Monday, November 19, 2012

Teacher's Editions: The Dumbing Down of Educators (reprise)

Once upon a time, teachers were given a textbook, perhaps a few other resources including a grade book, and given the responsibility to determine how best to teach the content, in what order, with whatever resources, etc.  Some did excellent jobs; others were journeyman teachers who plodded through the textbook one chapter at a time and bored their students in the process.  I've heard stories of teachers who read the textbook to their students, which numbs my brain just thinking about it.

Over the years, reform-minded people, some of whom were even educators, came up with ideas for "improving teaching."  Some ideas were even reasonably useful.  And then one day, one bright star came up with the idea of the teacher's edition.  The textbook itself would be the student's edition, you know, the book the students used.  And the teacher's edition would be the student textbook but with the answers to the questions at the end of each chapter or at the back of the book, and pointers for teaching the content.  Eventually the teacher's edition included scripts so teachers would know what to say when.  The advantage, of course, is that it would be easy for substitute teachers, even if they were administrators, to teach on a day if a teacher had to be absent from school.

And then something strange happened.  Because teachers had that wonderful teacher's edition that told them what to say and when, that gave them the answers to the questions to the problems, that offered notes about how to teach the content, teachers just flat out forgot that they needed to know something about teaching to help their students learn.

So you see, you could walk into any classroom in America in which teachers clasped their teacher's editions as they prepared to teach and you could hear a Stepfordian presentation of, well, I'm not quite sure what.  The best way to describe might be the publisher's idea of how the content should be presented to students.  Presented, not taught.  And not provided in such a way that kids might actually learn.

Now we have teachers who might have no idea what to do when in their classrooms without a teacher's edition.

There are some who have broken free of the tyranny of the teacher's edition.  Long ago they managed to to release their grips on the book and realized, some even remembered, what it was like to actually know the content they were expected to teach, and they remembered what it felt like to help a student through productive struggle and exert themselves in the process of learning through discovery.  And they realized it was pretty darned fun, and that kids actually learned.

The Common Core State Standards will make it hard for teachers to use a teacher's edition.  Really hard.  And I celebrate that.  Teachers are waking up to a new and somewhat terrifying morning when they have not only responsibility for teaching, but the freedom to teach in ways that makes sense for their students.

It is my hope we will see the eventual eradication of the teacher's edition and it is my belief that then we will begin to see a reversal of the dumbing down of our educators.  When that happens I believe we can be more hopeful about the educating up of our students.

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