I was at a division meeting when (from another table) I heard these famous words, “I don’t have time to teach like that. I have a curriculum to get through.”
“I have a curriculum to get through.” I used those same words myself in a long ago teaching world, but then I grew up.
It frustrates me when teachers talk this way and I even hear these exact words from people I would consider to be quality educators.
Here’s my issue: We in Alberta all have the same curriculum and we all have the same number of teaching days. Disagree with me if you want, but I feel like saying that you can’t do quality education in your classroom because you have a curriculum to get through is a cop out.
It’s a natural fall back though. A fail safe, if you will. You’re facing final exams or a PAT (standardized tests for Grade 3, 6, 9, and 12) and you’re under pressure to make sure the students perform. So what do you do? You scrap the projects and the quality learning tasks in favor of test prep and practice exams from years gone by. Hey, I did it myself when I taught Grade 9 LA five years ago. But I’ve learned from my mistakes.
It’s called “cognitive dissonance“. Whenever we do something that is in direct conflict with our morality, we seek to lessen this “dissonance” by creating a way to minimize those negative feelings. A smoker knows that smoking is bad for their health, but to minimize the dissonance he/she feels one might say, “Well, at least I don’t gamble!” or “I grew up with two smoking parents, it was inevitable that I would be a smoker.” or “It helps relieve the stress I face in my life. I’d be a basket case if I didn’t smoke.”
In teaching we know that test prep isn’t good teaching. We know giving notes and tests as the sole means to educate kids isn’t good learning. So we reduce our cognitive dissonance with some of the following:
I don’t have time. I have a curriculum to get through. I have finals to get ready for. I have to prepare them for middle school. I have to prepare them for high school. I have to make parents happy.
And this is supposed to make us feel better.
I was there. I taught Grade 9 LA (that comes with a two part standardized test) for several years. I did the practice tests to get them ready. I assigned endless parades of business letters and essays because I knew that’s what they would be facing. But then something clicked and I said to myself, “There’s got to be a better way….”
I would like to issue this two part challenge to every teacher who has ever said, “I have a curriculum to get through.”
#1. Erase those words from your teaching language.
#2. Make a list of all the things you would love to do in your teaching if you DIDN’T “have a curriculum to get through”.
Then pick one….just one. Make it your goal to do just this one thing. May it be blogging, project based learning, critical thinking, incorporating social media, or whatever else has perked your interest at some point but you’ve immediately shut it down because you didn’t think you would have time to do it.
Maybe you’ve already written off your year since you are days or weeks away from being done. So be it. Make it your goal for September. But write it down because if you don’t, you won’t do it.
And once you’ve given it a shot, whatever your new goal is, let me know how it went.