Jay Mathews, Washington Post & Teachers and Lesson Plans

In today’s Washington Post, Jay Mathews writes:

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 12/18/2011

New teacher decries lesson plan gap

Maybe Bruce Friedrich raised the lesson plan issue because he was so out of sync with the recent college graduates who were the other Teach for America instructors at his Baltimore high school. He was 40. He had switched to education after first running a homeless shelter and then working for animal rights.

He thought it was odd that despite the forward-looking reputation of the Baltimore district and Teach for America, beginning teachers still had to construct their lessons from scratch, as teachers have done for centuries. They were shown samples of the state tests their students would have to take. They were told where they might find good material. But as rookies, they had little idea which of a million possible options would work.

“There were no exemplary lesson plans, no recommended class activities, nothing,” he said.

Friedrich asked about this at every faculty meeting and every conference with his Teach for America adviser. He learned that many teachers, and the organizations that represent them, don’t want ready-made lesson plans. They feel it limits their creativity and turns them into robots doing whatever their department head or the district curriculum chief wants.

Friedrich began teaching in 2009 and had a splendid two years in Teach for America. His second year he was named the school’s outstanding teacher. But he still doesn’t understand why the district didn’t try to save him and other novices from many beginner’s mistakes by offering the best lesson plan possible for each subject.

Jeff Wetzler, Teach for America’s executive vice president of teacher preparation, support and development, showed me a 2010 survey of the organization’s beginning teachers in 31 states and the District. Forty-one percent said their districts provided them with low-quality instructional tools like lesson plans, or none at all. Twenty-seven percent were provided with tools they were required to use, and 7 percent got tools that they used because their colleagues used them. Only 15 percent said they were provided tools that they used freely because they were of such high quality. Teach For America instructors in the District and Prince George’s County do their own lesson plans.

Wetzler explained that Teach for America corps members share lesson plans on a special online portal, and often rank those they consider best. But many still feel as Friedrich did: How are they supposed to know what works when they have so little experience? Couldn’t the experts get together and give us the best possible guide?

–The article continues …

Here’s the comment I left:


You’ve missed the mark. Teaching has to start with the students sitting in the class – their abilities, challenges and attitude. It doesn’t start with a lesson plan. Great lesson plans are drafted by skilled teachers to best broach the subject to their specific students in their specific class on that specific day.

It would be like you asking for journalistic story model on which you can base all your writing. They might help, a little, but as you got to be a better journalist, they would be almost worthless. That’s why you can find story models in journalism 101, but not in an online sharing site for the top reporters at the Washington Post.

Teach For America has a lot of good-hearted amateurs, trying to do the work of professionals. Unfortunately for us professional educators, journalists like you put too much credibility to the gripes of some TFA newcomer months into their new career. I’m also a career changer – 25 years in journalism at the highest levels and 7 years in teaching. I might have said the same thing about lesson plans my first year or two, of course, I didn’t know anything about teaching then.

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