Slice of Life: Getting From Point A to Point B

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About a month ago, I found myself driving in an unfamiliar city at dusk. As I exited the highway into rush hour traffic, my GPS informed me that it had lost its satellite connection. After my initial panic, I took a deep breath and, because I had looked at a map before I left home and had the map feature open on my phone, was able to navigate to my hotel without a wrong turn.

Being able to read a map is an important skill. It provides us with a bird’s-eye view of where we’re going. Some people may argue that not knowing is what keeps life interesting, but I like having an idea of what lies ahead.

In teaching, our curriculum calendars and lesson plans are like maps in that they lay out a predictable path that will lead us from point A to point B. But like a driver encountering a roadblock, or me when my GPS failed, we need to possess the skills to help us adjust our teaching in a way that addresses the roadblock but still gets us, and more importantly, our students, to point B.

The school where I did my student teaching used a scripted math program that spiraled through concepts at a fairly quick pace. When we taught long division according to the program’s sequence, the kids were stumped. They just didn’t get it. They were frustrated and I was practically in tears. My cooperating teacher, however, believed in being responsive to the needs of students, not being a slave to the script. We worked together to use lessons from the old basal math program and other resources to give our students the time and support they needed to practice the steps of long division until they understood it well and were able to apply them independently. Without his guidance and support, I would have soldiered on and the kids wouldn’t have learned much about division.

I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have worked in a district where we’ve never had a scripted curriculum. The administrators have always trusted us. They’ve given us the autonomy and flexibility to make decisions about lesson plan and materials that we felt met the needs of our students. I worry that if teachers are never allowed to use anything other than a scripted curriculum, or are admonished or punished for deviating from this script, they will never know how to deal with the roadblocks our students present us with daily.

World of Ptolemy as shown By Johannes de Armsshein, Ulm, 1482 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
World of Ptolemy as shown By Johannes de Armsshein, Ulm, 1482 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Medieval cartographers labeled areas beyond their ken “Here there be dragons.” In other words, venture here at your peril. And yet, intrepid explorers ventured across unknown oceans. They trusted their knowledge, skills and instincts to carry them safely to shore. Teachers do this every day. We draw upon our past experiences, skills and knowledge as we interact with students. We aren’t always sure if our students are going to learn a skill or concept exactly they way we plan for them to, but we have a pretty good idea of what to do when we encounter a roadblock.

Just as drivers shouldn’t become dependent on their GPS, which might stop working at a critical juncture, teachers shouldn’t be held to scripts or curriculums that don’t meet the needs of our students. We have to have the flexibility to veer off course if needed, but still reach our destination. Anything less is a disservice  to our students.

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6 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Getting From Point A to Point B

  1. What a thoughtful post, Catherine, and so true. I, too, am lucky to teach in a district where we are allowed the freedom to teach the way we can best meet the needs of our students, but more and more districts seem to be going the way of the scripts. So very sad! And, so very scary, too!

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  2. Here there be dragons…I am tasked with slaying dragons every day. I’ve been teaching 34 years and I shake my head at what our profession has had to endure in recent years. Thanks for your uplifting post. I can only hope that before I leave the profession the pendulum will swing back to professional judgement and trust.

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  3. And if the teacher never ventures from the path to meet the student’s need(s), that student will/may be labeled a failure, right? I wonder what those who think scripts are the way to go would do if their GPS stopped working? Would they just sit there, hoping the ‘script’ appeared again? I am glad to hear from you & Tara above that you are able to make your own decisions about best practice. What a time we are in!

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  4. I love this post! You hit on so many important things in life and in teaching, which when I think about are the same thing. Technology is wonderful, but what do we do when it fails us. As we become more tech based in our teaching we are more effective, but we are also so dependent. We had a power surge over the weekend and came in on Monday to dead computers. The read aloud on the smart board, not there. Websites to research, not there. We had to go back to the books!! It all worked out, but it was a reminder of our dependence and need to be flexible!

    Here be dragons!! Uncertainty and danger. Life! Teaching!

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  5. I am not a teacher but your post is very applicable to living your life. On a daily basis a person needs to trust their training and experience when presented with life’s challenges. Thank you for a thoughtfully written post.
    Bernadette

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