Recent Legislation Denies the Use of Best Practices

A quick Google search of “best practices in teaching” brings up results that teachers have been working on honing even before they first step into a classroom. This list includes items such as “create a student-learning environment” and “build relationships with students that promote a positive and safe environment”. Young teachers dream of creating their own classroom. They start shopping garage sales and creating a Pinterest board before they even graduate from college. They start thinking about their role in the learning process. They dream about ways to motivate their students. These dreams and ideologies don’t end after the first year of teaching. Every day of the school year is a new opportunity to demonstrate best practices in teaching.

That is one of many reasons why new legislative trends across the United States are so disheartening to teachers who are living the life of immersing students in best practices. In case you haven’t heard, many states have introduced (and even passed) legislation that requires teachers to publish their lesson plans for the entire school year. I have to wonder: Was this legislation introduced with the best interest of students in mind?

I have been teaching for over 25 years, and I can say that nine times out of ten, I don’t even follow my own lesson plans for the day. Believe me, it would be much easier if I could, but here’s what might happen on a typical day.

We start the day with a reading lesson. During our discussion, I realize that reading about the kings and queens during the medieval ages has brought up questions about how someone becomes a monarch. Answering those questions leads to more questions about how historically many girls were passed over as rulers in favor of male heirs.

The students have really significant questions, and they are engaged in the lesson. This is a truly student-centered learning environment in which it is safe for the students to ask questions. Was this part of my lesson plans? No, but we are absolutely “in the zone” of teaching and learning, so I am not going to stop the magic that is happening because it’s not on my lesson plans. This is exactly what is meant by having a “teachable moment” in the classroom.

Fast forward to math time. When I check the assignments from the day before, I realize that most of my students struggle with subtraction when there is regrouping involved. A quick discussion with the second grade teacher reveals that these students were working on this skill in March of 2020, but they never had the opportunity to fully learn this concept. Therefore, it is my job to reteach it.

If legislators were to check my standards, subtraction with regrouping is not there. However, as a teacher, I need to do what is best for my students. A lesson in Social Studies about the Revolutionary War leads to questions from students about the war in Ukraine. Since I never predicted a war in Ukraine, that is not in my lesson plans, but I needed to address their questions. Finally, in science I plan to go outside to test the kites the students had made using different materials. Unfortunately, it is raining outside, so that lesson is postponed.

This is an example of a “normal day”. Here are a few things that happen every other day. In our state we are required to have fire drills, intruder drills, tornado drills, and earthquake drills. Teachers everywhere have stories about the time a student unexpectedly threw up or had a bloody nose in class. That clean up takes time. Unfortunately there seem to be more students struggling to self-regulate in a classroom setting. Outbursts and room clears also take time away from classroom instruction.

Again, this example of one day in my classroom illustrates the many reasons why legislation requiring lesson plans for an entire year is just bad practice. If laws requiring teachers to post lesson plans pass, one of two things will happen. Either teachers will post vague plans just to obey the law (which is a waste of time and resources), or teachers will continue to leave the profession. If legislators are truly concerned about what is happening in my classroom, I invite them to come visit. Come spend time in my classroom. Talk to the students to see what they are learning. Better yet, volunteer to spend some time in the classroom helping students learn. And maybe answer some of their questions!

When I have a student teacher or a practicum student, one of the first things I tell them is that a lesson plan is just that. It’s a plan. I tell them that a lesson plan is like a map. I want to get from here to my vacation spot, and this is a plan to get there. However, there are obviously going to be unscheduled restroom breaks. There will probably be road construction, and we hope to avoid accidents. Sometimes we get to our destination early, and sometimes we get there late. The goal is for all of us to get there and enjoy the ride along the way.

Denise Henggeler has been teaching 4th grade at Northeast Nodaway for 25 years; however, she has never taught the same lesson twice. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood/Elementary Education and her Master’s of Science in Middle School Education from Northwest Missouri State University. She loves being part of a district so small that the preschool through twelfth grade is housed in one building. Denise was named a 2020 Missouri Teacher of the Year Finalist, and she encourages students and colleagues alike to “Dare Mighty Things”! You can follow Denise on Twitter at @NEN4thgrade.

© 2017 NNSTOY, All Rights Reserved
Website by David Taylor Design | NJ Website Design Company