Monday, April 16, 2012

Tales from School: Unit Planning


I just began to teach a five-day unit demanded by my administrators. This is something that four of us English teachers dreamed up while sitting at Starbucks and coming to know each other a little better. Between talk of movies, bad administrators, strange colleagues, and recalcitrant students, we sketched out five days of instruction sure to wow the likes of administrators such as those requiring that we do this in the first place.

Today was day one and it went about how you would expect. A long time ago when I was a kid working at a little market, a friend said, "this place would run just great if not for the damn customers." So it is with schools. Starting out as a teacher I wondered why my plans failed to work out. I was told, and so I believed, that I needed to plan better. I consulted experts, looked at books of standards, considered sacrificing goats and seventh graders, but no matter what I did, my perfect plans turned imperfect. Today was different in only one way: I'm old enough to know that the plan won't work and that I might as well blame the damn customers. Sometimes the customers are the damn kids, sometimes they are the damn administrators, sometimes they are someone else, the damn teachers at the middle school maybe.

I followed our lesson pretty closely, though we got distracted some when Fran wanted to swear some and we all listened while she told of how the fucking pigs had pulled her over and offered to arrest her if she kept talking that way and what the fucking hell ever happened to freedom of god damn speech and that shit anyway. Being a bad teacher, I let her finish the story, but I then found a way to segue into what we were talking about which was our picture of America and how the fucking pigs can arrest you if your speech is too god damn nasty and infringes on others rights and shit. It was probably the best thing they heard all day and did more to help them think about freedom than anything else.

The results of the lesson hang on my white board right now. A couple of poster papers with colored writing on them. See, unit plans designed at the behest of others require artifacts to prove that some learning went on and that the teacher wasn't just talking or letting the kids swear the whole time. Socrates might have been able to lecture or hold Q and A all day, but administrators know that we teachers ain't Socrates and we better have some posters, tests, or papers to grade afterward.

If the posters are any indication, it's going to be an interesting five days. There are a couple curses on there, money signs, a few drawings, misspellings galore, and some questions marks. Each poster is supposed to have at the center, the word AMERICA but one says AMERICIA, which, if the rest of the poster is accurate, is no country in which I ever want to reside. Them people don't believe in DEMOCRZY at all. That's why there's a circle around it with a slash running through.

Still, we will push ahead with the unit plan because that's what we do at schools. People assign stuff and we do it even though we rarely know what we're doing or why we're doing it. Someone thought it was a good idea and our only choices are to do it and get the grade or ball the thing up, shout a couple curses, and throw it hard in the garbage. Most of the time we go along with these things and sometimes we figure out a thing or two from it. Look at me: I've relearned the lesson that multi-day plans don't work when students average two-third's attendance. It's not that I had forgotten that, but a reminder is still nice. Besides, I'm learning some things about how to talk to and get writing out of kids when I want to.

I've got four more days of this and then I go to a meeting to report how it went and show the posters. I knew how it would go when we planned it and, if nothing else, it will feel good to be validated. And who knows, maybe someone will help us see what we're supposed to have learned. I'm not betting on it, but stranger things have happened.

Until then, I'll write on.