May 6, 2016


I teach ninth grade. The middle school is looking at picking a new curriculum for the accelerated eighth grade program and they asked us to look at it. Hooray for vertical alignment!

They are looking at Eureka Math which looks pretty good as far as curriculum goes. The lessons are broken into chunks with approximate times in parentheses next to each chunk. The sight of those times made one of my coworkers have a strong negative reaction. You can tell what kinds of administrators teachers have had based on how they react to something like that. I pushed back, saying that the time estimates are useful so long as admin doesn't come in saying, "It's day 3 and we're twelve minutes into the period, why aren't you doing ___?" Another coworker, who has only taught at our school with rather hands off administrators, laughed at that idea. He didn't think anyone could actually be that crazy. His perspective is refreshing!

When evaluating the curriculum I was looking for resources, not a script. The website provides sample discussions which is helpful, especially for someone new to a course (teacher turnover at the middle school is appalling). It provides maps, activities, scaffolds and extensions. It provides assessments that are not so realistic but there are useful bits to them. The site provides a lot of things on which to base a coherent course. I think that's really important to have.

We, on the other hand, have nothing. Well, that's not entirely fair - we have textbooks and teachers guides to go with them, but we don't use them. I'd already taught three years of algebra before starting to teach it here and so I had a well developed understanding of course progressions and had amassed a variety of activities. The other teachers on my team have done the same. Over the past few years we've spent many a professional development taking our mishmash of materials and building something that admin can see and new teachers can access without needing to jump between dropbox, google drive and the school network folder!

Curriculum is something I have a hard time forming an opinion on. I don't take well to being told I'm getting pulled from my classroom to write a unit with the latest consultant (I can think of four groups I've written with in my six years here). But I also spent half an hour retyping an activity this week because I didn't like the phrasing of some parts or the examples in one section. Is it my job to write curriculum? No. Do I trust anyone else to do it? Not really. I understand that with a five : two ratio of teaching : prep time I don't have time to grade, prepare materials (copy, cut, sort...), communicate with all of the community members and write lessons from scratch. I know the solution is a solid curriculum where I have resources to pull from and need only modify for my students with unique needs. My dropbox folders are close to reaching that point with unit plans filled with notes from last year and lots of files. But the first year of each class isn't nearly the same as the third. Which will always be true. But a curriculum that can point out common misconceptions and has little boxes reminding students to apply something from an old unit so they don't forget that skill would be nice to start out with. Maybe we'll get there someday, so the new teachers can jump right into the hard work of picking out the best student work to have the class examine, rather than googling "exponent rules discovery" hoping for a decent activity the night before they need to teach it.

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