In the past few weeks, I have been working on a project to align our district's math curriculum with the new Common Core standards.
Since I have always taught at a pilot school, I have in many ways been sheltered from the mysterious workings of the Boston Public Schools. As part of this project, I have caught a glimpse into what teaching is like for many teachers in the district.
On the first day of the project, we were told that we would need to understand the new math standards, then think about what might help children learn them, identifying materials and resources that could help teachers introduce the material.
"You mean we don't just follow the Pacing Guide and go through the curriculum as it's written, from start to finish?!" asked one teacher.
That's exactly what we mean, the leaders replied. A collective gasp traveled the room as teachers shook their heads, wondering how they would do such a thing.
In my mind, this is what teaching is -- knowing what you want your students to think about or get better at, then figuring out how to help them do so. This, along with paying close attention to how your students make sense of the world, is the heart of the intellectual work we do.
But most of the teachers in the district aren't in the habit of doing this anymore. When it's time to teach math, they reach for a Daily Pacing Guide that tells them exactly what lesson to do on, say, November 13th. While the pacing guide has a few floating days for when your students need a little more time, there isn't much room for flexibility or you'll be (gasp!) off the pacing guide. Reading is the same but a little worse, since they use not only a Daily Pacing Guide, but also a generic, scripted curriculum.
What's the outcome of this? Teachers are forgetting how to intellectually engage with their students' thinking and their work, think deeply about what might begin to move them to the next place, and plan a lesson.
I guess this is the logical outcome of the profession becoming more scripted and "teacher-proof" in recent years. I shouldn't be surprised. What shocked me was the teachers' increasing dependence on the pacing guide. Many teachers want the pacing guide. When I suggested that it might be a disservice to professionals to ask them to blindly adhere to such a document, many looked askance. This is what their job has become. They are forgetting how to do it any other way.