Over the past 30 years I’ve thought a lot about teaching and teacher training. I’ve worked as a trainer for TFA and also for The New York City Teaching Fellows. Many of the teachers I trained, I’m happy to say, are still teaching after all these years. I also wrote two books about teaching and many published articles.
So I hope I can say with some authority that lesson planning is at least half of your job as a teacher, maybe 75%. When you plan a lesson, you are making a blueprint of how your class is going to get from point A to point Z in the limited time you have. It requires figuring out how much material you can feasibly cover and determining how to balance direct instruction with student discussion opportunities and, most importantly, what activities your students are going to do throughout the lesson. Lesson planning is my specialty and I love the feeling of starting a class that I just know has a great lesson plan and though sometimes the lesson doesn’t go as well I hoped it would, generally a well planned lesson turns into an engaging learning experience for my students.
This year Teach For America did a remote institute. The new corps members were not going to get any in-person student teaching experience so the training had to be better than ever to compensate for this. Two different 2021 corps members have reached out to me, one through reddit and the other as a comment to a blog post I wrote in August. Both corps members told me that TFA did not teach lesson planning. Apparently the only assignment they had related to lesson planning was to take an existing lesson plan and to mark it up with comments. Here is how one of them described it:
we had 3 total assignments to make “lesson plan adjustments” that our content facilitator also seemed to be confused about what they should look like. Basically, we just had to grab a lesson from Eureka Math and make some annotations that show a) we were being actively anti-racist, b) we were incorporating Universal Design for Learning and c) checks for understanding. There were more rubric sections, but this is all I can recall right now. I was so confused with the little information we were given, so I made a whole new lesson plan and got an 8/24. For the second assignment, I just literally annotated the Eureka plan in Google Docs with a few minor adjustments and got a 24/24!
If I were training new teachers at an intensive five week training program, I would want the trainees to produced about twenty original lesson plans. This is the bread and butter of teaching. You have to have a mental picture of what you are about to do with your classes if you expect them to learn.
Now I am very supportive of being actively anti-racist in the classroom. It is ironic that TFA is using this as their starting point considering their embrace of no-excuses charter schools over the years. But as important as it is to promote anti-racism, I would much rather the teachers have a solid lesson that of course is not racist but maybe not overtly anti-racist than a poorly planned lesson that is actively anti-racist. Going into a class without a plan of how to teach it and without really understanding all the decisions that go into making a lesson and into all the nuances and the sorts of questions you will ask and the groupings you will use and everything that goes into the grueling task of lesson planning is not showing respect for your students.
According to a reddit thread on TFA, it seems like a lot of 2021 corps members are quitting already. If this failure to empathize lesson planning was widespread I’m not surprised by this. If you are a current corps member let me know what your experience was with the training this year and how you feel about it now that you are in the classroom.