Why do teachers think they have to be original?

Why do teachers think they have to re-invent the wheel every year?

Recently I was speaking at an event for newly qualified teachers where I had a conversation with a young teacher. Something she said to me has stuck in my mind:

“My plan is to develop a filing system of all of my lessons so that eventually I won’t have to worry about planning lessons – for any given class, I can just go to my file and pick out the relevant material.”

In the teaching profession, as with other professions, we talk about teachers’ responsibility for maintaining and improving the quality of their teaching practice. For example, teachers in England are expected to meet a set of standards, which includes

  • making use of research about teaching and learning,
  • employing a range of teaching methodologies and
  • actively developing one’s knowledge and practice.

Now the internet allows for so much more sharing and collaboration between professionals of all sorts – and sites like The Guardian Teacher Network and the recently launched O2Learn can offer ideas and resources that could only be dreamed of just a few years ago… so why not embrace them?

This teacher’s plan was to work out a series of really good, interesting, well researched and compelling lessons that would engage young people and then, seemingly, repeat them almost like the repertory performance of an actor.

Is this wrong?

If you’ve got a good well worked out lesson, why not use it again year after year?  You could argue actors do. You could argue concert pianists do. You could even argue professions like solicitors, accountants and even surgeons work to some kind of regular template to practice the more routine aspects of their profession.

Time pressure on teachers is enormous and they need to develop routines and systems if they are to function effectively, let alone thrive. Is it realistic to expect teachers to be continually revising and improving their practice?

I think that new teacher’s comment raises important questions about teachers’ responsibility to ‘improve’ or ‘actively develop’ their practice.  Some would say that there’s always some great new idea or fad, the latest flavour of the month, about how to teach, and that teachers are always being pressed upon to try this or that new method. Others would say that teachers have a professional duty not just to maintain but also to improve their knowledge, skills and practice, (for example, by engaging with research).

Should we expect the duty of professional people to include constantly improving their practice rather than merely maintaining it?

What do you think?

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7 thoughts on “Why do teachers think they have to be original?

  1. A mixture of both, in my opinion; filing and keeping a stack of past lesson plans IS a good idea, and I feel that it is very important for a teacher’s time management in the following years. I also feel that those lesson plans should always be revised with the new set of students in mind, every year. The guidelines are there; if it needs tweaking, changing, or any other kinds of additions, then they should be made.

    1. I think that’s really good advice Lenn – and I’m sure new teachers would appreciate it. I guess part of the thinking we’re trying to ‘provoke’ in that piece is whether our pupils, students, parents, the public – our ‘clients’ if you like – would expect anything different? I’m sure they wouldn’t actually (because as you say, it’s all part of good time management) but it’s also interesting to put ourselves in the position of clients to other professionals. So for example, as a client or member of the public, how much would we expect an architect, doctor, accountant, dentist to give us ‘customised’ service? Does that vary from profession to profession? Who decides how much ‘customised’ service we are entitled to – the professional or the client? (In the UK we had quite a push from government on ‘personalised learning’ in schools a couple of years ago). I agree with you – it’s a mixture. How would (or could) we respond if we all had clients who all wanted ‘customised’ and ‘personalised’ teaching plans?
      Thanks a lot for your comment Lenn.

  2. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! I do keep a folder with lesson plans in and a whole filing cabinet of resources that I can reuse every year. However, just because we are using things that work again and again doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reflect. Each time I teach a lesson, I also reflect on how it went and whether it is still working, does it need updating and if so how? Post-it with these thoughts goes onto the original and on we go with tweaks and improvements each time.

    In terms of your question in the last comment, I honestly don’t think it would be possible to provide each student with a completely personalised teaching/learning plan, particularly at the secondary level. There simply isn’t enough time in the day. I currently teach 15 classes of between 25 and 30 students. You do the maths! However, that doesn’t mean we cannot provide our students with the tools they need to write their own personalised learning plans, recognising their own needs and targets for themselves. This is now the area I am looking to develop with my own classes in order to meet that need of ‘personalised’ learning without killing myself and my life in the process!!!

  3. I guess this comes down to whether you think you’re teaching a subject or teaching children. If it’s the former, a crowd sourced approach makes some sense, although despite the former schools ministers vision of laminated lesson plans, a little tweaking and updating is needed as the domain itself moves on (true for ICT but also other fields).
    If the latter, not so much. Each class /is/ different and come with their own aptitudes, interests and prior experiences. “At the heart of the educational process lies the child”, as I think Plowden put it.

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