No More Lesson Plans

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For a variety of reasons, I have had problems writing lesson plans during the 10 years I have been teaching. First, a clear purpose for writing down lesson plans has always eluded me. Who is the audience for this writing? Myself? The administration? Some remote evaluation committee? Another teacher who wishes to duplicate my lesson? And in what style does one write plans? Complete sentences or lists? Broad strokes or fine detail?

I came to teaching with little formal preparation. During my 18 hours of education training, I saw a lesson plan or two, wrote a couple myself, received some sort of mark for my effort, and that was it. So when I began to actually teach on my own, I was just barely aware that there was such a thing as a lesson plan. During my first year, I snooped around, trying to find out how other teachers wrote theirs. One thing I learned was that teachers are very sensitive about their lesson plans. They don’t share them freely. Lesson plans are kept under cover; why, I don’t know. Does any teacher know how lesson plans should be done? Is everyone writing them with the fear that someone will read them and find them lacking?

Nevertheless, I was able to gain some general impressions. Language arts and social studies teachers tend to write long, detailed lesson plans in complete sentences. They are careful to use language that will reflect the kinds of attitudes that will make points with administrators and evaluation committees. Math and science teachers write cryptic lesson plans, usually brief lists of goals with page numbers cited from the textbook. At the far end of the spectrum are the physical education teachers, who write single word entries, such as “tennis,” “fitness,” or “volleyball.” I decided right away not to write as the language arts and social studies people do because it simply takes too much time. So I followed the lead of my fellow teachers of mathematics and did the cryptic thing, all the while nagged by the possibility that some day an administrator or evaluation team would find my style grossly inadequate.

I lived in terror of the day when a looming authority figure would darken the doorway to my classroom and announce to all the world that I was not a legitimate teacher because I wasn’t writing proper lesson plans. Yes, for several years, I wrote lesson plans out of fear and in an atmosphere of dread. Writing them was something the system required. Seldom did I think much of the connection to what I was doing in the classroom. I was a product of the school setting, and, like a good school person, I was doing my assignment faithfully with little regard for its purpose.

Well, after a few years, I came slowly to the realization that no one had ever had that little talk with me about my “LPs.” I began to wonder if any person ever looked at them after they left my hand. At one school, teachers were asked to turn in each Thursday the following week’s LPs. If no one read them, I wondered, why all the fuss? A few carefully dropped questions brought the following reply: “If you die or are otherwise incapacitated over the weekend, then we’ll know where to have your replacement begin on Monday.” Well, my lesson plans, no matter how carefully thought out, never quite fit the reality of my classroom. (I’ve known a few teachers who write LPs after-the-fact in order to remedy this problem.) I could see no real purpose for writing LPs, and my motivation for doing so fell to an all-time low. I even toyed with the idea of writing nonsense on the obligatory form, which never leaves enough room or offers enough flexibility to actually function as a teaching aid. It forces one’s thoughts into tight corners, binding and pinching like ill-fitting shoes.

Still, over the years, I have developed some pretty neat lessons, lessons that worked; I got results. One day, someone asked me to record these lessons in the form of a written-out plan. “Sure,” I thought. “I know all about the dynamics of planning and presentation.”

So I attempted to write serious LPs. At least one of the old problems was eliminated; I had an audience. But still there was a block. So I decided to create a form that took into account everything I felt was important, arranged in a pattern that I found useful, with lots of room to write. Armed with this new tool, I again attempted to write LPs. (I was, after all, eager to record and show off my “pearls.”) But, once again, it felt wrong.

I’ve thought and thought about it, and I’ve come to the conclusion that writing LPs is not in anyone’s best interest. There is too much art involved in good teaching. Each day is different, and each class of students on a given day is different. Every day, I learn more about my subject and the teaching of it. Lesson plans are meant to be made in the mind and heart and adjusted continually. Precious time for reading and thinking is wasted writing them. Like the American Indian who believes a photograph steals the soul, I feel that a written lesson plan takes the life out of the thing it seeks to promote.

Now, with no feelings of guilt or failure, I let my scope and sequence float around in my head. I make little scrap lists once or twice a year to remind myself of what hasn’t been done. I never do the same lesson twice; it’s always better the next time. I monitor the reactions to, and the results of, my instruction and use these observations to adjust and improve.

I see the school year as one long dialogue between a particular set of students and the teacher I am at this point in my career. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever reach a point where the refinement stabilizes, where I can use the same handouts and exercises year after year. I think not. I certainly hope not.

Vol. 04, Issue 07, Page 39

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