How many new teachers can relate to this story?
“You want me to teach this stuff, but I don’t have the stuff to teach.” So opens “Lost at Sea: New Teachers’ Experiences with Curriculum and Assessment,” a 2002 paper by Harvard University researchers about the plight of new teachers trying to learn the craft of teaching in the face of insubstantial curriculum frameworks and inadequate instructional materials.
David Kauffman, Susan Moore Johnson and colleagues interviewed a diverse collection of first- and second-year teachers in Massachusetts who reported that, despite state academic standards widely acknowledged to be some of the best in the country, they received “little or no guidance about what to teach or how to teach it. Left to their own devices they struggled day to day to prepare content and materials. The standards and accountability environment created a sense of urgency for these teachers but did not provide them with the support they needed.”
I found myself thinking about this recently when I realized that, with the advent of the Common Core State Standards, new teachers won’t be the only ones in this boat. Much of the country is on a fast-track toward implementation, but with little thought about how to provide teachers with the “stuff” – aligned professional development, curriculum frameworks, model lesson plans, quality student materials, formative assessments, and so on – that they will need to implement the standards well.
Many veteran educators will make do by stitching together tried and true lessons in new and different ways. Others will be scrambling to find quality materials with which to plug holes, as well as rethinking approaches to old content in order to meet new learning objectives. And many, as the article says, will be “lost at sea.”
Kara Moloney over at “pedagogical ruckus” put it like this: “Is it realistic to expect teachers – many of whom work second or third jobs to pay their bills – to adequately identify students’ needs; implement multiple assessment measures; plan instruction; reflect on their practice; provide intervention where needed; AND successfully move students toward career- or college-readiness without providing them the time and resources?”
As is to be expected these days, several for-profit organizations are eager to fill the breach. Almost everything published since the McGuffey reader has been declared “aligned” with the common core standards, while expensive new material is being churned out at a furious pace. For example, Pearson, one of the nation’s largest textbook publishers, is preparing a soup-to-nuts array of services and materials it advertises as “aligned” to the Common Core. According to one article, “materials will be delivered completely online, through devices like the iPad. They will include projects for students to complete, texts and digital materials to support students in conducting projects, and assessments to check student understanding.”
Not having seen these materials, I have no idea if they are any good or are worth the price, especially at a time of severe fiscal austerity. But Pearson’s production of the New York English Language Arts exam with its now-infamous “pineapples don’t have sleeves” question has left the educator in me deeply skeptical about the quality of their products – all the more so since we now know that before they became notorious in New York, Pearson used these questions again and again in the tests of other states, leaving a trail of complaints across the country. There is a moral to that escapade, on what happens when corporations focused on making profits are given control of vital pieces of our educational work.
There is an alternative to turning over to for profit enterprises the production of the resources and supports teachers need to improve classroom instruction and to implement the Common Core. A new effort, launched by the AFT and the UK’s TES Connect, has the capacity to provide far more of the quality assistance teachers need than could ever be delivered by any state, district, or commercial publisher. It’s called “Share My Lesson” and is a free digital platform for U.S. educators to collaborate with each other and share teaching resources, with a significant emphasis on materials to guide teachers in implementing the new Common Core State Standards.
TES already provides the world’s largest online teacher network, with more than two million members in nations around the world and access to over 400,000 resources. This new collaboration has the potential to be the go-to source for American teachers, and not just for a plethora of free materials, but also for honest feedback and ratings about what works and why.
The power of Share My Lesson lies in its reliance upon the collective professional knowledge and expertise of American teachers. At a time when attacks on the professional autonomy and authority of teachers seem to come from every side, it provides us with a formidable tool to secure our craft and to advance the quality of our work. It taps into the deep wellspring of teacher creativity and skill, and draws upon our ethic of professional dialogue and collaboration. It allows us to take emerging technology, which the foes of our profession would use to replace teachers in a grim educational dystopia, and use it to establish an unprecedented network of professional communication and sharing among American teachers. It gives us an effective vehicle to demonstrate that the best work in education comes out of the dedication of teachers to the common good of our students and our schools, and not from the work of those that seek to make a private profit off of an essential public service.
A cooperative venture on this immense scale ultimately depends upon the individual contributions of thousands: Share My Lesson will only be as good as we collectively make it. It will be important for us to not just upload lessons and other materials, but also to provide feedback and ratings on what has been published on the site, so that teacher authors can improve their published work and teacher users can quickly locate the highest quality materials. We will need, quite literally, to share our lessons.