What is a Lesson Plan Really for Any More?

imagesWhen I was prepared as a teacher, lesson plans were something that I was supposed to make thorough enough to fit my style as a teacher, something I could rely on if my lesson ran aground, I forgot what was to happen next, I need to refer to a specific passage or page, but didn’t know where to find it.

Lesson plans were for me, to sit down regularly, think about my students, what I need to teach, what I need to reteach, what I have already taught. They were, quite simply, for me. Lesson planning, for some teachers, was an hour-long adventure that culminated in a four page document with flow charts and arrows, and for others was a few notes jotted down on a cocktail napkin. And they worked, because a teacher knew what he or she needed to provide for the students. Of course there were those who were underplanned, those who were overplanned, but the majority who had been trained in planning, had been made familiar with the curriculum and expectations after years of experience, planned how they needed to and successfully delivered instruction.

The purpose of the plan has largely changed as I talk to my colleagues around the country and have seen for myself with the imposition of new high stakes evaluation structures. Lesson plans now have to be more for the observer than for the teacher. An observer should be able to walk into your room, grab your lesson plan, find where you are in the lesson, find where you are going in the lesson, check to make sure you are aligned to curricula and standards and gather a complete picture of your teaching.

Because of this, many teachers largely now view lesson plans as a compliance effort, as a report to be presented to a supervisor upon request, and one that, because of the prescriptive nature (though we do have fairly solid contractual safeguards against this in Baltimore), is no longer the functional, useful document it once was. My plan this year, though I have made it functional for my usage, has been cluttered by so much superfluous information that will be required by my new evaluation system, that I can hardly glance down at it for a reminder if I needed to.

So the question is, why? I understand and fully support the importance of good planning, but one size fits all methods that districts are prescribing are exactly the types of requirements that make teachers think about the right things in all the wrong ways and produce something that is likely worse than it otherwise would have been.

My answer is simply that it is about documentation for evaluation purposes. As Race to the Top recipients struggle to find new ways to evaluate their teachers, one of the easiest ways to implement a well-documented high-stakes evaluation system is to try to get teachers to thoroughly document their own teaching on a daily lesson plan. How do they do this? Turn the lesson plan into something it is not supposed to be, a record of relationships and connections that went into planning a lesson from required curricula, rather than a road map for success of teachers and students.

We as teachers must remember why we plan. We plan to give our students the best education we can, not to help our district document our daily activities. Let’s start planning for the children again.

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