Distance Learning

I guess I have a lot going on.

While I’ve been thinking about my teaching and what it needs, where it’s lacking and where it may be just fine, something else has been needling me: curriculum. I should say curriculum writing, thinking, articulating. If you know me, you’ll perhaps also know that I love words; sometimes maybe even too much for my own sleep health. But when it comes to curriculum writing I can do the essential questions, I can make educated guesses on enduring understandings but after that I quickly tire and wish nothing more than to be left alone with my colleagues and our perfectly functional pacing guide. I’ve written about my difficulties with curriculum work before.

And every day I go in and teach with the big picture in my head of where we’re headed and what we should try to do to get there. Some of what I try works and some of it doesn’t. Some of the ideas I keep coming back to stick with some kids but not with others. Sometimes I can follow through with my plan-as-written and sometimes I have to abandon the plan to prevent an all-out mutiny. No amount of vertical or horizontal articulation, of detailed and neatly formatted unit plans will change these facts of the teaching life.

And the struggle that I face in conquering this disconnect between the tidiness of the professional document and utter messiness of real learning experiences in the gym and classroom reminds me of what school must feel like for a lot of kids. The distance between the content we teach our kids and what they feel is directly relevant can seem like an insurmountable gulf. There’s this distance. Hence, the title ‘Distance Learning.’

We teachers as amateur curriculum designers and writers can struggle too with this gulf between the neatly documented unit plans and the shifting realities of our teaching days. Sometimes our lessons may look like what’s on the page but not always. We may reach the stated objective but by an unexpected route. In my best case scenario, the curriculum document becomes flexible enough to take this into account.

What this iteration process can change, however, is my capacity to recognize both the wisdom and possible redundancies of the big picture concepts I carry in my head. This work has changed the conversations I have with my colleagues around what we consider essential and worth doing. We can share our respective ‘big pictures’ and make them understandable to each other and ultimately to our students.

Nevertheless, my resistance to long, wordy documents describing what I ought to be teaching remains.

That said, there’s another piece to this that I forget but is also important. My input in this process is expected and required. My colleagues and I determine what goes into the document and what stays out. This is privilege. It may not feel that way because it is work we may not feel especially inclined to do in the prescribed format that has been chosen. And yet, we as teachers have conversations with our curriculum director describing what will work best for us rather than the other way around. That is a critical distinction that it might be easy to dismiss. When you’re swimming in privilege, you can easily lose a feeling for what “wet” means, particularly to those who have no access to open water.

So the next time you hear me tending to wax disgruntled about the curriculum work my colleagues and I are grappling with, remind me of where I’m sitting and what it might look like from a very different perspective.

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