their school days missing out on four crucial resources: grade-appropriate assignments, strong instruction, deep engagement, and teachers with high expectations. Students spent more than 500 hours per school year on assignments that weren’t appropriate for their grade and with instruction that didn’t ask enough of them—the equivalent of six months of wasted class time in each core subject. And middle and high school students reported that their school experiences were engaging less than half the time.
The report is exactly what you’d expect if you’ve been in public education for any length of time, and if you’d like to read why you can safely ignore it, check out Peter Greene’s criticism here and Matt Barnum’s here.
What strikes me is how reformers continue to shamelessly want it both ways.
They have, for the most part, won. They rammed through the standards they wanted. Tenure protections have been decimated in many states. Schools are more “data-driven” than ever. School choice continues to expand. Teachers can now be held accountable for their students’ performance on a standardized test. Reformers have managed to convince 7 out of every 10 Americans that our public schools deserve a C or D rating, even though most believe their children’s own schools are just fine.
School leaders, in their quest to take individual teacher differences out of the equation and standardize lessons just as much as we’ve standardized tests, have adopted Common Core-aligned programs and required strict fidelity to them. They’ve done everything they can to take teacher judgment out of education, going so far as to forbid educators from using anything that hasn’t received prior approval from central office administrators. Some of these programs literally have scripts for teachers to read, and many districts require teachers to follow pacing guides to make sure they cover all the material before the big exam and to ensure continuity across the district. Because I guess that’s important.
The way schools are run today is different than they used to be run, and it isn’t because schools decided they needed to change or parents demanded it; it’s because those changes were forced on them by people with the same ideology as those who write reports criticizing teachers for their weak instruction, below-grade-level assignments, inability to engage students, and low expectations.
It’s the same thing that infuriates me whenever teacher effectiveness is discussed at a district level.
As a teacher who has been told to teach a program as it’s written, how the hell is it my fault if the assignments students get are not challenging enough? I’m not the one who designed the assignments.
If you’re requiring me to read from some stupid script written by publishers who’ve never met my students, then how can you fairly evaluate my instruction? It’s not my instruction.
Should we be surprised that students aren’t engaged during a lesson that’s delivered by a teacher who had no hand in creating it and who sees it as the contrived lump that it is? I’m not a terrible actor, but hand me a lemon and I’m going to have trouble convincing even the most eager-to-learn student that I’m giving them lemonade.
Why would we expect students to be engaged when they’re walked through standard after standard with the goal of preparing them for a test? Last week, my third graders read an article (out of the district-mandated curriculum) on the transcontinental railroad. They were interested and asked lots of questions. I went rogue and showed an unapproved video of how it was built. They had more questions. I could envision us spending the next two weeks learning about westward expansion. We could discuss Manifest Destiny and investigate why certain large western cities are located where they are today. We could read about how the railroad affected the environment and how it upset Native American hunting grounds and led to the taking of their land.
Instead, I had to move on. I had to teach about sequence and cause and effect because I had a test to give on those skills and a new topic (completely unrelated to the American west or even American history) to start on Monday.
I had to do those things because that’s what’s in the standards these reformers so badly wanted and because my district needs data to make decisions and because I can’t be trusted to make decisions about how to best prepare my students for those tests, much less for anything more important than tests.
But TNTP wants to tell me it’s my fault students aren’t engaged?
If I’m doing what I’ve been told to do, then how do you evaluate my effectiveness? Shouldn’t you really evaluate the effectiveness of the curriculum you’ve forced me to use?
This is the educational world the reformers have wrought, and the one they still have the temerity to criticize. They created this mess, and now they’re pointing at it, holding their noses, and telling teachers to do better.
The reformers’ agenda has had a chance to work. If it isn’t — if kids aren’t being given grade-level tasks, if instruction is weak, if students aren’t engaged, if teachers aren’t expecting enough of them — then it’s long past time for the reform crowd to own their failures and stop scapegoating teachers, many of whom are doing nothing more than exactly what they’ve been told to do with the materials they’ve been told to do it with.
If students aren’t able to pursue their goals, it’s not because teachers have failed them. It’s because reformers have.
If you want to blame teachers, then you need to allow them to make some decisions. You need to give them some power. Blaming teachers for the state of education today, when teachers have lost nearly every skirmish with the well-financed reform movement, is straight from the reformer playbook, where all the plays are designed wonderfully, but the damn players don’t know how to run them.
If you want teachers to be nothing more than compliant replaceable parts, then you don’t get to blame them when your plans don’t work out.
The army doesn’t fire soldiers when the general’s plan is a disaster.
NFL teams don’t swap out their entire rosters when the coach’s gameplans result in multiple losing seasons.
And reformers should no longer get to blame teachers when teachers are working under conditions created by those reformers.
The other morning one of my students picked up a banana from the bowl of fruit set out for breakfast. From across the room, I heard her say, “I hate school,” which was an odd thing to say for someone about to eat a banana. I cringed. I want students to enjoy being in my room and to have a positive school experience. When students don’t like school, I take it personally.
But the more I thought about it, the more I questioned how much ownership I should take. I didn’t love school, and I chose to work in one. My daughter, who does very well in school, balks at getting up in the morning. If you ask her if she likes school, she’ll shrug. Lots of kids will tell you they don’t like school, even those who seem to like it just fine once they’re there.
Teachers, of course, are supposed to feel bad when students hate school. We’re often blamed for failing to engage them. We’re told we need to make learning more meaningful and fun. If kids don’t like school, it’s probably because we’re not allowing our students to move enough or collaborate enough or create enough or choose enough. We teachers talk too much. We’re boring.
Certainly, there are times when those are valid criticisms. Teachers can help make school more appealing to their students. But they’re fighting a steep uphill battle. Because the truth is that students have two very good reasons to not like school.
They’re Required to Be There
I’m not one of those people who thinks we should abolish compulsory education. On the whole, it does far more good than bad. But let’s be clear: Requiring something never makes that thing enjoyable. I struggle to think of a single thing I am forced to do that I enjoy. As a child, I hated taking baths, going to bed, attending church, and eating many of my mother’s dinners (they were fine, I was just a picky little shit). As an adult, some of the best parts of my life are bathing, sleeping, and eating my mother’s food. The difference was that when I was a child, I was forced to bathe when I didn’t want to, go to bed earlier than I wanted to, and eat things I didn’t want to eat. As an adult, I get to choose. It’s the best thing about being an adult.
In high school, I read a fair amount, mostly Stephen King. Once I got to college I stopped reading. The reason was simple: I was required to. There are books I was assigned in college that I didn’t read but later enjoyed when I made the choice to read them on my own. The difference wasn’t the book; it was the freedom to choose.
As a teacher, I have read a number of professional books, but if my school decides to do a book study and I’m required to read even a single chapter, I’ll put it off as long as possible and then resent it when I do read it.
My former district hosted an ice cream social on the last day of school every year to honor retirees. Almost everybody complained about it. It’s not that we didn’t like ice cream or retirees. It’s that the district required our attendance when we had other things we wanted to do.
There’s a really simple way to make an enjoyable activity unenjoyable and something people resent doing. Force them to do it. Take away their freedom to choose. Want to make them really dislike it? Make them do it for seven hours a day for 180 days, year after year. I love Disney World. But I’d like it a whole lot less if you made me go there five days a week between September and June, year after year.
Almost Everything is Contrived
Almost everything done inside a school is contrived. Very little of it reflects the real world. Think of the reading you do and compare it to the reading we ask students to do. I read primarily for two reasons: to learn things I’m interested in and for entertainment. Now consider the reasons your students read:
Because you told them to.
To answer questions.
Because they have a reading response entry due.
To prepare for a discussion.
To get better at reading.
The standards practically require inauthentic tasks. We’re all going to learn how to reduce fractions today. Why? Hell if I know, but it’s in the standards and you might need it someday (or worse, you need it to pass the contrived test the state devised to see if your teachers are doing a good enough job teaching you contrived things).
Yes, there are moments where students can do authentic tasks, but they are few and far between. You find an article in your local paper and students write letters to the editor. People in the real world actually do that (of course, most of us who read such letters think the writers are quacks with nothing better to do, but still). You have an actual problem in your classroom with storage, so you have students design a cabinet. A group of students saw something on the news and you decide to guide them in some research and have a class discussion about it.
There are opportunities to connect to the real world, but they also require you to be constantly aware of those opportunities and be willing to scrap your carefully prepared plans and possibly ignore the standards everyone expects you to teach. They also mean deviating from whatever cruddy program your district is forcing you to use, so you better keep such lessons on the DL.
Teachers can mitigate this natural resentment of contrived and mandatory things. They can try to bring authentic tasks into the classroom. They can inject fun into their day. They can provide students’ choice to give the illusion of genuine freedom. They can build relationships so that students want to be there to be around people they like. But they can never change the two fundamental truths about school to which students are justified in rebelling against.
The next time you hear a student say she hates school, don’t feel so bad about it. Don’t feel guilty, like you’re somehow personally failing her. Be thankful that all students don’t feel the same way. Because to hate contrived things that you’re forced to do is a natural human reaction. It is, frankly, exactly how we should want freedom-loving people to respond.
*If you’re curious, the banana-eating student’s declaration of hatred was in response to a well-meaning food service worker writing the phrase, “I love school,” in marker on the banana’s peel.