Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

How Expert Teachers Teach More

By Ariel Sacks — October 05, 2017 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

“Remember, the curriculum is everything that happens in the classroom,” Madeleine Ray said frequently to our cohort of teacher candidates at Bank Street College. She spoke these words with such certainty that they resounded in my memory long after, looking for their proper place among the many lessons I learned in my graduate studies at Bank Street. About a decade later, I had an epiphany about what she meant.

I always understood that the scope of my teaching was not limited to the objectives and plans I had prepared for a given period, but I needed substantial experience to actually understand and utilize Madeleine’s message.

Now, I believe this concept of teaching the whole curriculum is, in many ways, what defines an expert or master teacher.

Let me back up a bit. My epiphany about the curriculum being everything that happens came when I turned a lousy exit routine—dismissing too late and rushing students out without requiring them to properly clean up—into an elegant student-run procedure. Initially, I did this to solve my own problem. I frequently found myself stuck having to straighten up after my students between class periods. (Raise your hand if you’ve been there too!)

My new routine did more than simply solve this problem, though. I now got to watch my eighth graders straighten up the space on their desks, pick up stray papers from the floor around them, and wait to be dismissed. The Director of Maintenance, a student in each class who had applied for the position for that marking period, inspected the space around each cluster of desks and dismissed students table by table as they were ready. This student watched closely to see that classmates pushed in their chairs and noted any exceptions.

After several weeks of watching this process, I realized what was happening. I had expanded my curriculum to include a daily practice of respecting communal space, attending to detail, self-monitoring, punctuality, and developing student leadership.

This realization led me to better understand that in each moment of classroom life, I teach not one, but several things, whether I’m aware of all of them or not. For example, if I take the time to use precise language in the classroom, I teach students that word choices matter (alongside my primary objectives). If I take time to listen to my students, I teach them that their voices matter. Conversely, if I ignore a student who quietly jabs another student, I teach the class that it’s okay to quietly hurt another person. The teacher I was becoming saw the opportunity to teach self-awareness, empathy, responsibility, and forgiveness without suspending or overhauling the academic objectives of my lessons.

Gaining awareness of the multiple levels of teaching we do in a class period can empower us to literally teach more—and do so with more purpose—in the same amount of time.

It’s a little overwhelming to start to see this. In my own words, I understand Madeleine’s message of “the curriculum is everything that happens in the classroom” to mean that whatever I think I’m teaching is just one layer of the learning experience for students. The curriculum I am actually involved in teaching includes every single moment that transpires in my classroom with and among students. The more I can see opportunities in each layer, the more powerful and potent my teaching and students’ learning experiences will be.

Recently, we’ve seen a push—especially with the popularity of Doug Lemov’s book Teach Like a Champion—to maximize class time for efficiency. I propose that efficiency only scratches the surface of what master teachers can do with their time with students. Master teachers are aware of the multiple layers of curriculum in their classrooms and become fluent at utilizing them to teach a broad array of essential academic and social-emotional skills simultaneously.

In the career world, success depends on both the hard skills relevant to the job and the soft skills that allow us to get along with coworkers, adapt, and build trust. According to an article in Business Insider, the the top reasons employees get fired from positions involve issues of character and personal habits rather than actual job performance. Being untrustworthy, not being “a team player,” getting involved in office gossip, and harassing co-workers are some of these pitfalls. Tomorrow’s workers are today’s students, and they need more than just academic instruction to thrive.

One lesson I learned at Bank Street College is that the social-emotional, intellectual, and physical development of children, do not occur along three isolated tracks. Rather, there is a constant interaction between them as a child grows and learns. These interactions take place every instant in the classroom whether we choose to acknowledge the reality or not.

When teachers, schools and school systems do not consciously engage the multiple threads of children’s learning, students often receive confusing, contradictory messages. For example, a student sees a rule on the wall that reads, “Respect others.” However, when one student shows disrespect toward another member of the class, teachers regularly rely on consequences to address the misbehavior (generally in accordance with school policies). Instead of teaching the many lessons needed to create a community of respect, at best, the consequences only make harmful behaviors less visible. This common reality creates cognitive dissonance for students at school, on top of other stress they may experience in their lives outside of school. In fact, it’s the rare exception to find an entire school community—not just a single classroom—that is truly safe and accepting of all its members.

We have an amazing opportunity to create a far healthier, more robust education for all our students in the very classrooms we possess, with the time and money we already have. If we utilize the knowledge and skills of expert teachers—who are in every building and who empower students on multiple levels, every minute of the class period—we can uplift our entire teaching force and school system.

[Photo by Chu Tai at Unsplash]

The opinions expressed in Teaching for the Whole Story are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Opinion ‘A Culture of Care’: How Schools Can Alleviate Educator Stress This Year
It takes more than deep breathing to alleviate the stress teachers feel. Here's how to get to the root cause.
Sean Slade & Alyssa Gallagher
6 min read
shutterstock 740616958 resized
Shutterstock
Teaching Profession Reported Essay Students Aren’t the Only Ones Grieving
Faced with so many losses stemming from the pandemic, what can be done to help teachers manage their own grief?
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Teaching Profession We Feel Your Grief: Remembering the 1,000 Plus Educators Who've Died of COVID-19
The heartbreaking tally of lives lost to the coronavirus continues to rise and take a steep toll on school communities.
3 min read
090321 1000 Educators Lost BS
Education Week
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor Educators Have a Responsibility to Support the Common Good
A science teacher responds to another science teacher's hesitation to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
1 min read