Wednesday, April 06, 2011

I Coined A New Phrase This Week

Many non-teachers (and I'm sure there are non-teachers who know no differently!) probably assume that all algebra classes, for example, cover pretty much the same material at the same pace; in other words, in any given school, all the algebra classes are pretty much covering the same material at the same time. The same goes for geometry, and biology, and Spanish, etc. In other words, there's a set curriculum and pacing, and courses/teachers are fairly interchangeable. Of course, everyone knows that some teachers are "better" or "easier" than others, but still, the material covered in this class today is, within a section or two, the material covered in that same course. And all the algebra teachers give their chapter tests within a day or two of each other because, of course, they're covering the same material at the same time.

My school has never operated that way.

Several years ago I heard my school described not as a school, but as a "collection of 60-plus individual contractors". Teachers were given a textbook and taught what they thought was important out of that textbook. After all, if the state and the district purchased that textbook, then that must be the curriculum that needs to be taught, right?

For the most part this isn't a problem, but when students for whatever reason need to change classes, they can end up a chapter or more away from where they were. Our school is in an affluent area and students generally do well, so in the past that wasn't a problem. But this is the present.

Our district has been dragging us, kicking and screaming, towards "common assessments" and "benchmark tests", which will essentially compel us to teach the same material at a similar pace. We just had a very unpleasant accreditation experience, in part because in many places on our campus there's no similarity between what's going on in this class and what's going on in the classroom next door, even if it's the same course being taught next door!

I don't have any problem with somewhat more standardization than what we have now. No, I don't think it will lead to "being on exactly the same page each day". It will, though, ensure, that an algebra course is an algebra course everywhere, and that a US history class is a US history class everywhere.

Our departments need to coordinate to make this so, hence my new descriptive phrase: coordinated academic instruction.

So with that, should I buck for an administrative job at the district office, or go on the lecturing/professional development circuit?


Curmudgeon said...

Keep teaching.

As to the commonality question, I think it's a good idea for some of the tests and exams to have common content and roughly similar syllabi. If different students are in different classes and they are all labeled "Algebra II from FSUHS", then the courses should have many common aspects.

A common exam that individual faculty can adjust or retype, but that essentially is testing the same things. Chapter tests should be likewise but allow some differences to account for different teaching styles and digressions of interest.

For example, I'll take old ballistics illustrations by Tartaglia and have the Calc kids analyze the flight path from a perspective of the gunner. Surprisingly, Tartaglia's warped paths make a lot of sense.

Beyond that sort of individualism, algebra should be algebra, etc.

Darren said...

I agree. "Pretty much" the same allows for the types of digressions you mentioned.

Bartender Cabbie said...

If you want to be fairly useless then go for that admin job. Stay in the class and keep being positive influence. Of course the money is not as good....

Mr. W said...

ahhh welcome to my world. In fact, this is the only world I have ever known. When I started 7 years ago, I was told we were all to have the same pacing and had to be on the same topic everyday, although I was later told we could be off by about 3-4 days.

We have common finals and benchmarks, common grading policy (75% tests/25% homework; I personally don't follow that though...don't tell on me), and common homework assignments. read that correctly.

The last couple of years we are being told to work out some sort of common grading system. In other words, common partial credit on testing. I feel it's just a matter of time before we all go to the same multiple choice tests with zero partial credit. By the way, I have been doing this already for 2 years now. Which makes me different from the rest of the department because I don't give partial credit, so I am looked at as a rebel/black sheep.